Gunmetal Arcadia Zero Review
Link to the Past
[Jeditor’s Note: While this game released last year, we thought it was worth giving it a review now as its sequel just released on Steam as well. The sequel will be getting a review in the coming days.]
Gunmetal Arcadia Zero shows shades of Zelda II and Faxanadu with its side-scrolling combat against oddball critters in a sprawling fantasy world.
However, a little roguelike touch adds challenge, constant surprises, and an almost endless string of deaths to the formula (not that I didn’t die a few hundred times against the last boss of Zelda II…). It’s a nice addition that creates a constant draw to the game as you hope to save Arcadia from monstrous foes.
Gunmetal Arcadia Zero
Developer: Minor Key Games
Publisher: Minor Key Games
Release: November 2016
Intel i7-4690K @ 3.50GHz
Nvidia GTX 970
Gunmetal Arcadia Zero gives you four different heroes to tackle the generated stages with. If you’re fighting creepy hands, floating eyeballs, and spitting bugs, you’re going to want some options on how to attack, right? Each hero has different stats, offering varied health bars, jump distances, and starting equipment, giving you a little something new to play around with each time.
The variety is nice, but unless players enjoy making the game harder for themselves, choosing the one with the most health or best weapon reach is likely what you’ll be doing. You’ll want to be killing enemies quick or be able to take a lot of hits, as Gunmetal Arcadia Zero is full of aggressive enemies and sporadic with its healing, so until you have tons of practice, only two of the four guys will be of much use. They do add to the game, but not until much, much later.
Once you’ve selected a character, you’ll set out across six different stages. There’s some nice visual variety in these areas, taking players to familiar forests, caverns, and some goopy, pulsing, Contra-like areas that seem oddly alive. The pixel art on each character is nice despite sticking with single colors as well, with some sharp walking and attacking animations.
The generated areas keep the game fresh. You’ll get to know many of the game’s enemies at a comfortable pace, as the game introduces them slowly as you play. It’s in the level layouts that you find yourself challenged, as an array of vertical and horizontal paths, as well as new enemy pairings appearing randomly, will keep you re-adjusting your strategies and dodges. You have to quickly assess your ever-changing layout for the best attack path, then implement it fast.
You do have a fair amount to think about in combat, too. You have a standard melee weapon which depends on your character or any pickups you’ve found. Many offer a straight attack (with a slight delay you have to get used to), and you can stab quite quickly against enemies.
“Gunmetal Arcadia Zero creates some frustrations with its randomization, but that same mechanic also makes the game endlessly surprising and fun.”
You can also use a handful of sub-weapons. These are powered by stars you can collect from broken lamps and dead enemies, which allows you to use things like axes and knives, or magic that powers up your weapon or heals you. Should you be out of stars, bombs are also an option. You can run out of those too, so you need to be thrifty with your tools.
You also have to be crafty, as the random generation also applies to the sub-weapons and items you can get. You can collect them from treasure chests or buy them from shops, but you only have a random chance of them appearing. There is a decent amount of them to get, making for constant surprises for the first few hours spent playing the game, but the drag is in losing them when you die. You don’t get to carry this stuff over into a new game, so if you find a sub-weapon or power-up you like, you’d better play well to hold onto it.
But you won’t. Not for a long time, at least. Gunmetal Arcadia Zero is deceptively difficult, as enemies can quickly whittle down your health through shots and impacts. It’s easy to take a couple of hits all in a row, chewing through your health because you misjudged a jump or stood too close. Constantly dealing with new environments and layouts means lots of room for error, and since some enemies take many hits and can come in groups of things that are shooting at you, you can die quickly. And if you get a bad set of items, it’s hard to survive.
You can try to help yourself with that by buying items, but contents of shops hidden throughout the maps are randomly generated, too. You can still give yourself a little leg up by joining one of two factions in the game’s world. Each faction run shops all over the game, and joining one will make that shop’s items cheaper while making the opposing one’s more expensive. This made for a bit ore thought in each shop, but honestly, they both carried handy items and I found little reason to join one over the other. Picking one and sticking with it gives better deals, though, so join someone.
Sometimes, though, you just don’t get anything useful on your run. A handful of oddball items can show up, or the game’s healing points can just dry up if you aren’t lucky with your random generation. That’s just how the genre works, but it’s still a drag to lose a good run because the game stops providing health or decent items.
You do get a little something on future runs at the game, though. If you die, a few legacy actions get carried over, such as joining factions (which can be done at shops), giving quest items to the characters you meet throughout Arcadia, and dying often all give little buffs or make changes to the next run. They provide a nice addition, but don’t feel like they make drastic changes to the game.
There is one little unfair point, though, and that’s with ladders. Since everything is randomly generated, that means you can get a lot of vertical spaces that need ladders. Also, your character is quick to get onto a ladder if you duck near one, because the window to grab a ladder is huge. This can mean snagging a ladder while trying to get into position to hit an enemy (especially smaller ones you need to duck to hit). I took a lot of unnecessary damage while near ladders because my character kept grabbing them due to the d-pad inputs I was making when I was trying to attack. You might not have an issue with it, but ladders quickly became my bane.
It all plays so smooth and quick that it’s hard not to get drawn back in again. The constant changes make the sidescrolling action engaging, as you’re always messing with terrain, tools, and enemy placements. The variety keeps pulling you back, and if you do poorly, you can always blame a bad run of items or enemies. No need to get mad. The sidescrolling action is easy to pick up, but offers constant variations on each run, and with items being so random, every chest gets exciting. You always wonder if this chest, or this run, will be the one that gives you the tools to win.
Gunmetal Arcadia Zero has a few issues, but most of them come from frustrations with the genre. Those same frustrations become bonuses, though, with randomization irritating and pleasing at the same time. With a nice look, fun music, and solid sidescrolling combat, though, the game will keep bringing you back to try again.