Every so often I am pleasantly surprised by a game. Last year I got just that surprise when Gunmetal Arcadia Zero was included as a Humble Original for their monthly subscribers. Having spent plenty of time with Zero, I was hoping there would be more. Luckily, my search for information led me to find that Zero was just the prologue and more was on the way. Gunmetal Arcadia is a 2D side-scroller, retro styled rogue-like from Minor Key Games. Having enjoyed Zero and Super Win the Game, I was already familiar with some of their work and ready to dive into the next one.
The story is, of course, a continuation of Gunmetal Arcadia Zero. After the events of the first game, the city is still under attack by the Unmade. In order to try and combat that, your hero must go out and try to take down the queen. By doing so, they can retrieve the seed of the Unmade; however, what you do with that seed will be up to you. Keeping it, destroying it, or giving it to one of the 2 factions are all options. Choosing what you do wisely is advised, as it will influence what happens in subsequent runs in the game.
At its heart, Gunmetal Arcadia is a retro inspired 2D side-scroller with an impressive CRT simulation to boot, which is a plus if just pixels art isn’t enough for your retro likings. To get a better idea, the influences I could pick out were NES classics like Faxanadu, The Battle of Olympus and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Unlike Zero, Gunmetal Arcadia adds in more rogue-like elements: random level generation, plenty of items to play around with and a legacy system. The legacy system is well done as it takes some actions that have happened in the last playthrough and makes some minor adjustments to what you start with, or it increases chances of other events occurring in game. The legacy system seems to be in a good spot by giving the smaller things but nothing overbearing, like in Rogue Legacy where it was a de-facto leveling system.
Coupled with the legacy system is a mission system. After a few hours of playtime, I have completed a few and am interested to see where it goes. To this point, the missions mostly focused on getting a certain item belonging to one of the characters, so I’m not sure where it all will lead. Some fun left to be had and an extra way to add some replayability, but as for now, just getting an item is not enough, but also meeting and returning it to the proper person. I hope to know more the longer I play.
My biggest concern coming-in was the random level generation. While I certainly love playing rogue-likes, most platformers that employed random level generation have fallen flat for me. With one exception (Spelunky), most actually seemed more repetitive, as you can begin to memorize the sections that were stuck together. So, instead of memorizing one long level, the jumps and obstacles became routine everywhere. Thankfully however, Gunmetal Arcadia does a good job in that department. There is only really one formation that sticks out from the rest.
The paths so far have all been clear in this preview build. There have, however, been some really close calls, but no blockers have been encountered to this point. There was a chest that would have been out of reach if not for an item I had thankfully acquired, but I’m not sure if level generation takes items and stats into account. At this point the path could probably use a bit more complexity to it, such as the bottom being open, and if the exit is on top, having something in the way right at the end to force you up. Enemies are good, but they tend to get clustered and could probably stand to be spread out over the levels a little more evenly. None of this, however, detracts from the enjoyment of the game.
Let’s talk enemies a bit. They range in variety and challenge ranging from meat bag to OMGWTFBBQ!?! That bbq I was mentioning would have been the Queen after I destroyed the seed. Figured that would have ticked her off. A few of the grunt enemies, however, do lob rocks, and while they are not particularly difficult to kill, they do seem to lock on pretty quickly and can cause some serious problems if positioned around a long ladder. Not a problem provided you have the proper tools though.
An area of big improvement over Zero is in the controls. While they are very responsive in both games, some of the default keys have been remapped and now function a bit better. Die-hard, old school players might have an issue ducking over a ladder at first. It’s hard to retrain the brain sometimes, but luckily the triggers also double as a crouch button, so you can duck over top of a platform ladder, which given some of the tight areas that can be produced, becomes a necessity. It’s one of a few quality of life improvements over Zero that someone new might not notice, but it certainly make things easier this go around.
The music, sounds and art are all perfectly fitting. What really shines in these areas though is the CRT simulation. For those who got to play Super Win the Game, you are already aware. The CRT simulation has been improved, offers different presets and allows you to adjust it further to your liking. The only thing is that unless you know about it or go looking, you might not know it’s there. It’s not on by default, and it’s something that I missed for quite some time with Zero. But do try it out, especially if you want not only the pixel look but the way it would have looked on your old TV as well.
Overall, I see a lot of promise with this title even with the preview build. With just a few minor tweaks, I could see this being one rogue-like that you play over and over for some time to come. The very first day I was planning on just a short session, and then I looked up and 5 hours had passed. It’s definitely addictive. If you plan on picking this up, and I would recommend it, I would also consider Gunmetal Arcadia Zero to fill you in on the story and also to help pass the time till release on February 7th. It really has been a pleasant surprise, the best one I’ve had since I picked up some random new release years ago called The Binding of Isaac; you might of heard of it.