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The Rocking of Isaac – Metal Tales review

Metal is a fantastic wellspring to draw from when it comes to games. The imagery, the culture, the lyrics – the two almost go hand in hand. Tim Schafer’s Brütal Legend is a polarising example of this – great artwork, bombastic flair, and some legendary voice acting carrying a title that was otherwise a bit of a wet fart. It probably sold a healthy amount of copies based on the army of guest stars – Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Halford, Lita Ford, to name but a few, and, of course, Jack Black’s sultry tones as the rambunctious roadie hero, Eddie. Hell, one of Alan Wake’s greatest moments is metal inspired.

Metal Tales – Fury of the Guitar Gods is a similar take on the genre, except this time the larger-than-life concept of metal gods and music zombies is being squashed all the way down into a rogue-like that seems to have a ton of ideas and not a lot of room to use them in. Forces of evil have consumed metal shows, like people moving into residences near established venues and making noise complaints. Well, they’re getting turned into mindless zombies and viking monsters, so maybe not quite as bad as that. It’s a cool concept, and the aesthetic is certainly appreciable, an almost Sunset Overdrive-esque pallet of nauseating colour and light, with a cel-shaded vibe that makes me reminiscent of simpler times. You’ll get a chuckle out of the bosses and limited enemy types the first time you see them, ridiculous parodies delivered with unwaveringly serious aplomb. The game sounds great, too – it’s got a varied soundtrack including songs from some bands you’ve probably never heard of but could very well enjoy. You shred your way through rooms filled with treasure, traps, shops and challenges, strumming your guitar to send crawling projectiles into enemy hordes.

I see they got my ex onboard for a boss-fight cameo. I’m surprised indie devs can get that far into hell, usually it’s just lawyers and Doom Guy.

Heavy metal hilarity, massive guitar riffs, and a decent soundtrack? You can’t go wrong, surely?

Is what I would have said, had Tim Schafer not already taken my expectations for Brütal Legend, impaled them on a spike, and set fire to them whilst dabbing the moisture off his forehead with the crisp £40 I’d just handed him. (Only joking, Mr. Schafer, Psychonauts is the bomb). I was desperately hoping for Metal Tales’ grandiose approach to art and sound translating to something that would hook me the way The Binding of Isaac did when that first debuted, with the added bonus of the music genre I love running so heavily through its DNA. And yet, it falls from grace at breakneck speeds, the novelty peeling away from the struggling game beneath like a beer-soaked coaster. For all the bravado and thunderous riffs, nothing really seems to connect as it should. To upgrade your character, you need to complete objectives within levels, but the objectives are so sparse and the rewards so little that upgrading is an absolute chore. It moves at the same pace as a freemium game without the ability to spend real money to play at any sort of realistic speed.

The projectiles you shoot from your guitar are horrendously slow and deal a miniscule amount of damage to anything they touch. Yes, of course, they can be upgraded  – but doing so is a joyless grind, through rooms you’ve seen a hundred times before, and bosses who’ll squash you in a couple of moves. It’s not challenging, just shoddy. The fine line between challenging and just ball-achingly hard is trodden into the sand under leather boots. You can pick up new guitars that change the behaviour of your projectiles, which often goes a long way towards making Metal Tales a thrill, but it’s a plaster on a shattered kneecap. The gameplay’s core just limps through the inspired visual design and awesome soundtrack to collapse at the door.

In this screenshot – every guy in a band, ever.

There are a lot of good things about Metal Tales. But the gameplay is so grindy and un-engaging that it causes a sort of cognitive dissonance between the part of your brain that’s loving the heavy metal and the other part that’s begging your hands to just move off of the keyboard and stop taking part in such a dull experience. The unwieldy movement and combat are both things that can be fixed with simple patches, and by just tweaking the game into something a little more fluid, this could be a quality diversion from the mainstream. But right now, it’s just a support band who’ve had a bit too much free Carlsberg, prancing around a stage that belongs to something more entertaining, singing songs about the girls they met ‘on tour’ out of their uncle’s caravan in Wales.

THE TL;DR:

  • Fun visuals and a magnificently heavy soundtrack with some hidden gems.
  • Really basic, unwieldy gameplay that doesn’t do the rich tapestry of ideas the developers clearly had for this game justice.
  • Worth a brief look for the quirky, detail-rich environments and the music.
  • At its worst, an uncompelling grind-fest, at its best, an average game with a fantastic theme.

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