Thanks to Minor Key Games for the review code
Title: Gunmetal Arcadia
System: Steam (Mac)
Release Date: 02/07/2016
Taking place right after Gunmetal Arcadia Zero, Vireo and the rest of the tech elves must set out to completely eradicate the world of the evil they fought in the previous adventure. A basic continuation, and the game even explains the events of the prior game in the intro for those who skip to this installment.
Considering how the game uses the same engine as Zero, it’s no surprise that everything I mentioned in that game’s review, will apply to this one. Everything returns, from nice backgrounds, smooth animations and an optional CRT filter, along with some returning chiptune tracks.
While Gunmetal Arcadia appears to be a beefed up, longer version of the predecessor at first glance, just starting up a new save file will reveal the main gimmick of this game, which is the fact that outside of the level backgrounds and story, nearly everything else is randomized. This includes the types of items you’ll obtain, level layouts, what sort of bosses will spawn in a level, and the types of enemies you’ll encounter. In a way, as fittingly advertised on the Steam page, this makes Gunmetal Arcadia a rogue-like platformer. And if you know anything about me personally, you’ll know that I really enjoy rogue-like games, so this should be a perfect combination for me, right? Unfortunately, Gunmetal Arcadia makes several mistakes that causes the game to be nowhere near as enjoyable as the prequel.
The first of these mistakes comes from the fact that there’s pretty much no save feature at all. While Gunmetal Arcadia Zero was indeed a very short game that didn’t really need a save feature, it was still nice to be able to take breaks between each chapter. Gunmetal Arcadia scraps this entirely so if you manage to make it to chapter 3 and then quit, you’ll have to start from the beginning of the game. I assume this was an intentional choice to make sure the permadeath aspect isn’t abused (dying once sends you to the title screen, regardless of progress) but I still find it silly how a quicksave feature of some sort wasn’t implemented, since that’s a very frequent feature in a lot of rogue-likes.
The only real save function you’ll get from the start will be one that lists the amount of times you’ve attempted the adventure, with a “legacy mode” available for you to use if you die a lot. This legacy mode tries to adjust the randomness factor to be more in your favor if you happen to keep on dying. For example, I spent a good half hour trying to beat the second area of the game, and since legacy mode was enabled during all of those attempts, one of my future attempts spawned an incredibly helpful golden item that granted temporary invincibility, (Which you can see in these screenshots) making the first level and the first half of the second one a breeze, only for it to get back to being crazy difficult when I made it to the end of the second stage. After that attempt, the next try went back to making the first stage moderately difficult, with me getting a basic item from the first treasure chest instead of the OP item I got before. It clearly tried to help me out, but it still didn’t do enough to combat the rollercoaster of the difficulty.
And yes, rollercoaster is a perfect way to describe how the difficulty of the game felt for me. While most rogue-like games have some sort of “barrier” to prevent the randomness factor from being too harsh early on, (for example, earlier dungeons in Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games never spawn difficult enemies, since all of the enemies are randomly selected from a species list exclusive to each dungeon, which also sets a very strict range on enemy levels) Gunmetal Arcadia doesn’t really like to use those barriers. From what I’ve been able to gather, while earlier levels do keep consistency with enemy types and shop inventories, they aren’t consistent with the complexity of the level designs. Sometimes the path to the bosses will be a breeze, and other times it’ll require a lot of climbing, dropping down and defeating enemies. With only a few hit points available (and the permadeath) this means that sometimes I’ve had playthroughs that only last a minute before they end, while other times I’ve been able to make it past the first level without breaking a sweat. These also are caused by the bosses, which just like the level designs can range from being incredibly easy to downright infuriating, although I did notice more of a barrier here than I did for the level designs themselves, since the pool of bosses that appeared in the first stage seems to be rather small.
Alas, despite spending over an hour attempting to make it past stage 2, (the time it took me to nearly 100% Gunmetal Arcadia Zero by getting every non-speedrun achievement) I was never able to do so, making me lose interest very quickly, which is a shame as outside of the random factor, everything else that I loved from Zero is here, including the top-notch controls, which are the only thing that prevent this game from making me want to pull my hair out, since while I felt that every death I encountered WAS preventable, the random spikes and drops of difficulty just made things a lot crazier than they needed to be.
In conclusion, considering how fantastic the prequel game was, it’s incredibly disappointing that I didn’t have nearly as much enjoyment with the main game. While the controls and presentation are just as spot-on as they were in Zero, the gameplay took a massive hit by being completely randomized, and while a randomized game can be a lot of fun when done right, here it just felt like a rollercoaster of difficulty, and even though the game tries to balance things out with legacy mode, there’s still the overarching problem of the game relying on randomness without making sure that players will be addicted to the idea of wanting to try and try again. For me in particular, instead of the randomness being a factor to make me replay the game over and over again to see what changed, it just made me frustrated and unsure what the difficulty curve was going to be like next. Make no mistake, this game is many times harder than Zero, even on the first level.
Hopefully if there is a third Gunmetal Arcadia game, it’ll have the randomization done better, or go back to basics and have everything replaced with the superb, level by level nature already established by the predecessor. You will get a lot challenge for $10, that’s for sure, but I can’t really recommend this to everyone at that price. Only those with incredible patience will be able to get everything done properly. I give Gunmetal Arcadia a 5 out of 10. It’s not a bad game, nor is it really a good game, just an in-the-middle and rather disappointing sequel.