Apologies for starting off this review like this, but if you’ll just allow me to indulge myself for a minute.
Reviewing this new title from Ratalaika Games is an interesting moment for me, as one of their previous efforts, Devious Dungeon, was one I recently took in. Now months later, their latest game, Metagal, has arrived on consoles. This is certainly a massive departure from the medieval fantasy sidescroller from previous, instead opting for a sci-fi, cyberpunky flavour. So, is this another solid entry in the 2D sidescroller library of games like Devious Dungeon, or is this actually a step backwards?
Metagal lets you take control of a cyborg named Meta, who’s on a mission to rescue her creator, Dr Ray, from the villainous hands of Dr Creeper, the mad leader of a robotic army. To make things even more sinister, Meta’s siblings have all been kidnapped by Dr Creeper and turned into battle robots you must face along the way to stopping the evil doctor. All of this is explained at the beginning in a very exposition heavy cutscene, and then the real meat of the game reveals itself.
That’s about it for the story here though; there’s enough to flesh out some kind of motive for your character, but not much else. Although to be fair, this isn’t really the kind of game where you expect a complex, winding narrative. It does what it needs to, and that’s about it.
From the start, you have access to four separate stages, each of which contains a sister you must defeat. Each stage has its own colour scheme and aesthetic, making them easy to separate from one another. Things work as you would expect from a sidescroller, and much like Devious Dungeon, you move from left to right (sometimes up and down as well), shooting and dodging your way past a host of robotic enemies hell bent on your destruction. There’s a standard attack button, and a more powerful special attack, which fires something akin to a shotgun blast, and is very helpful against some of the tougher enemies in the game, including the bosses. However, there is a recharge on this, meaning you have to wait for the bar to refill before you use it again, ensuring you can’t just spam it to clear out a crowd of enemies. A little bit of strategy is therefore required here, which is nice. You can also dash your way past enemies if need be. On more than one occasion, I just decided to rush past groups of enemies when things got a bit too hectic, and while you can’t always do this, it’s a perfectly legitimate option to take. The controls are very simple, mainly because there aren’t many of them, and they’re promptly shown to you when you boot up the game. There are only a few buttons here, so you’ll get used to them pretty quickly, and they work well enough.
While Metagal apparently boasts over 30 different enemy types, I had a hard time really remembering any of them, aside from some of the bosses. Most of the standard enemies are exactly that, just standard. They have a few different attacks, and may come at you from different angles, but it’s hard to really remember anything exciting about them. There’s nothing truly unconventional or innovative here, which is a little disappointing.
Scattered throughout the levels are pickups called gears, which allow you to immediately respawn exactly where you died, helping the natural pacing and flow of the game. They are generously spread out through the levels, meaning that you’ll usually have at least one available to use, if, and when, you die. This is a great feature, as you can run out, meaning there is still a consequence to death, but it’s also symbolic of the game allowing you to correct the mistakes that got you killed in the first place. It feels fair, and strikes a nice balance between wanting to challenge the player, as well as letting them have fun, and exploring what Metagal has to offer. When you get far enough through the stages, you can also get access to checkpoints, which will automatically save where you are, meaning that if you do die, you will restart back to that position. This has likely been done to negate the potential frustration of playing a level for over five minutes, and then having to redo the whole thing because you made one silly mistake. The health bar is clearly displayed in the corner of the screen, and I found that you can actually survive a decent number of hits before one of them becomes fatal.
Again, I probably shouldn’t be bringing up Devious Dungeon, but it’s hard not to, as my sentiments for both that and Metagal on Xbox One are similar. This sees it all come across as a functional, well designed sidescroller that will distract you for a few hours with some solid action and fun level design, before likely seeing you never going back to it. There are however many worse games out there you could play, that’s for sure.