Gunmetal Arcadia Zero

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Minor Key Games for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2016.
Gunmetal Arcadia Zero is a standalone precursor to the roguelike Gunmetal Arcadia. The game features a race of beings called Tech Elves in the city of Arcadia, and two factions are at odds with one another: the warriors of the Gunmetal Vanguard and the scholars of the Seekers of Arcadia. Yet Arcadia is threatened by an even greater menace in the form of the Unmade Empire, which has unleashed terrible creatures upon the land.


The two elven factions agree that they must face this enemy, but disagree on how to go about it, with the Gunmetal Vanguard wishing to take them head-on, and the Seekers of Arcadia wishing to learn more about their enemy in order to take advantage of its weaknesses. As a young elf named Vireo, you decide which of these factions to side with, and then set out into the city, fighting monsters, purchasing equipment, and seeking treasure along the way.


When the game begins, Vireo heads into the basement of his home to retrieve his mother’s sword. His mother served the Gunmetal Vanguard until the time of her death, but his father was a part of the Seekers of Arcadia. Similar to Zelda II, the sword has a short range and allows for a forward strike when standing or ducking, or a downward strike when jumping, allowing players to bounce on enemies’ heads for repeated damage. Vireo moves slowly and has a 1x nonvariable jump which may be enhanced via some optional upgrades (more on these in a bit).


In addition to his sword, Vireo may equip one of several projectile-based sub-weapons, which are found by destroying torches and other objects. These weapons are represented by stone tablets with etchings showing silhouettes of the associated weapons. Picking up one tablet causes your previous one to drop, allowing you to collect it again if desired (and it disappears after a few seconds). Sub-weapons include a throwing dagger that moves straight across the screen, a spinning blade that moves in a sine wave, a 3-way shot, a throwing axe that works similarly to the one in Castlevania, and a spinning orb, among others.


Each use of these sub-weapons drains a single unit of energy from a counter that is marked with a star, and finding additional stars replenishes the meter. By default, the player can only store 19 stars, but this maximum can be increased to 99 by purchasing bandoliers with increased capacity. Wall-destroying bombs work similarly, with the player able to carry nine by default, and shops sell bags that hold more, offering a Zelda-style upgrade system. Even the Zelda series’ wallet system is in place, with the player only able to carry 99 coins until larger purses are obtained.


Killed enemies drop coins of varying denominations, ranging from a single coin to 100, as well as stars, bombs, gems, hearts, and occasionally keys. It is possible to do a bit of grinding by waiting near enemy spawners, but enemies spawn slowly and loot is random, so this is a tedious process. Instead, players are encouraged to seek out treasure chests that hold caches of coins and gems. Often, these chests are found by bombing through walls or entering challenge rooms – many of which are locked – and defeating all of the enemies within. A limited number of keys are on offer from vendors, allowing players to buy their way into these challenge rooms for a greater reward than their cost.


Gems may be retained regardless of the player’s purse size, and may be sold off to vendors in exchange for currency. Some vendors specialize in gems or weapons, offering more money when these items are sold. There are also vendors that are aligned to one of the two elven factions, and the opposing faction may refuse to do business with your or may sell you items at an inflated price… although vendors appear quite frequently, so you may simply wait until you encounter a better deal.


While it is possible to backtrack in certain areas, the game is a largely linear affair, particularly in comparison to the developer’s previous titles. Each of the game’s six chapters stands alone; players may not move back to previous areas once they have been completed, and the path back to earlier parts of the level is often blocked within these chapters.


The player begins the game with three units of health, but this meter is eventually extended to eight units as the player defeats bosses to unlock health extensions, again borrowing from The Legend of Zelda, although some defeated bosses offer only health restoration.


For some reason, the game features a “lives” system, granting the player three lives at the start of the game, and the occasional hidden 1UP to be found along his journey. Players may restore one unit of health by collecting hearts from defeated enemies and destroyed objects, but there are several spike pits along the way (often beneath disappearing platforms) that will kill the player instantly. Losing all three lives sends the player back to the start of the chapter, requiring a significant amount of replay (although retaining his inventory).


Furthermore, checkpoints are not visible, appearing at the start of each chapter and after boss encounters, so players who exit the game after completing challenges or purchasing equipment – which are typical auto-save points in most games – will find themselves losing progress.


That said, bosses appear regularly and are extremely easy to defeat, especially if the player has a fair amount of ammunition for his sub-weapons. Most bosses simply walk toward the player and back up a bit when taking damage, allowing the player to stand still and hammer the attack button, taking down most early bosses in just a few hits. Some later bosses have projectile attacks as well, requiring some additional strategy beyond “stand still and attack”, but these bosses are just as easily defeated with projectile weapons, and are only mildly more challenging with one of the game’s many melee weapons.


Melee weapons include the starting short sword, a fast dagger, a slower long sword, an even slower battle axe, a lance, and a weak sword that fires a projectile when attacking. All of these weapons are available to purchase from vendors in the starting chapter, and more powerful variations of these weapons may be purchased from other vendors later in the game. In a nice touch, buying a new variation of a weapon prompts the player to equip it immediately and sell back the old version.


Players can also purchase ability upgrades in the form of bracers that let them attack vertically, which can be handy against bees that swoop down from above, as well as granting the ability to attack enemies standing on narrow platforms by striking them from below. Players can also upgrade their jump height, allowing them to reach higher platforms that lead to optional areas, and making some of the platforming segments easier. Lastly, players may purchase an upgrade that protects them from the effects of lava, which is important for the game’s final chapters.


The game is presented in a narrower orientation than most modern titles, mimicking the smaller field of view seen on older monitors. Additionally, just like the developer’s previous works, You Have to Win the Game and Super Win the Game, various effects may be applied to give the appearance of playing the game on an old CRT monitor.



2D CRED
Gunmetal Arcadia Zero was developed by Minor Key Games, a US-based studio founded in 2013 by twin brothers David and J. Kyle Pittman. The game was released in 2016 as a standalone precursor to the studio’s 2017 roguelike Gunmetal Arcadia.



You Have to Win the Game
Prior to founding Minor Key Games, Kyle worked on his own to develop You Have to Win the Game, which was released as freeware in 2012 under his Pirate Hearts label. The game offers an open world, exploration-based gameplay, and metroidvania progression system. In 2014, leading up to the release of the sequel, Minor Key Games released an enhanced version of the game, offering a tougher set of remixed levels and the ability to play the entire game as a cat (but with a limit of nine lives).


You Have to Win the Game is presented in a 1980’s computer style, complete with a (optional) computer monitor border with a curved screen and glare effect, and it can be played in 4-color CGA mode or 16-color EGA mode. The player character starts out with just a a 2.5x jump as he explores a large world made up of interconnected single-screen rooms.



As the player collects items, the world slowly opens up, allowing the him to backtrack to previous locations and reach new areas. New abilities include transforming blue and red block outlines into solid blocks to use them as platforms, as well as a double jump and wall jump ability, allowing for some much tougher platforming sequences. The player must explore the world, collect money bags that count toward a completion percentage, and eventually… win the game.



Super Win the Game
Super Win the Game is the sequel to You Have to Win the Game. While the original game hearkened back to the days of 1980’s computer games, the sequel offers an NES-style aesthetic with an expanded color palette, a larger world, and a wider variety of themed locales. The game also features multidirectional scrolling rather than the interconnected single-screen rooms found in the original game.


Rather than presenting a single contiguous world, Super Win the Game offers individual towns and dungeons, with an overworld map to connect them all. Similar to the presentation of Zelda II, the world map is top-down with icons representing town and dungeon locations, and entering these areas reveals sidescrolling platforming environments.


While the original game featured an open world design, Super Win the Game is even more of a non-linear experience. The bulk of the world map is open to the player from the start, and the player may gather many of the gameplay-altering powerups in any order. This is in contrast to the original game that offered red and blue block switches to open new paths that eventually led to the double jump and wall climb abilities. In Super Win the Game, even the first dungeon offers multiple branching paths and navigation that is impacted by the abilities that the player has acquired, thus encouraging a return trip after new powerups have been collected.


Eldritch
Minor Key Games’ first commercial release was a 3D first person action game called Eldritch, based on the stories of H. P. Lovecraft. The game offers melee-based combat, traditional FPS gunplay, and the use of high explosives to cause massive damage and even blow holes in the walls. The game’s block-based levels are randomly generated.


The player wakes up in a library and discovers a series of glowing books that transport him to several strange worlds filled with monsters. A number of traditional Lovecraftian creatures make an appearance, including fish people, cult members, and strange tentacled beasts, each presented in a somewhat cartoony fashion.


Players are able to kill enemies and loot their bodies to get ammo and money. Money can be used to buy weapons, keys, and gameplay-altering powerups like high jump boots, speed boots, the ability to pick locks and lock doors behind you, and the ability to resurrect yourself (for a price). But beware, looted enemies will respawn elsewhere in the level.


Stealth plays a large role, as the player needs to conserve health and ammunition in order to survive, and the player is rewarded for killing enemies silently or merely sneaking past without engaging them. The game is a roguelike, so if you do manage to get killed, you are sent back to the start of the game with most of your progress reset. The game also features an expansion called Eldritch: Mountains of Madness which places the player in a 10-story dungeon in Antarctica, with a new set of enemies, weapons, and items.

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