The Switch has seen a number of unique games utilize the platform and it’s multitude of inputs in inventive ways. From dynamic cow-milking in 1-2 Switch to building a giant-robot controller with Nintendo Labo, the versatility of the console is inarguable, but for all the experimentation there’s been a lack of that classic motion-controlled action that made the Nintendo Wii such a generation-defining console. What’s a poor soul to do without any waggle-minigames or Ravi Drums air-jamming goodness? Thankfully, Gal Metal has arrived, ushering in some classic controller-waggling action that’s a little too faithful to the jankiness of Wii-era motion gaming.
Gal Metal is a rhythm game, but it goes against the grain in a lot of ways. For starters, it’s one of the most story-heavy music games I’ve played in ages. The game sees a boy and girl from a Japanese high school abducted by aliens, only for those aliens to put both their minds in the same body as revenge for all the heavy metal music that the Voyager spacecraft has been blasting into space. With alien octopi vowing to destroy the human race, it’s up to our protagonist to gather their all-girl high school metal band and melt the faces off those invaders in a series of musical battles.
While there are traditional free-play and practice modes in Gal Metal, story mode grabbed my heart and never let it go. The rapport between the five main characters is delightful, and the writing constantly oozes hilarious charm and quirkiness while still managing to make these characters feel like real high schoolers and even more real friends. A lot of story scenes are delivered through manga-style page animatics with bright and expressive art by Aoki Toshinai, the talented artist behind recent hit anime Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan. Chapters are even capped off with weird, alternative “next episode” preview scenes that perfectly capture that anime charm.
Between cutscenes and concerts, you’re treated to a Persona-style social system that lets you choose how to spend your afternoons. With a finite amount of energy and hours in the day, you can pick a variety of hangout spots, part time jobs, or shops to go to. Each of these can add or subtract from a chart of different stats that affect the bonuses and multipliers you get during concerts. Your band mates are also in town and going to spots that they’re at will increase your bond with them and unlock a multitude of goofy, endearing story scenes rendered in a cute cut-out diorama style. I loved the cast of the game, so being able to explore their interests and day-to-day lives like that put a smile on my face.
Beyond manga page cutscenes and RPG social scenes, though, Gal Metal also delivers story and character interaction through one of the best uses of text-messaging I’ve seen in a video game. Your band has a group-chat where they’ll gab to each other during classes and lunch breaks. Even in these texts, each character has their own texting mannerisms and ways of writing that perfectly captures each of their unique personalities. When one friend makes a weird joke, and everyone else replies with the same goofy Line sticker, I felt like I was basically reading one of my own stupid 1am group chats with friends. It’s moments like these that help flesh the cast out even more and make you care about them as more than just the pretty character models on stage during concerts.
These concerts are where the rhythm-game part of Gal Metal finally begins, but unfortunately, they lack the same charm as the rest of the game. The standard note highways and pre-determined charts of your regular music games are gone. Instead, Gal Metal tasks you, the drummer, with keeping your own rhythm, playing your own beats, and racking up huge points without any on-screen guides or indicators. It’s a really interesting flip on rhythm game standards that put far more importance on your listening skills than your hand-eye coordination. Unless you’re a trained drummer, though, you’ll struggle to make sense of the systems at play here.
For starters, your success during concerns relies heavily upon you staying on rhythm with the music being played. There are zero visual indicators of your rhythm or the rhythm of the song, and no way to find out if you’ve fallen off or gotten back on rhythm. Again, for someone who has an ear for music, this is likely a trivial exercise. For fans of music games who are used to the usual visual aids these games offer, but lack proper musical training, it’s a much more obtuse challenge.
The game throws you a bit of a bone by providing around 40 pre-existing drum patterns for you to memorize and bust-out during concerts, and I did enjoy the unorthodox challenge of practicing and memorizing these drum fills. To get big points, you’ll need to mix and match these drum fills to string together combos. The game rewards variety far more than it rewards accuracy, which is good because I was rarely able to accurately bust out the drum fills I had memorised, no matter how accurately I felt I was playing.
With my Joy-Con in hand, I’d envision a proper drum kit in front of me and tap away to the beats in my head. and the game did an almost perfect job of tracking my movements. Any time a hit was missed, it was usually due to me shifting out of the required drummer posture. Button and touchscreen control are also available for the game, but these methods put a full drum kit in front of you with little explanation or introduction, which proved to be a little too intimidating for me.
Gal Metal only sports 13 songs, which is a pretty light offering compared to normal rhythm games. I was initially disappointed by the low number, but as I played more of the game, I came to appreciate how spaced out each song is by story scenes and narrative developments. In the end, I was simply more disappointed by the music itself. Each song in the game is a trashing, metal cover of classical music standard. While a handful of them truly stand out as great beats, many of them have a lifeless quality to the instrumentation that felt on par with generic, royalty free rock music. With how much the band loves metal and goes on about their appreciation of the classics, that fanfare and affection isn’t reflected in the quality of the music that they play.
Gal Metal has some great ideas, but fails to execute them soundly. It tries to break the mould of rhythm games by giving players more agency over how they play. There’s a big difference between removing the training wheels and removing the headlight though, and with a lack of proper guidance and feedback on what the player is doing, Gal Metal feels more like cycling in the dark than it ought to. Charming characters and a cute story redeem the package somewhat, but it’s still a bit of a chore to play through the music segments between those narrative beats.