Game: Gunmetal Arcadia by Minor Key Games (Official Site) | (Steam Store Page)
Genre: Procedural roguelike platform action
Average Play-through: 2-3 hours
Number of Players: 1
Ranking: Mediocre (Check Official Random Art Attack Ranking)
Disclosure: I received a free copy of the game to review.
Not Recommended: Bad enemy design, lack of content, poor mechanics, and bad player control
What is Gunmetal Arcadia:
Gunmetal Arcadia is a roguelike platform action game in which you progress through three different areas fighting a plethora of enemies, mini-bosses, and bosses. As you progress you will find different weapons, items, skills, and abilities that help you progress through harder areas. The collectibles range from mundane, to unique and fun, to overpowered and game breaking. You also have a selection of 4 different heroes to choose from at the start of each game. Each hero has their own unique starting stats, equipment, and abilities but besides color, there is not much distinguishing the different heroes from one another. One might have a double jump or another have higher starting health, but that is it. Nothing making the characters permanently unique or necessarily interesting.
Upon death, which will happen a lot, you must start over from square one. There are no real permanent power- ups or unlockables besides the legacy system which awards you different starting conditions based on certain actions taken in previous games. You might find yourself with some extra starting gold, or a piece of armor. Gunmetal Arcadia is a true roguelike in this sense.
The visuals and audio are superbly executed, giving older players a sense of nostalgia of games found on the old NES such as Zelda 2. There are a plethora of different settings that let the players fine-tune how they experience Gunmetals visuals. You can play with crisp pixels, glowing neon effects, or even old granulated visuals that remind a player of playing on an old television one might find in the basement of a grandparent’s home. As stated before the audio is also very well done, the music is memorable and helps build Gunmetal as a memorable experience. But even with all the beauty which is found in Gunmetal, it just doesn’t live up to the greatness of the games and era it is trying to mimic.
Gunmetal suffers from poor design. Whether that is enemy design, level layout, gameplay, or player controls. For every moment of enjoyment you find in Gunmetal, there are two to three frustrating moments to remove any fun. Let’s first talk about the most glaring of all the poor design choices, player controls. Movement and combat are very unresponsive. Trying a precision jump attack in order to hit flying enemies is rarely worth the effort as your weapon lags behind your button pressed. Trying to jump or even move out of projectiles path more often to naught proves to be a fruitless effort. I always felt like I was either too late, or too early trying to anticipate enemy moves and attacks. Most enemies hit you not because of their difficulty, but purely out of bad control and response time.
It is a huge problem that most if not all of Gunmetal’s difficulty comes from not being able to respond in time. There are literally points in the game that you must take unavoidable damage. There are times where chests will spawn above, fall and hit you with no possible warning or way to avoid the damage; and yes treasure chests hurting you is a strange design choice. There are times when you exit a screen, just to find yourself falling into unavoidable lava, enemy fire, or other hazards. Once again, unable to avoid damage. The worst offender is enemy placement. There are times enemies will be spawned on top of ladders, with absolutely no way to progress as when you take damage from said enemy you will promptly fall.
The enemies themselves are boring and dull. Many only walk back and forth, shoot projectiles at a constant rate or slowly shuffle about. Bosses aren’t much better and boil down to dull unpredictable non-dangerous movements. As you progress further and further into the game you find very few new enemy types, or even boss types, but rather the enemies and bosses simply have more health. This leads to times where you have to just sit and hit an enemy over and over again for literally 10 seconds or more. Enemies and bosses are not fun and if able I choose to simply skip them as the gold they drop are not worth my time nor effort.
I wanted to like Gunmetal Arcadia as it looked so much like some of my favorite childhood games. But not only does it not try to improve upon antiquated controls and gameplay, it does them worse in almost every instance than its inspiration. I do not recommend Gunmetal Arcadia.
I want to take a moment and look at my claim that Gunmetal suffers from poor design, and really what that means. It goes without saying that my reviews are simply opinion and are painted by my own preferences and biases, but surely there is such a thing as poor game design. It stands to reason that there are underlying principles that make some games widely accepted whereas other games aren’t. Marketing ties into this a lot, but even with marketing some games are received poorly and some are received with glowing accolades by all. So I want to see if we can’t in part identify some key indicators that can be generally accepted as poor game design.
I would argue that any game with the following attributes can be defined as having bad game design. First, large amounts of monotonous content that require little to no skill. Second, in-game punishment for arbitrary or unavoidable reasons. Think a player can’t possibly avoid damage through skill or caution. Third and last, choke points that are impossible for the player to proceed past. Such as a pit a player falls down but could never jump out of without resetting their game.
There are many more tenants of bad game design, but these are some of the biggest offenders in my book. So let’s study how Gunmetal Arcadia contains all three of these and how it ruins what may have been a reasonably enjoyable game.
My first point, large amounts of monotonous content that require little to no skill is bad game design. As stated previously, Gunmetal Arcadia is an action platformer, but the action and the platforming require very little skill or creativity. There is little enjoyment found in the very linear navigation of levels or the combat. The longer a player makes it in a specific run, the more hitpoints enemies have and the more you have to just sit and hit the enemy over and over again. At the end of this video, I will show the final boss fight and what it was reduced to. I had a common build that made it so I could be temporarily invincible. I had the most powerful weapon, and all I did for nearly 45 seconds was sit still and attack the boss. I didn’t have to move, I didn’t have to dodge, I simply sat still and attacked. And this wasn’t abnormal for most of the boss fights.
I find enjoyment from games through the challenge and the rigor of pitting my skill vs. a well-crafted challenge by the game designer. If a game is reduced to nothing more than simple repeated actions, all of my enjoyment is drained and the game by definition becomes a chore. As a youth, my favorite games were the old Final Fantasy games on the Nintendo and Super Nintendo, but the older I get the more I realize those games simply expanded the playtime by making a slew of unskippable battles where I would simply hold down a button to win. This kind of gameplay can be addictive (think mobile games) but it isn’t enjoyable, at least not for me. I would prefer short interesting engagements over long repetitive bouts.
The second point was, in-game punishment for arbitrary or unavoidable reasons is bad game design. One of my favorite games of all time is Dark Souls, and many people say that it delights in punishing players for no reason at all. I would argue though, every time I died to a trap or pit, or enemy, or anything in Dark Souls it was my own fault. I didn’t look at the environment close enough, I ran into a dangerous situation haphazardly, or I simply didn’t dodge an attack in time. Dark Souls is punishing, but it punishes sloppy play. Gunmetal Arcadia, on the other hand, punishes play, simply playing the game will result in you get hit, bumped, and killed for no reason at times. There are obviously times skill could prevent damage or injury, but there are plenty of other times when no warning is telegraphed, no skill could mitigate, and no foresight would prevent the damage about to ensue.
As stated previously there are chests that spawn with no warning upon your head, enemies that appear out of nowhere to deal damage, and environmental hazards that appear literally beneath your feet with no warning. This constant unavoidable punishment is not fun because you can’t improve to avoid it. It is simply a constant that runs throughout the whole game. It feels reminiscent of receiving low grades from a teacher simply because the teacher doesn’t like you personally, not because of the quality of the work handed in. Games that punish for no rhyme or reason suffer from bad game design because there is nothing enjoyable about it.
The third and final point I want to look at is the unpassable obstacle, the hard reset, the roadblock that can’t be circumvented. Gunmetal Arcadia has occasional points that are literally unpassable. A monster on a ledge or on a ladder that can not be defeated because it can’t be hit, and it can’t be passed by because it chokes a point; a point that ultimately must be reached. Moments like this are not common in Gunmetal, but the fact that they occur at all is bad game design. It becomes a game that can’t be played, and a game that can’t be played doesn’t typically want to be played. Unsurpassable obstacles are not fun and are simply bad game design.
So in short, if your game’s main gameplay is monotonous that is bad game design. If you punish a player for no rhyme or reasoning, that is bad game design. If you have anywhere in your game that stops the player from being able to play your game, that is bad game design. Our games may not be perfect, but we can study and learn from others to better help avoid the same mistakes and pitfalls they fall into.