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02 May 2015 @ 03:05 pm
Game Review: Metal Storm  
When I was young, my parents bowed to my pleading and got me a subscription to Nintendo Power. I got on the hype train pretty early, around issue #9, and most of the cover articles were on the games you'd expect--Mega Man II, Super Mario Brothers III, Tetris, Ninja Gaiden II, Final Fantasy, and all the games that have stood the test of time. There was one game that doesn't quite fit in to that hallowed pantheon, however, that still got a cover and lit a fire in the imagination of young me: Metal Storm.


Check out those high-rez explosions too.

The article talks about a giant defense station built to protect the Earth from aliens, and as is always the case in these situations, the robot defenses have made their first priority to KILL ALL HUMANS and are advancing on the inner solar system with weapons hot. Rather than launch their entire fleet, or use a sensible amount of weapons to destroy a moon-sized battlestation, the peoples of the Earth send one person in a fragile giant robot that explodes when looked at funny. I suppose it's possible that they were going by the Death Star assault/Fellowship of the Ring principle that a small strike force would succeed where a large army would fail, but you would think that they could at least reinforce the M-308 Gunner and not require you to scavenge for cast-off armor pieces while inside the hostile killer robot.

I remember reading this article and thinking that it sounded like an amazing game, but I never managed to find a copy of it when I was young and so it lurked in the back of my mind for years as I'd occasionally remember that one game that I saw in Nintendo Power that looked cool, think about it for a while, then forget again. It wasn't until I saw the Metal Storm episode of Continue? that I really remembered that old game and I set out to find it.

Metal Storm is one of those games that's entirely based around a single mechanic, like how Kirby's Adventure is about devouring enemies alive to steal their powers or how Braid is about time manipulation. In Metal Storm's case, it's gravity reversal.


Now this is a story all about how
My life got flipped turned upside down...

One thing you'll probably notice there is that the various killer robots are also flipping. That's one of the things that makes Metal Storm more complicated. In addition to mobile enemies, of which there are surprisingly few, there are guns that rotate to fire in whatever direction gravity is pointing and platforms that can be jumped through in one direction but not the other. The flipping robots actual made me wonder how the gravity reversal works. It's obviously not just a local unit, since it affects everything in the M-308 Gunner's vicinity. Is it some kind of field that extends in a bubble around it? That seems pretty pointless if you're trying to build an infiltration robot, since all the guards are going to know something is up when they suddenly fall on the ceiling.

Yeah, I know there probably wasn't any thought put into this at all, but it's most of what I thought of while I was playing the first level. Later levels don't actually have many mobile enemies at all, with the challenge coming from emplacement weapons and spikes everywhere, as is the tradition of every NES-era villain's lair.


You'd think it would be easier to just include guns on turrets...

Other than the gravity-flipping, there really isn't that much to the gameplay of Metal Storm. You walk and jump around and shoot at the robots, but like I mentioned, the vast majority of the enemies in the game aren't mobile. Most gameplay is dodging stationary guns, flipping gravity in the proper manner to avoid one-way walls, spikes, and lasers trying to crush you against the scenery, and shooting things. There are three powerups to pick up: the Gravity Fireball that makes you invincible while you're switching gravities; the Shield Force that projects an energy shield in front of you and lets you ram people and block bullets; and the Power Beam that increases your damage and lets you shoot through walls. And you will spend the whole game with the Power Beam, because extra damage and shooting through walls is useful in literally every second of gameplay, making it an order of magnitude better than the situational bonuses offered by the other two powerups.

There's a couple other powerups, but there's no hard choice there either. There's Crusher, which blows up everyone on the screen but activates the instant you pick it up so there's no need to worry about conserving it. There's Armor, which gives you one free hit before you die. And there's some inconsequential ones like the one that gives you extra time on the clock--and I don't even know why this game has a clock, because I never even came close to running out of time--and the one that increases your score. Mostly, you can play as though the powerups aren't even there except for Power Beam, which is nigh-mandatory. They might as well have just made the Power Beam your main weapon and removed powerups completely, honestly.


One of the few powerup choices that's actually a hard decision.

I'm always surprised when I go back to a NES game how short most of them are. They seemed much longer when I was a kid, and even games like Super Mario Brothers III that I've played recently and know that most of the levels can be beaten in under a minute still have their length extended in my memory. Metal Storm is much shorter than Super Mario Brothers III, and I'm pretty sure if I played it through with no mistakes that I could have beaten it in maybe twenty minutes. Here's a speedrun where the guy does it in 12:15, which will also provide you with a comprehensive example of the gameplay and all the bossfights. Skip forward to 12:30 in the video if you want to see the "final boss," which is barely worthy of the name.

But I'm not as good as he is! It took me more like an hour and a lot of save states, though I don't feel bad about the save states because the game gives you infinite continues and three lives per continue. You don't even lose your powerups when you lose a life, just your progress, and only back to the beginning of the current stage. As such, I set a self-imposed limit that I would only save state at the beginning of a stage. That way I played the game mostly as it was meant to be played, and the only thing I used save state to avoid was the tedium of running back through the first part of stages I had already beaten or allowing me to try a boss multiple times in a row. That came in especially handy on the boss pictured above, which took me probably twenty minutes of repeated tries before I finally got his pattern down enough to dodge all the crap that it threw all over the screen.


Minimalist stage design.

I'm not sure how I would have felt about Metal Storm had I played it as a child. I might have actually liked it as much as I did later, with the eternal patience of the child video gamer making up for the lack of save states. The infinite continues means that I probably would have done better than I did at Castlevania III, where I could repeatedly get to Dracula's Castle but never actually managed to get all the way through it. I can probably attribute that to always picking Alucard, who is objectively the worst character and the one that requires you to make your way through the most of the castle. But he can fly! Flying is great!

...or so I thought. But the truth is, flying is only really useful in a single area that you skip completely if you don't have Alucard anyway. Shows how much I knew.

Metal Storm, I can see myself beating. The last stage is a boss rush, and that boss that took me twenty minutes before fell in a single try because now I knew its pattern. I can easily see myself hurling the M-308 Gunner against the stages over and over and over again until I mastered it. Especially with the password function, which is how I beat Mega Man III on rentals.


If that's a friendly fleet, why aren't they helping? If it's an enemy fleet, then they're still out there...

The ending is actually rather substantial for an old game. Instead of a simple "A WINNER IS YOU," you get a text scrawl about how you suffer a horrifying fate worse than death. After the destruction of the rogue weapon station, the government of Earth grants you "a reward more valuable than any medal, and more valuable than all the gold known to man." They make you immortal and exile you to space, to serve as the permanent defender of Earth against any aliens in the place of the weapon station you destroyed. That's straight up Immortal Defense-level of fucked up. I can just imagine the heroic pilot, their brain surgically removed and placed in a mi-go brain canister and installed inside a mobile fortress, slowly going mad as they eternally scan the stars for threats that may not ever come.

Actually, I bet that's what happened to the first fortress that humanity built. That obviously leads into the sequel: "Metal Storm II: Oh Shit, What Have We Done?"


Insanity would definitely explain some of the level and boss design.

I still don't know why Metal Storm got a Nintendo Power cover. I mean, sure, it was a fun platformer built around an interesting game mechanic, but it's not really a classic for the ages like Super Mario Brothers III or Battletoads are. Then again, they had no way of knowing that. Looking through my (digital) Nintendo Power collection,there are covers for games like Vice: Project Doom, Powerblade, Felix the Cat, Darkwing Duck, and other second- or third-tier game that don't have near the recognition of the classics but aren't as terrible as games like Dragon's Lair, and Metal Storm falls comfortably into the higher end of that band. The instant death and infinite continues means there's no danger that you will get far only to find that you're not powerful enough to progress. The only real point of difficulty comes down to whether you have the Power Beam or not.

There's an Expert Mode after you beat the main game, which I can only assume the M-308 Gunner II being sent to destroy the bloated, mad monstrosity that the M-308 Gunner has become, but I think I'll let that lie for now. I've finally satisfied my decades-old curiosity about what Metal Storm would be like, and while it can't live up to decades of anticipation, a good game that's worth a playthrough
 
 
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished
Current Music: PHI, EnV, Dualryan - Green with Me
 
 
 
q99q99 on May 3rd, 2015 03:43 am (UTC)
I have that nintendo power too! Likewise I thought it looked interesting.


Yea, that ending is a bit messed up. It may sound cool for those obsessed with heroism, buuuut....
dorchadasdorchadas on May 4th, 2015 12:56 am (UTC)
I'm a little tempted to go through some of the other games I thought looked amazing, like Vice: Project Doom. I've always wondered how that played.

It may sound cool for those obsessed with heroism, buuuut....

I was going to say that eternally defending your people seems like a shounen anime ending, but The Cutting Room Floor tells me that the Japanese version had a totally different ending, viewable here. And yeah, the original ending is way more stereotypically Japanese.
q99q99 on May 4th, 2015 06:56 am (UTC)
Aw, no immortality for Japanese Metal Storm!