How many of us asked to learn the drums as a kid? Due to a lack of space and worry over noise, child-me had to settle for playing the trombone — although, I’m not sure that made any difference to our neighbors. Fellow dreamers, we may have a solution. Gal Metal needs a drummer for their high-school metal band and the only limitation is our own sense of rhythm.
Before getting started there’s a small problem to deal with. We’ve pissed off the aliens for far too long. Done with headaches caused by Earth-based sounds, they figure it’s finally time to punish the source. Luckily, the octopus based life-forms are willing to give us one last fighting chance, and tell their plans to two high-schoolers. Oh, actually one emissary is enough, so they fuse the two together. I mean, of course. How else did you expect a story about learning the drums to go? A boy is trapped inside a girl’s body, and must attempt to save the world through music. Obviously.
In all seriousness though, I do enjoy silly plots like this. While nothing particularly special, there’s certainly an amused curiosity over what the little squishy aliens will do next. I can also appreciate the nod to shōjo manga, from the cute art style to reading the story panels right to left. None of it exactly screams rock and roll, but it’s nice to see a story about a metal band that doesn’t simply fill the screen with skulls and the color black.
Within the 13 chapters, Gal Metal is split into performances and downtime. Where I spent stamina was up to me; practicing, raising relationships, or building stats. These stats simply increase or decrease from whatever location you visit. You can add bonus points to a drumming performance for things like playing accurately or stringing combos together. For the most part, I took little notice of them, and picked up more than enough points without trying.
Meanwhile, time spent with band members almost feels too real. Nattering on about whether popcorn should have multiple flavors, or how much chocolate you can eat before getting a nosebleed. We’ve all had weird pointless chats like this with our own mates. The thing is, outside of my own friendship group, these conversations just came across as mindless chatter. I struggled to care or see a reason for listening to any of it.
At first, I wondered whether I’d be rewarded for bonding with friends by having them join the band. Talking with them could allow for a choice between favored personalities, as well as their personal stat boosts. In reality, the whole group was at my disposal from the off and never changed. I wasn’t wrong about friendship bonding being a gameplay mechanic, though. The catch is, it’s only available through paid DLC.
Whatever your feelings towards it, hanging out with friends gives a nice space away from the drumming lifestyle. Otherwise, it is perfectly possible to ignore them all and spend the whole game honing your skills.
There are three ways to play the drums: traditional controls, Joy-Con motion controls, or touchscreen screen controls. Gal Metal clearly wanted me to pretend I was using drumsticks, with a Joy-Con in each hand. Don’t worry; it’s not about mastering where everything is on a drum kit. Right controller is your kick bass (represented by red dots on the screen), the left is the snare (which are blue), and wave both for a cymbal (if the urge strikes).
I did have a bit of trouble at first. Swings didn’t always register. I couldn’t tell whether it was the game, how I was holding the Joy-Con, or my own sense of rhythm. Turning up the Joy-Con sensitivity was the answer. Once settled in, it was nice to find a game where motion controls actually gave that more realistic experience. There was a smug power in beating out rhythms using the Joy-Con. I was soon happily imagining my drum kit, breathing in the pretend atmosphere of a lively crowd.
Like in real life, though, you’re not going to sound any good without some practice. Each of Gal Metal‘s songs comes with their own suggested ‘hot’ rhythm patterns to play. At first, these are as easy as flicking one hand a couple of times. Later on, things get more complicated. For only having two drums to think about there is an impressive amount of rhythm variations to learn.
Here’s where I struggled. Match the beat correctly five times, and a practice session is over. Want to try again to be sure it’s in your head, or perhaps learn a new pattern? That’ll cost more of the limited stamina supply. Perhaps it’s my dyslexia talking, but I need to repeat something more than five times to commit it to memory. Yes, I know it’s a game. Doing things in an allotted period of time is often part of the package. Yet, Gal Metal’s whole enjoyment comes from trying to give a realistic performance, which I can’t do without having enough time to practice and get good.
Performances give no patterns to follow along with, or any kind of metronome. Four drumstick taps at the beginning are the lone form of hand-holding. You can’t just tap out your memorized combos, either, they’ve got to be in time with the particular piece that’s currently playing, or it doesn’t count. It’s super daunting.
Points are rewarded for accuracy, stringing together combos, experimenting, and matching the tone of the piece. Luckily for me, a small number of points are also rewarded for freestyling ‘Rudiments’. So a performance can still be saved, even with a load of missed combos.
There is something incredibly gratifying over having the freedom to string combos together as I choose. And boy, is there the possibility for some fantastically unique drumming sessions here. Unhindered by rules, players can just go ham with their own skills. On the flip side, I felt punished for not having a crazy good natural sense of rhythm. How do I find the beat when I’m supposed to be the one providing it?
The thing is, satisfaction doesn’t come with beating Gal Metal, but feeling like you did a good job as a drummer. I never did. Listening to play-backs simply revealed poor timing and bad combo choices that were only good for producing a pained facial expression. I don’t think I listened to a whole play-back once. It was too embarrassing.
Of course, none of the above means anything if you don’t like the music. There are only 13 pieces to go through, with some varying styles and speeds. While enjoyable, the tracks didn’t exactly blow me away. The main problem being that everything is taken from the license-free pool, and little heart has gone into the arrangements. In a game that’s going for something so original, it’s a shame that the music itself doesn’t follow suit.
Enjoyment of Gal Metal hangs on a thread. Confidence in your sense of rhythm and memorization skills can lead to a fun and rewarding experience. There’s even a silly story in-between songs to give your wrists that well-earned rest. Yet with no depth to the plot, a frustrating lack of direction, and painful performance play-backs, the whole thing can easily turn into a mess. Sure, getting into your groove with the motion controls can provide a great little experience, but not everyone will find the struggle to be worthwhile.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A review copy was provided to us by XSEED Games.
Depending on your own musical talents, Gal Metal can be cute and satisfying, or dull and frustrating.