As a huge fan of GANTZ and Neon Genisis Evangelion, if you give me a game with girls in skintight exosuits, count me in. Developer JellySnow has been perfecting their roguelike action game, Metal Unit, through Early Access, but has now been officially launched in a 1.0 version. There’s a lot to like about Metal Unit’s core design, but those who enjoy punishing experiences might find this to be more on the casual side.
Metal Unit puts players in the role of Joanna, an M-Suit pilot tasks with finding her sister, who has turned rogue. Joanna takes orders from a man named Master and sets out on missions with her champion named Falcon to discover more than she bargained for. The story is rather tough to follow as the twists thrown at the player require some imagination when piecing it all together.
The cast is just so large, and these characters have had a relationship with each other for years before the game takes place that I felt like I was playing catch up throughout most of the story scenes. It’s as if you’re required to have an emotional investment into characters who don’t really know. Still, some of the sci-fi themes are interesting, and there’s an actual effort put into the story scenes with well-detailed animations.
When it comes to the gameplay, this is mostly a roguelike. Still, while it shares systems found in other titles of the genre, it definitely has something to say about the weak player taking on powerful enemies’ trope. You see, I don’t think the developers want you to feel powerless. Instead, it’s possible to completely clear stage after stage if you get the right loadout. A lot rests on your luck to pull powerful weapons, but if you play long enough, you’ll get to the point where you’re nearly untouchable.
That’s not to say the game doesn’t require skill, though, considering it is still a fast action game. It’s like the developers gave you a super nice car, but you still gotta drive it and understand it. The M-Suits have several abilities that can be customized. Clearing stages will provide you with materials that can be used to purchase upgrades for Joanna, the M-Suite, and Falcon. These are pretty important if you wish to acquire better gear, given they do things like allow Joanna to walk on ice and give Falcom the ability to hold his own weapon. So in the early portions of the game, you know, when you’re dying a lot, keep in mind that you need to level up your stuff before jumping back into the action.
Customization points on the M-Suit give players the option to equip six different items, melee, ranged, bullet, rocket, special, and passive. Each has a cooldown of some sort and range by rarity. It’s also important to pay attention to the equipment’s passive skills. They can allow Joanna to execute special attacks on a perfect dodge, summon a special drone to help out, or cause enemies to freeze if they land an attack. The equipment in this game has a way to make you feel exceptionally powerful, but there were runs where I didn’t find any good weapons, which caused me to die in the early stages of the various biomes.
The stages themselves also contain secrets. If you pay attention to your map, you can get a vague idea of where they are. While stage layout is procedurally generated, I noticed that I encountered the same stage layout multiple times, which wasn’t bad. Still, you do end up memorizing where the enemies spawn from. The secrets in the levels allow you to take on puzzles, platforming section, and even investigate large tombs, which each provide the chance for a powerful weapon. There’s a risk-reward, though, because you could come out with less health than you entered.
The roguelike elements cause you to lose most of your items after death, but there are ways to hold onto certain weapons. You can also put items in storage for later use or combine two items for the chance of creating legendary equipment. Shops are available to purchase weapons and create new ones, and the HUB town contains many people to speak with and places to unlock across your adventure. It makes the city feel a bit more rewarding as you gain access to more than just another stage.
There are boss encounters that can be more or less difficult depending on your loadout. The game’s climax really pushes your skills in that regard, but going in with some health potions and understanding when to dodge is most important. I think control is where this game can become overwhelming. Using an Elite 2 controller, I used the buttons on the back of my controller to fire my ranged weapon while melee attacking quickly. However, using the face buttons with the triggers to execute the other moves and dodges is kind of uncomfortable, especially when there’s so much going on on-screen.
I really liked Metal Unit’s visuals and thought the action animations were well designed to telegraph enemy attacks. There’s a nice navigation feature that lets you know where the enemies are in a stage and additional options to fine-tune your experience if you want it to be easier. The sound design also fits the sci-fi themes and creates an overall enjoyable experience when the action gets heavy.
Metal Unit takes chances on the roguelike genre by making the player feel like an absolute powerhouse. The variety of different items, loadouts, upgrades, and exploration-based stages makes the experience enjoyable for hours. Although it has a nonsensical narrative with a control scheme that does become uncomfortable over time, it offers enough unique features to be a worthy roguelike.
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