Save State Enter the Evolving Metal Units

Welcome to Save State, where our units are metal, and we will thank you not to stare at them, please. This week, I scrounged through the dark depths of my Steam library to find a couple games that I had not played yet, and was pleased to discover a couple of 2D games, and both were definitely more than they appeared from the screenshots in the library page. Without wasting any more of your time, I’d like to talk this week about the first game I found: Metal Unit, available on Steam.

Metal Unit is a 2D action roguelike featuring girls in skintight combat suits, mecha mobile armor, and alien invaders. You play as Joanna, who is initially hotheaded and impetuous in search of her sister who apparently went rogue, but winds up making a mistake that she has to attempt to atone for over the course of the story. Metal Unit is unafraid to throw new characters at the player at a relatively constant clip, whether they be allies or foes, and there’s a sizable amount of effort put into conveying the story to the player, even if much of it is comparable to the usual anime tropes.

As far as gameplay, this is a game a bit more toward the casual side of roguelikes- so for those wanting a cutthroat, punishing experience, you might be better off to play other games, like Dead Cells, for example. There’s a wide variety of weapons and items that can be obtained in Metal Unit. Consumables like potions exist for the purpose of recovering health, but your weaponry will really decide how you approach enemies in any given stage. You have melee, ranged, sub weapons, ultimate skills, and even add ons that can all modify how you play the game. There’s also a dodge mechanic as well that you will be using quite liberally throughout any playthrough.

Having loads of items and power ups is par for the course for roguelikes, as is a persistent progression system that rewards you with bonuses the longer you play. Clearing stages will reward you with a currency that can be spent on upgrading Joanna, her mecha, or her assistance robot, Falcon. Joanna has upgrades such as increasing her movement speed or reducing cooldown on ranged weapons while increasing reload speed, while upgrading your mech can allow you to destroy boulders or give you higher maximum HP. There’s also an upgrade that lets your Falcon helper pod equip items to assist you, or even use a potion on you automatically should you die otherwise.

Dying while out in the combat areas leads to you losing the items you had on at the time of expiry, though you can store some items in a container for later use, such as forging at campsites. Due to the game allowing you to store items, the forging and alchemy shops serve a great purpose in that they give a purpose to items you would normally no longer want or need: At worst, you can roll the dice on a new item, at best, you can forge a brand new, kickass sword out of multiple broadswords and a big, shiny rock you found. You can customize how your mech looks in between stages, as well.

At the beginning of a run, there can be make or break times where you have difficulty finding weapons worth anything at all, whereas in another run you might become the walking visage of death itself, auto-firing rockets, and launching miniature suns at all who oppose you. Metal Unit plays like some of the finest 2D action game at its best, where acquiring a few power ups can make you feel godlike (at least until you reach the boss) and acquiring synergies make you unstoppable. While comparisons can be made to things like Dead Cells, Metal Unit is not Metroidvania inspired- there are some hidden areas every so often which may house some very powerful, rare items, but typically you need to clear all the enemies out of a location before you can continue on to the next combat stage or rest area, and once you defeat the boss, you’ll be treated to some more story details and then get to continue to the next stage: Repeat until either you die or clear the final boss.

Because it’s a roguelike, Metal Unit has procedurally generated stages in which you clear out enemies to progress until you finally slaughter a boss at the end. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long to see repeat rooms with very little variation, making it pretty easy to memorize enemy spawn locations, and the like. Other 2D action-based roguelikes have had this issue, as well, such as 20XX piecing a stage together randomly through chunks. While 20XX made stage memorization slightly more difficult by having more variations in layouts that could occur, the problem still existed eventually with the added downside of randomly making chunk combinations that were sometimes outright annoying to play consecutively. That is to say, there is no single, elegant solution for this problem, and the only thing to do would have been to make a lot more rooms. Overall, it didn’t bother me during my time playing Metal Unit, but it could be something annoying for other people who are more selective with their roguelikes.

Due to how powerful you can feel, collecting new items in Metal Unit feels good. This isn’t exactly the most hardcore roguelike out there, but for someone wanting to have a fun time with a 2D action game, Metal Unit is a great time at a low price. It has gorgeous visuals, though the music is pretty take it or leave it as I recognized several tracks from elsewhere, so I think the developer may have used stock music? In any event, the crisp and clean 16-bit style art lets you understand what’s happening at a glance even if there’s a lot going on screen (most of the time, there can be exceptions, like when you have a billion glowing, white shurikens flying all over the place). Dodging through enemy attacks and slicing them up with a quick melee combo works, and even while fighting giant creatures in reality-bending maelstroms near the end of the game, avoiding hails of bullets and landing your own attacks will get your adrenaline pumping.

If you’re a fan of 2D action games, and don’t mind pixel art, Metal Unit is a great pickup. A lot of work was put into portraying the story which can be great or terrible depending on how much you like anime-style storylines, but the wide variety of weapons and upgrades players can utilize as they progress through the game can leave you wanting to get to the next combat stage to find out what that new dropped piece of equipment will do on your next unsuspecting target.

With that said, we’ll now use alchemy to make Metal Unit disappear and bring another game in its place. Something must’ve gone wrong, because the game regressed from 16-bit to what appears to be Gameboy. Oh, it only looks like a Gameboy game, because it’s Evoland, a game about the evolution of game trends and mechanics throughout the ages!

Evoland starts in a black, Gameboy-like void where you can only move left and right, opening treasure chests. You begin rapidly unlocking new features like the ability to scroll from one screen to another, unlock sound, music, and even graphical advancements, moving to the 16-bit, 64-bit, and eventually fully 3D environments more reminiscent of modern video games, and references loads of classic games all the while. Evoland prides itself on referential humor to past RPG properties, and wandering through the overworld map or tackling simple puzzles in a brief Zelda-styled dungeon is a joy when there’s a constant bombardment of references to classic gaming tropes presented at a constant clip.

Evoland is an eclectic mix of game mechanics, because it begins by playing like a top-down Zelda adventure, such as Link’s Awakening, but the game will later expose you to turn-based battles, overworld maps like from SNES-era Final Fantasy games, annoying beeping sounds when low on health, and pre-rendered backgrounds you’d see in Playstation games in the 90s. The game even plays like Diablo later on, becoming more like a hack n’ slash in which enemies leave behind piles of coins when they die. Evoland sticks you in a play style simple enough to understand immediately what you’re doing, but switches things up at a constant clip throughout the duration of the game.

Evoland is effectively a love letter to the days of games gone by, and every little idiosyncrasy of older pioneering attempts at games development are referenced and celebrated for the player’s amusement. The gameplay is competent, and Evoland freshens up your gameplay style multiple instances throughout its short run time, so you don’t quickly get bored of hacking and slashing your way through enemies, and you may even find it novel that objects which blocked your path when the game was 2D are now objects you can step over with ease once the game shifts to the third dimension.

There’s a kind of joy in how Evoland celebrates all of the little twists and turns that RPG games development had gone through over a 20 year period, if not more. As you progress through Evoland, you progress through the very history of RPG mechanics, themselves, and it’s just an incredibly novel, if not short, game. If you don’t have the same kind of nostalgic memories for games of days gone by, the “unlock basic game feature” mechanic of Evoland may come across as a weak gimmick, but the referential humor (it even has Triple Triad from Final Fantasy VIII. Or a simulacrum thereof, in any case) was enough to keep me enthralled for all four hours it took for me to beat the game.

Evoland is pretty much the epitome of, “Here for a good time, not a long time” since it can be completed in a scant 4-5 hours. Apparently, should someone try and enjoy Evoland there’s also a much longer sequel that can be played, but at this time the only one with which I have experience is the first. The concept of literally playing through the design evolution of a genre is so fun and executed well enough that I will definitely look into the second at a later time, though. I would definitely recommend this game as it’s a joy to play, and goes on sale pretty often, from what I’ve seen (seeing as it’s in my Steam library….).

With that being said, we can Ctrl+S this week’s entry of Save State, and I hope you’ll join us again in a couple weeks when I’ll inevitably be hiding from all of the porn game recommendations on Steam because I have one too many anime-inspired games in my library. It’s not just me, and there are a ton of porn games being added to Steam, now, right? It’s just me? Well. That’s embarrassing.

Ahem. See you next time!

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