Unless you happen to speak the Japanese language, you probably only get those rare glimpses into their entertainment culture (like me). Oh, of course, I've watched Akira and I have played the Street Fighter games. Thinking about it, this whole game console world is very Japanese (which is maybe the reason why it always stayed alien to me), and, granted, Italian plumbers getting high on mushrooms to fight turtles are fairly weird. Though Nintendo is just the “family friendly” side.
Metal & Lace (I'm aware that this is the name of a whole series, but I'm going to call it that anyway, as this seems to be the only English-language release) combines the Street Fighter foundation with the strange Japanese fascination with robots and the not-so-strange Japanese fascination with naked women (who, however, have strange facial proportions). If there were tentacle monsters, it would cover the full cliché scope!
You enter an underground fighting league, run from a seedy bar. Although you can select to be either male or female, your on-screen avatar in the fights will always be female (or transsexual?). Makes sense, because everybody would rather watch Anime-style girls rather than boys beating each other up, right?
Well, prepare for a first surprise (probably disappointment if your expectations have been raised into a certain direction): the girls fight in full gear, and save for two “armours”, these take the shape of robots with no discernable human inside. And those two “tighter” armours are no different from your average Chun-Li. You'll have to wait a bit for more.
Don't hold your breath, though, because you do have to go through an actual game first. You see, the thing with these robot armours is that you can buy different ones with the prize money you receive for winning and choose an appropriate one based on the next opponent – if you happen to learn what your next opponent will be using (by bribing an official). The armours can be further pimped with little goodies.
This promises for a rock-scissors-paper principle: ah, the opponent will use the Samurai armour, so I'll pick… A good idea which unfortunately doesn't quite work out. The effectively relevant difference between the gear comes down to a signature special move; the numeric values of things like offensive and defensive capability aren't very varied.
Defeating all the girls, you can finally see some pictures of them. Suddenly, instead of the trash talk before and after the fights, they are “willing” and show their exhibitionist side. Though this alone should really not be the reason to play this game, no matter what you've read about it – non-Japanese reviews seem to focus all too much on this aspect. There are much more explicit games than this one (especially from Japan).
Surprisingly, the actual core gameplay (to make sure everybody's on the same page: the fighting) plays better than expected given the semi-pornographic background which people usually associate with stupid excuses for a “game” (anyone?). The high-resolution graphics allow for some detail in the sprites and the animation isn't bad, either. The “league” aspect helps as well, as losing some fights doesn't mean the end of the game – as long as you still have an intact armour or some money, you can go on.
Nevertheless, chances are high you'll move on to another genre game again before even getting to the naked girls. What's missing is some specialty in the fights themselves. Although gameplay is serviceable, it gets samey quite quickly. The idea was obviously to avoid this through the armours and goodies, but as that didn't quite work out, you're basically stuck following the same tactic over and over again once you found a good one the AI doesn't effectively counter.
So, well, Metal & Lace is better than its reputation as a pure “Hentai” vehicle, but nevertheless not a very good game.