Metal Unit PC Review
It’s challenging to articulate why I have such a good time with Metal Unit. I know it’s not the best side-scrolling action platformer, or really even a great one, but it just touches on something really satisfying. The ludicrous amount of flashy weapons and fast-paced positional combat centred around mission-based roguelite gameplay is one thing, but the fact it’s just so easy to pick up and play as a quick kick-back really does it for me. Unlike most other roguelike/lites, runs don’t take an hour and a half, after the first time through anyway. In fact they can often take minutes, when you’re all kitted up, and that makes it incredibly malleable – often being something I can squish in a game of between meetings, side-by-side with a cup of tea. Of course this lack of complexity does also come at the cost of deeper engagement but that’s not what Metal Unit seems to be about, ignoring the overly dramatic not-actually-that-long-but-definitely-way-too-long-feeling cutscenes and dialog sections (for possibly the dumbest story ever in a video game).
I lost track about half way through, personally. That’s after you pass mech-school by charging into battle against a creature that should be far too powerful for you to be able to handle, in order to save a friend. Then learning about the plight of your sister; who betrayed the organisation you work for and started helping the bad guy monsters that used to live underground, before rising to the surface and attacking humans. From there I remember something about aliens abducting a bunch of people (ex-M-Units, I believe) who were being crucified on big metal crosses. I am not joking. And from there it still somehow got worse. Clones. Merging with some God-level entity. Injecting monster blood. It’s a freakin’ nightmare and should, in my opinion, be considered the greatest satire in nonsensical-anime storytelling history because there is no way they were actually being serious…right?
Traumatic narrative aside, when I mention a ‘run’ can often take minutes, it’s not a playthrough of the whole game as with something like Spelunky or Hades. It’s actually a run of a single ‘mission’, of which there are only three (of increasing difficulty) – forest, snow, and lava. The fourth section is instead an array of several bosses that don’t even have to be defeated in one go. Each area has its own enemies, traps, and secrets, but the same core – dodge enemy attacks and blow/chop/smash/blast/whip/obliterate/etc them into tiny pieces. The runs work by having three to five enemy stages back-to-back, in which you must destroy all of the main monsters before being allowed to proceed, then a break at camp. That happens three times before the area boss and if you die at any point it’s right back to home base, losing everything you were holding (unless it was equipped through MP but we’ll get to that).
The camp has quite an interesting twist on it actually, allowing the player to either explore a special dungeon that always has great weaponry at the end or heal fully. On top of that, there’s also the ability to buy and sell items, craft special ones, or attempt ‘synthesis’ by destroying two and receiving one of equal or higher rarity in return, which is by far the best feature as it helps discover more of them quickly and any old junk can often be made useful. Having decent items is imperative as fights can become a dangerous slog late-game if you’re not outputting enough damage. Of course there’s also a permanent upgrade system in the form of three skill-trees, being a roguelite and all. These improvements are paid for with crystals, a unique alternative currency, which are found scattered throughout the runs and are also rewarded upon death by grading your build. However, whilst they are important and do make the character more powerful in a multitude of different ways, it’s still all about that sweet sweet ordnance. After all, as the old saying goes, the best form of offence is more offence with bigger and better artillery!
Every equipable item, of which there are six types, can also be levelled up once by using them and gaining experience. In total there must be close to or just over two hundred unique pieces of equipment covering the primary melee weapon, secondary ranged weapon, a passive add-on, a passive defence piece, and two active abilities that are basically an ultimate attack that must be charged up by dealing damage and another ranged ‘magic’ attack of some kind. Every time an item is maxed it generates one permanent MP. The items don’t improve in any way, as one might imagine, but instead there are certain MP thresholds to hit before different rarity levels are unlocked for the player to use as part of their initial loadout. This simple loop is oddly intoxicating and often got me killed by forcing me to use weapons I didn’t feel were always very good but I had to push on, I needed to unlock them all. These runs were pure grind but I still enjoyed going through the motions and trying all of the crazy builds out.
There’s also a NewGame+ system in case all that’s still not enough. I’m currently at the end of NewGame++ and I’ll probably end it there. I’ve pretty much unlocked everything at this point and the few things I still have to do don’t interest me all that much – finding all of the posters hidden throughout the worlds and their randomly selected stages/dungeons and completing new runs in challenge mode, which starts the game over integrating different challenges such as a one-death hardcore mode and a mode simply with stronger enemies. To me that just means grinding up again in order to assure victory and I think I’ve had my fill of Metal Unit now with just over twenty hours in it. It’s by no means a classic. It’s not something you would run to your friends to recommend. It’s a game you can enjoy quietly by yourself, as you hack-and-slash your way through run after run, laughing off terrible plot moments and feeling satisfied.