Not long ago, gaming had an obsession with musical performance. Originally, games like Beatmania, GuitarFreaks, Guitar Hero, and Rock Band feigned playing actual music instruments with devices that mimicked keyboards, turntables, guitars, basses, and drums. But over time, the genre grew increasingly abstract. Before long, Nintendo hoped we would all be making awkward gestures with stock controllers in 2008’s Wii Music.
But we didn’t. The title received disparaging critical reviews, players reacted indifferently, and after Activision and Harmonix flooded the market with sequels and derivatives, the music rhythm gradually sank into obscurity. Sure, there have been a few Hatsune Miku titles and mobile game ports for Switch, but the days of rocking out with big, mass-market music titles seemed to have lost much of its momentum when Guitar Hero Live shut down its servers.
But along comes Gal Metal, reminding players off the delight found in air-drumming. Yet, with a manga-esque art style and public domain soundtrack, it’s obvious this isn’t one of those big-budget efforts envisioned for mass appeal. No, only the enlightened ones will appreciate the madcap storyline and the simulated LINE chats. But they’re also the ones who will understand the virtues of Persona-like recreational time and the splendor of a band of school uniform-clad young ladies rocking out. And while it can’t compare to the sheer kawaii-ness of K-On! Houkago Live!!, the game’s autonomous approach to banging the skins should help find an audience.
For more story-driven that most rhythm games, Gal Metal’s plotline focuses on an invasion of octopus-like creature who crossed the galaxy seeking revenge. Years ago, when the Voyager spacecraft was launched, it carried two gold, photographic records, signaling civilization on our planet. But woefully, music on the disk was assaultive, driving the extraterrestrials into vengeance for the pain inflicted on them. To destabilize the attack, the game’s school girls rely on the power of metal, hoping that their mastery of hard rock can repel the invasion. Amazingly, it gets weirder.
To complicate things, the game’s male protagonist shares a female body with a young girl, reminiscent of the gender-swap device from Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name. Naturally, the contrivance is mined for laughs, but it also permits a male lead character to seamlessly drum in an otherwise all-girl band. Comedy is also rooted in the simulated group text chats between band members which simulate a LINE conversation complete with digital stickers. These help to flesh out Gal Metal’s cast, and while there are no pensive character arcs, the inclusion makes you feel like you’re jamming with personalities rather than polygons with no backstory.
Gun Metal’s play is built around three detached control schemes. Beyond detaching the Joy-Cons and drumming on imaginary snares and cymbals, you can also opt to use buttons or the touchscreen. Obviously, the latter two input methods lack the physicality of mimicking beats but can offer a bit more accuracy. A downward motion might trigger a snare on one controller and a tom on the other but moving both simultaneously can activate a cymbal crash. Players pursuing precision will either tap out beats on the on-screen kit or buttons, or else learn to keep a hand still when hitting that half-beat.
Mercifully, Gal Metal doesn’t require the accuracy of most rhythm games. While the game will teach you over three dozen different beats, it rarely compels you into using specific ones. Instead, play is about real performance, and you’ll earn alien-defeating point values based on playing those rhythms, but without any kind of note highway or direction, you’re given complete independence. As such, accuracy counts, and you’ll earn more points for thumping out a solid rhythm, but variety carries much more weight when it comes to uplifting your score.
But the amount of autonomy could be an impediment for some. Without clear-cut visual cues, some players might not know if they’re cadence matches the song. It will also take a bit of experimentation to learn how much variety is needed. But since, Gal Metal’s tracklist consists of thirteen hard rock interpretations of classic pieces, you’ll soon learn what kind of techniques are valued.
When you’re not practicing solo or playing with the band, Gal Metal permits you to spend your afterschool hours as you see fit. Here, you’ll use a restrained amount of time and energy to do things like work at part-time jobs, practice your drumming, or even go shopping. Each of these has benefits, affecting the multipliers that are used to tally up your post-performance point totals. Occasionally, if you meet up with your bandmates, you’ll be rewarding with a short cutscene that shows the encounter.
With artwork from Kimi no Koe o Todoketai’s Aoki Toshinai and a madcap storyline, Gal Metal offers more than the skeletal impetus extended by most music-rhythm games. When it comes to performance, the game succeeds as well, with a sense of freedom that moves away from mere mimicry. That design decision means Gal Metal isn’t as user-friendly as most genre entries. But if you’re able to tap out the beat and know where to insert a fill, the title can be quite enjoyable. Hopefully, an encore brings real songs, I’d love to rock out to BABYMETAL, Band-Maid, and vivid undress.
Gal Metal was played on the Switch with review code provided by the publisher.