Metal Unit, get in the robot – First Sip Review

Recently we covered the game Skul for the site. And the publishers of the game NEOWIZ reached out to us with another of their games. That game is Metal Unit, another Metroidvania with Roguelike elements. However, unlike Skul, Metal Unit is developed by JellySnow Studios.

Before we begin in earnest, I need to mention again that this game is heavily in Beta. So once again I will be providing information about the Beta build and will eschew scoring at this point. The other topic I want to cover before we get into it is this. Do we need another Metroidvania Roguelike? Skul is one and plenty of others exist as well. And the answer to that question is a resounding YES! As long as they are well made we can’t get enough of them. Heck, just take a look at our Top Indie Metroidvanias for the Decade list for all the proof you need.

Story

Have you seen a giant robot anime? I’m talking about Gundam, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Darling in the Franxx, etc. Pretty much anything that has regular humans piloting mechs will have elements of what’s in Metal Unit. It’s a very maximal kind of story, if it’s popular enough to be a trope or cliche than likely it’s here. It’s the year 2060, Earth has been attacked by monsters, and if that’s not enough Ancient Beings from the underground awaken and get in on the action. Then aliens descend from space with their increased technology so we can fight back with pilotable mech weapons. But also the aliens and their machines attack us as well.

You play as a scrappy young girl named Joanna who pilots the M-11. Joanna’s sister has gone missing and is presumed to be a traitor. But there’s no time to think of that because your heroic teacher and captain is showing you the ropes. That is until she sacrifices herself for you. So already you have unknown enemy sieges, a missing and possibly turncoat family member and a tragically lost mentor that was sort of your fault. So yeah, not really breaking any new ground here. But they are established tropes for a reason. That reason is that they work.

There are more subtleties to the characters and the story. However, as the game is not natively English there have been some issues with translations. Particularly with grammar and syntax.

Metal Unit gameplay
Give me your gun, also your clothes and your motorcycle

Graphics

Metal Unit uses a retro pixel-art style, with small detailed pixels. It’s a fairly well-established art style for the genre and it looks good. In particular, the mech designs are quite nice. They are mostly very angular, more akin to modern anime than the more bulky block mechs of the past. Although there are some larger mechs that seem to evoke that classic style.

Enemy designs are quite varied especially with all the different threats attacking Earth. While the variety is a good thing, not all the designs mesh well into one style. For instance, a lot of the earlier enemies are cutesy slimes or killer robots. Both are interesting and look great, but seeing them all together is less cohesive than it could be. It’s by no means a game-breaker though. And isn’t even the thing that stands out the most graphically for me.

The thing I have the hardest time dealing with visually in the game is scale. At first the M-11 looks like a large Gundam style suit, where the pilot would sit in the head or the torso. But, you’ll start to notice that humans size differs greatly, some are as tiny as you’d expect, others are slightly bigger than you. There are also moments where you stop at a camp and Joanna takes off the M-11 suit to reveal that it is more of an Iron-Man actual size suit. But again this is confusing because some of the suits and turn into plane modes, which would mean the person inside would be mangled?

After a while, I just had to stop analyzing that aspect of the game.

Metal Unit gameplay
Jump, shoot, dash, slice, all them good things

Sound

Metal Unit has a pretty solid soundtrack and sound design in general. The music carries a lot of retro 80’s synthwave sounds. Which is always great to hear. Plus it fits with the style of the game well too.

Sound effects are pretty good too, nothing stands out as being out of place or annoying. Not much to say here really. Everything fits well and sounds good. I’d have to play more of the game to recognize any themes but while the game is on it all sounds good to me.

Metal Unit Gameplay
In the version I played the Blacksmith serves as the guy who tells you where to buy stuff

Gameplay

The Basics

Metal Unit is a Metroidvania game, and as such you get a lot of typical abilities for the genre. Firstly, there is the map, I’ve said it before and likely I’ll say it again, a Metroidvania without that specific sort of minimap is no Metroidvania at all. Other than the map you have your standard abilities. Jump (double jump), walk/run, melee attack, ranged attack, crouch and a dodge move (in this game it’s a dash). As the game progresses you’ll see more abilities which I’ll go more into a bit later.

So the main question here now. With standard abilities how does the game feel? And the answer is, pretty good. Everything controls pretty well, I had a few times where I would be facing the wrong way when I went to use the ranged attack. But, honestly, they were mostly times where I accidentally faced the wrong way, so no reason to fault the game for a user issue. Overall the basic feel of the game, running, dashing, jumping and alternating between melee and ranged attacks is pretty satisfying and feels solid.

The Full Loadout

Where Metal Unit starts to come into its own, is the item loadout. Throughout the game, you can find various items. Healing potions, new weapons, and powers. The weapons and powers can only be equipped to particular slots on the M-11. These slots include melee weapon, off-hand ranged weapon, sub-weapon (can be anything from grenades to boomerangs to mystical lightning strikes), special ability (a super attack that requires you to defeat or strike enemies to charge, as opposed to the timed cooldown of other abilities). These four abilities would be enough for most games, but Metal Unit doesn’t stop there. You also get slots for armor and add-on attack.

As mentioned above, most items run on a cooldown system. Melee weapons typically have a cooldown of 0.1 seconds so you can combo with them. Whereas off-hand, sub-weapon and armor abilities normally have a cooldown in proportion to their strength. For instance, a pistol might have a cooldown of 0.3 seconds to allow for rapid fire and light damage. While a sniper rifle might have a cooldown of 1.2 seconds which means you have to place your shots well to make them count. But you’ll do a lot more damage with them if they connect.

Metal Unit gameplay
Like the ice? Snow Problem!

Roguelike Aspects

As well as being a Metroidvania, Metal Unit is a Roguelike as well. This means procedurally generated levels (see random level design each run). And each run also gives you a resource for your next run. The resource being “Research Points” or RP. The only use I can find for the RP at the moment is a store at the base where you can buy items with RP instead of coins. This can give you a slight edge as you’ll go into the game with an additional item or a stronger version of a starting item. But the store is still randomized and so are the items in the levels. So it’s possible you’ll buy something and then almost immediately find a better replacement.

When I read the explanation of RP I thought it would be more permanent upgrades. Stuff like increased health, increased base damage, slight health regen if you don’t get hit for a while, etc. And it’s possible there are upgrades like that, there are a few people in the base that tell me I’m not ready for what they can offer. At this stage, I can’t be sure if they have been fully implemented into the game or not, or maybe I just need to progress further.

Metal Unit gameplay
How do you tell a dragon their breath is bad?

Overall

Much like the aforementioned Skul, Metal Unit is not quite complete yet. However, Metal Unit does contain a difficulty selection option. The game so far is fun and addictive, most of my runs I made significant progress. The items are varied, even though some are just palette shifted or cosmetically different (in particular melee weapons). There are a lot that shift your play-style. For instance, I found a melee weapon “alloy sword” which was huge, so large in fact that I could sometimes hit enemies above me without being on the same floor, meaning I wasn’t at risk of being hit.

If you enjoy Metroidvania games and giant mech anime, you could do a lot worse than Metal Unit. I did run into a game-breaking bug on my first run (I needed to drink a potion to get through the tutorial but the button wouldn’t work so the door wouldn’t open). But, after a quick reset, everything worked smoothly on subsequent play sessions. As it currently is, it’s a pretty easy recommendation, so when they finish cleaning up the translations and ironing out the bugs, it might even be a must-play.

In Coffee Terms

Metal Unit in coffee terms is like a classic blend. But with all the toppings. The coffee itself is good, it’s well made, it might not be fully done yet but you can tell effort and care have gone into it. And then on top, you’ve got, whipped cream, sprinkles, cream, chocolate powder. Pretty much if you’ve seen a topping on a coffee they’ve got it, piled to the sky.

Metal Unit Links

Developer YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxhdR1Gp2_uLcebiKdniGDg
Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1173200/Metal_Unit/
Publisher: https://www.neowizglobal.com/

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