Gunmetal Arcadia Zero was originally a Humble Bundle original that gained a fair amount of attention from everyone who was/is subscribed to the unique monthly gaming service. So much attention was given to this retro adventure game that the creators, Minor Key Games, took it upon themselves to market the game directly, first through itch.io and then Steam. Finally, the crowd and spoken and this “prequel” game, which was hewn from nostalgic references and a simple core idea, was elevated, revamped and reborn as the true, full title, Gunmetal Arcadia.
The concept of the game is a direct followup to the events in Zero. You, a Tech Elf hero, must continue the quest to wage war against the Unmade Empire, an unknown army that seeks to dominate and destroy the land. Taking the role of one of five characters (two are unlockable), you embark on a side scrolling, 2D quest to collect Seeds of Unmaking and decimate the enemy that’s at your doorstep. Or not. Believe it or not, there’s a lot of choice in Gunmetal Arcadia that might not be immediately visible from your first play.
Gunmetal Arcadia is clearly making a big play to take all that was great about The Adventures of Link (Legend of Zelda II) and improving upon the worst of it. For one, the controls are exceptionally tight, and you can see that this game was designed with certain tiers of difficulty in mind. You aren’t meant to play this like a retro-looking game, this is supposed to be straight up NES levels of difficult, with a single misstep resulting in getting damaged a ton and possibly losing your life. Life loss might not seem like a big deal initially, but you might notice that, after getting canned from the very start, your elf might be packing some extra protection to ensure that you can stay alive a bit longer. The Legacy system also means that things you’ve acquired during a run will carry over to the next run, allowing for stronger and more interesting moments to come out of the woodwork. Your items will stack and, if the game didn’t scale accordingly, you’d simply be a behemoth that burned through the countryside like a wildfire made of swords and bombs. Instead, the game recognizes when you’ve successfully made it through the game and increases the enemy difficulty. I think. That’s how it appeared and I don’t think it was my imagination that the density of enemy spawns increased, as well as more powerful versions of said enemies showing up earlier and with greater frequency.
Besides the Legacy carry-overs, Gunmetal Arcadia also asks you, at some point, to choose a faction among the Tech Elves and align yourself with either the warriors or the academics. I almost always chose warriors, and, as a result, I gained access to better prices for warrior aligned shops and exclusive entrance to places I might otherwise not be allowed to go. The academia, as a result, shunned me and either asked for exorbitantly marked up prices or straight up turned me away. It was interesting, in a game who’s story asked the Elves to come together, that something so trivial would make a line in the sand no one was willing to cross.
The roguelite elements are what will keep players coming back time and again to enjoy this style of game. It reminds me that players really enjoy keeping within their comfort zone of a particular type of game, but still will grow bored if nothing new is ever offered. Procedurally generated items and levels, therefore, offer a solution that keeps players satisfied and entices developers to invest a bit more into their games for longevity. Like I said, my first run ever ended with almost immediate death, primarily because I mixed up my buttons and bombed myself into the abyss. But the second run gave me a better item from the first chest and fewer enemies with ranged attacks, which afforded time for me to get my footing and then, as a result, do significantly better. Gunmetal Arcadia has nailed the execution of the game with both the massive number of items to pick up and the promise of something different every time you begin.
The appeal of Gunmetal Arcadia Zero is still alive and well here in the main Gunmetal Arcadia. Fans can go into the display options and fine tune the game to look as retro as they could possibly hope. A CRT fizz combined with a dulled color panel took me back to my childhood, and making it monochromatic took my father back to HIS childhood. There are a handful of presets, but you can go in and seriously tweak the angle, shadow and everything else to perfectly match the terrible display you grew up playing your NES, Atari or ColecoVision upon. If nothing else, this is a serious technical display of prowess and, if you didn’t get to see it in Zero, be prepared to be amazed by the execution here in Gunmetal Arcadia.
Finally, the soundtrack, a sensationally orchestrated 8-bit sensation, is a masterpiece of classic sound captured by modern artists. I haven’t heard nearly as many soundtracks that can mimic the ambiance and monotony of original video game music as what I heard here in Gunmetal Arcadia. If you have the time to grab it, be sure to get the DLC OST or even directly from their Bandcamp. Does anyone actually use Steam as their music player? I keep trying to but it feels wonky and wrong. I’d prefer to just find the mp3’s on my computer and copy them into literally any other program. But seriously, do yourself a favor and give the music a listen. If that’s half as compelling to you as it was to me, you’ll love this game.
Gunmetal Arcadia isn’t a perfect title by any means. Even with the roguelite aspect, it can be repetitive, much like the games it seeks to emulate. I got screwed by the RNG a few times, and the endgame, while satisfying, doesn’t compel me to come back that often. But I love what was done here for graphics and sound, and I do think that this is the best fan made NES game I’ve seen to date. I encourage anyone who holds the Nintendo classic generation dear to dive into Gunmetal Arcadia and have a look around for themselves. At the very least, you, too, can make your thousand dollar flat screen look like the 11 inch CRT your mom had in the basement so many years ago.