Here’s the hidden secret about Metallic Child: It is perhaps best understood not by what it claims to be on the cover but by a series of otherwise ornate references to other games. At a glance, this game is a roguelite, and indeed that’s what it claims to be right on the cover when you start playing the game. Go into a dungeon, fight for a while, die, upgrade yourself, go back in, get more stuff.
This is only part of what’s going on with the game, though. To really understand what’s on offer with the title, you have to start digging deeper. And I dislike giving the game away in the intro, so join me on a journey into what Metallic Child has on offer on PC and Switch. (The PC version on Steam was played for this review.)
Dr. Irene’s Revenge
To start things off, we have to examine the plot, and you might get some hints of what’s going on from there to start with. You play as an unnamed male player somewhere on a version of the Earth wherein there is a giant flying spaceship researching advanced robotics and power sources above the planet. Something has gone wrong, and you are contacted by the eponymous metallic child, Rona, a robot who has been damaged and finds herself stuck in space surrounded by hostile robots.
The situation looks bleak. Dr. Irene, the woman who designed Rona, has led a rebellion of the robots against the human crew of the ship, and the whole thing is on a collision course to Earth that will do a terrible amount of damage. Worse yet, Rona has been prevented from repairing her autonomous movement functionality, meaning that she has to use a workaround by slaving her movement to your control. Her goal, with your help, is to collect enough Core Gems from the other metallic children (who are themselves combat models, unlike Rona) to avert the collision, and hopefully find out both what went wrong and why her mother started this sequence of events.
It’s not a particularly deep or engaging plot, but it fulfills the necessary function wherein you have a sense of the stakes and something that is at least an innovative way of bringing the player into the action. It is, for the most part, an excuse plot that gives you at least some reason to care about the characters and the plight of their circumstances, so that is ultimately a good thing. But like a lot of games in its genre, its focus is clearly more upon the gameplay than the story, and it’s there when things get really interesting from my perspective.
The Metal Wars
So here’s the thing about Metallic Child: it’s actually not just a straight-up roguelite. What it actually is winds up being more like a Mega Man roguelite, or even more accurate, a Mighty No. 9 roguelite. That might sound like a bad thing because you played Mighty No. 9, but it really isn’t.
The game itself hides this fact in no small part because even from the word go, Rona has quite the arsenal. She can attack with one of three weapon types, each with their own damage profile (gauntlets are fast but hit the softest, swords are in the middle, and hammers hit hard but take an age to swing). She can roll or guard (swords come with shields for guarding instead of dodge-rolling), and she can also use a special weapon skill based on the weapon she’s wielding. There’s also charged attacks, enemies to grab and throw into one another or into walls or hazards, and jumping to be concerned with. She’s got a lot going on.
But herein lies the trick. There’s a chance when you defeat any of the smaller robots that Rona will have the option of consuming the robot’s core, which can either give her a short-term power-up or a short-term debuff. This ranges from things like improved damage to drones that follow you around to no longer having any limit on your dodge rolls and blocks on the positive side, while debuffs include taking more damage, having reduced visibility, or even losing resources on taking damage. But even the debuffs are useful, as they provide “bug data” you use for installing more powerful Super Cores.
As Rona smashes stuff, she levels up steadily, with each installed Super Core tweaking her gameplay for the entirety of a run. More powerful Super Cores require bug data, which is only got from the bugged cores, so it’s in your interests to acquire as many cores as you can. That’s the part that resembles Mighty No. 9 and its temporary powerups by smashing minions just right… and then you get into your first fight with a metallic child and earn its power by defeating it, letting you use two separate child weapons at a time once you have two of them to bring with you into battle.
The one downside to all of this stuff is that combat gets a little overwhelming. The bright side, though? It’s not just fun, it’s well-balanced. Sure, there were the occasional bits that felt kind of cheap, but it also felt kind of cheap to grab enemies and fling them into one another for mass damage, so swings and roundabouts. Weapons feel responsive, dodging and guarding feels fun, and the different enemy types you face are all varied enough to stay interesting without requiring you to carefully study each of them just to have a chance. This is a fun action romp and it holds to that.
For that matter, it’s also great fun to start a run, feel it going a bit south, and then claw your way back and feel yourself steadily accumulating more power and tricks until you’re ready to take the fight to the boss at the end. The big bosses are suitably tough, too; each one I beat felt like it wasn’t overwhelming, but also like I was clearing each fight within an inch of my life rather than some sort of easy curbstomp or the traditional Mega Man approach of finding just the right (obvious) weapon to nail the boss with.
Both roguelites and kind-of-sort-of-Mega Man clones live and die on the strength of their gameplay, and Metallic Child delivers on that front. It’s a fun, intense, riveting combat experience from start to finish.
Battle & (Core Gem) Chase
The biggest problem that the game has graphically is that all of its environments look the dang same. There’s a clear effort made to differentiate between the various areas belonging to specific metallic children, but at the end of the day the randomized corridors all wash together into a samey bubble that never feels terribly distinct even with unique stage hazards. This might work a bit better if the environment was at least unique or memorable, but it’s all bland industrial corridors that kind of wash out much in the way of detail. Definitely a down side.
On the plus side, characters and enemies are all distinctly drawn, easy to track against the background, and have an impressive range of emotion. And the portraits that pop up for Rona and the other robots are nice and expressive, so that makes up for some of the issue there. It’s just a shame that so much of the game looks like you’re wandering in endless metal hallways (probably because you are just wandering in endless metal hallways).
Similarly, the music is… well, it’s there. There’s nothing much to say about it. Not bad, not good, not memorable in any major way. I tuned it out pretty early. The sound effects are nice, though, and the Japanese voice acting sounds decent (although with my luck it sounds horrible if you’re actually a native speaker).
At the end of the day, quibbles about music or visuals or story are kind of secondary to this particular game. This is a title that is an amalgamation of two separate game types that both rely heavily on their gameplay to be pleasurable… and to its credit, Metallic Child really nails that part of the formula. It manages to be fun without feeling formulaic, and it even kept alive that sense of always struggling just a little further in the hopes of clearing a run even when things felt less than promising early on. That’s a sign that something is working right.
Of course, none of that is to say that the game wouldn’t be better with a better story or better environments or any of that; just that what it needs to get right it does very right, so much that it elevates the game beyond what could have been a rather bare-bones presentation to be quite a good title. If you like the idea of flinging around robots and unlocking weapons from defeated bosses, you should definitely give this one a go.
Review copy provided by CREST for PC. All screenshots courtesy of CREST.