Every time you think the whole roguelike genre and its numerous spinoffs might be getting a bit stale, along comes a game that provides a pleasantly fresh spin on things, and which is highly enjoyable to play. The latest of these is Metallic Child, a new PC and Switch title from one-man South Korean developer Studio HG — and a game that is sure to keep you busy for a long time.
Oh, and it got a trailer by Studio Trigger somehow. Let’s admire that for a moment before we proceed.
Despite being an action roguelike, Metallic Child actually makes a significant attempt to set up some plot and characterisation before throwing you into the action. There’s a lengthy interactive introductory sequence in which you, the player, are introduced to main character Rona the android and invited to take control of her; the whole game is set up in an appealingly “fourth wall-breaking” scenario, where your PC monitor or TV screen becomes your direct network link to Rona and the cameras that are observing her, and while her autonomous functions aren’t working correctly, you get to command everything she does.
Rona is an android who was stationed aboard a space station called Life Stream. It seems that some time ago, there was a rebellion aboard Life Stream, and the rebels have left the place in a right state. Specifically, they’ve set it on a collision course with the Earth, and if Rona and her friend Pan don’t do something about that pretty quickly, a good two thirds of the Earth is going to be flambéed.
The solution is to gather the Cores from the Metallic Child robots who guard each area of the installation, and use them to stabilise Life Stream’s course. But it won’t be easy; although Rona is a multi-purpose, versatile sort of mechanical gal more than capable of picking up a giant hammer and cracking some metallic skulls, it’s not really what she was built for. But she feels obliged to sort things out; it was her “mother” Dr. Irene who kicked off the rebellion, after all, so she wants to understand why all this happened — and if there was something more sinister manipulating her mother’s behaviour.
Metallic Child’s gameplay unfolds as a polygonal, isometric-perspective action roguelike with strong beat ’em up influences. Rona can run, jump and dodge-roll — with the latter offering helpful invincibility frames for dodging bullets — and attack with either of the two weapons she’s equipped with. Attacks can take the form of a normal attack, a “grab” or a “special”, and hitting the buttons for each of these in various combinations can produce various effects.
For example, a solid combo attack is hitting the enemy a couple of times with a normal attack to stun them, grabbing them and throwing them against a wall, then, while they’re knocked down after the impact, use the grab button to perform a down attack on them. Alternatively, picking foes up and chucking them into fire also works, as does just pummelling them into submission; the way in which you fight is up to you, but it’s certainly more than just mindless button mashing.
You can’t just blindly use your most powerful abilities, either; Rona has a battery meter which effectively acts as a stamina bar for performing any actions other than normal attacks. With a drained battery, she can’t grab enemies, perform special moves or, perhaps most significantly, dodge out of the way, so you ideally want to avoid this happening at all costs; thankfully, charging her up again is a simple matter of landing a few normal attacks on the enemies.
Certain enemies are shielded, which means you either need to perform several charge attacks on them to break their shields, or fling an explosive at them if one happens to be available. Different weapons have varying levels of effectiveness on different types of enemies, and the combat, on the whole, feels pleasingly varied; you’ll quickly come to recognise different foes and how you’ll need to deal with them — along with the different ways you’ll need to approach one-on-one battles versus large groups of baddies.
As Rona fights her way through the stages, she can obtain mini-Cores from enemies, which provide temporary benefits (or, occasionally, drawbacks) for a set period of time. The negative mini-Cores have their uses, though; while they might cause Rona some difficulties (or occasionally just a bit of silly fun, such as the one that turns her into voxels) they allow her to obtain “bug data”, which is one of the game’s currencies, used to unlock various new abilities and bonuses.
Collecting Core Energy by landing special “Takedown” attacks or defeating certain powerful foes allows Rona to level herself up and acquire Super Cores, which are semi-permanent upgrades that last for the remainder of her current run. These can be upgrades through several tiers, and generally have a significant impact on the way that particular run is going to play — they’ll determine what weapons you’ll want to focus on, the ways in which you’ll want to attack, and whether it will benefit you to play aggressively or defensively.
If this all sounds a bit Hades, that’s not a terrible comparison; there are certainly elements in common with Supergiant’s classic. Metallic Child places a stronger focus on exploration, however, whereas in Hades you’re constantly moving “forward” through each of the stages. Metallic Child is also somewhat more forgiving than Hades, too; while it still presents a stiff challenge on its default difficulty level, healing items are a lot easier to come by, meaning it’s more likely you’ll be able to recover from early mistakes.
Interestingly, Metallic Child also features a special “Story” difficulty that includes the optional ability to make Rona completely invincible, so if you’re interested in the game’s narrative and satisfying overall “feel” but don’t want to be particularly taxed, you can enjoy it in that way if you so desire. And I can understand wanting to do that; the prologue does a good job of setting Rona up to be a likeable (and obscenely cute) character, and the situation that she and Pan are faced with is immediately intriguing. The gameplay is appealing enough in its own right, but the prospect of helping this adorable android girl out makes Metallic Child all the more compelling over the long term.
Essentially, Metallic Child is an extremely considerately designed game. It recognises that it will appeal to some people not for the notorious difficulty factor of action roguelikes, but because it has cute characters and an intriguing narrative premise, and provides a suitable means for those players to enjoy it without feeling excluded. At the same time, though, it doesn’t take the challenge away from those who desire it; there’s even an extra-hard mode to tackle for those who really rate their skills.
Metallic Child is beautifully presented, featuring an aesthetic somewhat similar to Witch Beam’s excellent twin-stick shooter Assault Android Cactus, coupled with some lovely Live2D art for Rona and the other characters she encounters on her travels. Music is excellent, sounds effects are suitably meaty when appropriate and atmospheric under other circumstances, and the game features a full voiceover in both Japanese and Korean, with the former being the default.
All in all, this was a thoroughly pleasant surprise to see appear on Steam and Switch — and a great investment for those looking for their latest fix of hack-and-slash action roguelike fun. There’s even a demo available on Steam (though not Switch, sadly) if you’re not convinced by my enthusiasm, so give it a go for yourself and see what you reckon.
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