Who could we count on to stop the calamity if a giant space station were falling towards the Earth? Why, a lone humanoid robot being remotely controlled by…you, a game player hundreds of thousands of miles away. It’s a funny premise, but it’s one that Metallic Child pulls off charmingly. Mixing the challenge of games like Hades with a rogue’s gallery of robot bosses a la Mega Man, Metallic Child puts a welcome spin on the action formula, even with a couple missteps along the way.
A robot and a gamer save the world
Rona (an unfortunate name, given our modern moment) is a Metallic Child, a robot built with highly advanced AI. She wakes up on a giant space station that will crash into the Earth below. She can stop the disaster with eight Core Gems, each of which are held by other AIs like herself. Unfortunately, part of her programming is broken and she’s unable to control her own movements. That’s where you, as a video game playing Earthling come in: you find yourself connected to a live feed of the space station, and can control Rona’s movements from the ground below. Connecting with her and her best friend, Pan (who doesn’t trust humans very much), Rona hands you the controls to navigate the station and retrieve the Core Gems from the bosses.
If you’ve played a Mega Man game before, the core loop is similar. You’ll fight through the enemy’s themed stage, then take down the boss and grab their power. Combat is fast-paced in Metallic Child; you’ll run through procedurally-generated rooms, battling enemies to find the boss room. You’ll start with your choice of two weapon types: sword and shield, gauntlets, or a giant hammer. As you progress through the stage you’ll find new weapons, power-ups, and even the occasional side quest to complete. Again, fans of Hades will feel at home with Metallic Child; it focuses on quick-paced melee attacks and dodging increasingly frantic enemy projectiles. The main mechanics that set the game apart are its Core Upgrade system and, interestingly, its narrative and visual polish.
Mini-Cores are key
Rona has the ability to take in the cores of enemies she defeats, gifting her with new abilities. Some enemies when defeated stay on-screen, letting you either consume their core or harvest their chips for upgrades after the run. Consuming a mini-core temporarily fills one of Rona’s three slots, providing a temporary power augmentation. Mini-cores can increase Rona’s abilities, raising her attack power, damage resistance, etc. But some cores will be bug cores, which hinder progress in all sorts of strange ways.
Some bug cores will be huge issues, like prevent you from dodging or blocking, or increasing damage received. Others are cosmetic and funny, like turning Rona into a voxel figure or “lowering the camera feed resolution,” pixelating the view. Most mini-cores are timed though, so whether blessing or curse, they eventually fade and make room for others. Bugged cores will also drop bug data, which you can use for stronger upgrades later. You can also gather Core Energy by defeating enemies, a sort of experience system. Get enough and you’ll get a Super-Core upgrade: a buff that lasts up until the end of the run. I grew to really like the mini-core system, forcing me to adapt my play style over a single run.
Metallic Child can really shine
Though I grew to love the mechanics the more I understood them, what initially hooked me to Metallic Child was its polish. “Polish” is a generic term for the finishing touches that make a game shine, but they make a TON of difference here. Rona destroys enemies with Take Down finishers in a mini-cutscene full of anime-style flash. The screen glows with the words “Double Kill” or “Triple Kill” when you defeat mobs simultaneously. Sound design and visuals make explosions feel epic. When you’re in rhythm, you feel powerful and fluid, carving through hordes of mobs on your quest to save the world.
That said, Metallic Child also hooked me with its storytelling. Robot bosses have motivations for disliking humanity, and that backstory is compelling. Rona also discovers her own backstory via files on the station that complicate the story but have heart. There are also side stories as well, humans still on the ship who you can help for additional rewards. The game balances deeper, introspective moments with genuine humor, making jabs at things like streaming culture and other gamer references. I found myself really hooked to learning more about Rona; she’s a wonderfully endearing character, made moreso by great character animations during the visual novel-style dialogue.
Not every step is forward
The game isn’t without some hangups, though. Much of the Core Upgrade system relies on random chance, meaning you may get a run where your upgrades don’t complement your play style or weapon set. Core Energy upgrades maxed out early each run for me, so gathering core energy felt useless later on. Some enemies feel a bit unbalanced, dealing spammy damage or having too much health. Still, the issues with the mechanics felt pretty minor.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t call out a couple glaring race-related missteps in the game. One of the side quests asks you to help Dr. Trevon, a scientist infected with what he names the “Dance Dance Virus.” With a giant afro and dark skin, he dances non-stop… not great for the game’s seemingly only Black character. Combined with Rona’s “Funky Wig” cosmetic that lets you put a giant afro on her, it’s unnecessary racial stereotyping and a cheap laugh at the expense of Black people. For as much as I really enjoy the game, this pulled me out of fully enjoying the world.
A world worth saving
Still, even with those complaints, Metallic Child is a game I’ll come back to. It makes improvements on the action roguelike genre, with multiple difficulty settings and allowing fast-travel on each map. The combat doesn’t get old thanks to the mini-core system and cool weapons. The writing is genuinely heartfelt with fantastic localization, and there’s even unlockable fan art. And, again, the visual and audio presentation is fantastic, with great user interface design. There’s plenty of replay value in unlocking new items and improving scores, and uncovering the story is fun. With some mechanical issues and casual race stereotyping aside, I enjoyed teaming up with Rona. I hope we see more of her world even without the Earth being in mortal danger.
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