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Metal Storm

Now here’s an oldie I bet very few have heard about let alone played.  I first became aware of Metal Storm around 1994 or so.  I had been big into collecting video game magazines, especially old ones, and my local library had a nice collection of old Nintendo Power issues.  I checked out Issue #22 which had the game on the cover and was entranced by their write up on the game.  I rented the game from Blockbuster and it blew me away.

Metal Storm was created and published by Irem, famous for the R-Type series.  An action platformer in the Contra mold, Metal Storm differentiates itself from its contemporaries by giving you the ability to switch gravity at any time allowing you to walk on ceilings much like the sandals in Battle of Olympus.  Not many games have ever played around with this mechanic, I imagine because it’s a nightmare to create intriguing levels based around.  More than likely Metal Storm was caught in the pre-release hype of the SNES but it also wasn’t marketed at all.  It’s a shame as it is one of the better action games for the NES that is finally getting the respect it deserves.

The first object of note: the graphics.  The NES did not support parallax scrolling natively like the 16-bit systems, but some games were able to either fake or mimic it, with this being one of the few.  Nearly every stage has it, and the last few stages even go 2 layers deep.  This was like a revelation back then.  While the game is technically proficient it does feel a bit sterile as the entire game is mechanically themed.  Not that its bad but it does get repetitive.  I would definitely say Metal Storm might possibly be among the top 10 best looking NES games.  Unfortunately the music is very boring and actually annoying; I found myself turning the sound down because I didn’t like it.  And I love game music!

It’s a neat gimmick that is exploited to the fullest.  The entire game is built around the gravity mechanic.  Most stages allow you to complete them entirely upside down, and the developers have planned for that with enemies that are also flipped just like you.  Lots of level hazards will activate and deactivate based on what side of the floor you are on, and the game can be quite clever in that you’ll see what looks like an impassable barrier but if you switch sides it will open up.  In the middle parts of the game there are no barriers on the top and bottom of the screen allowing you to flip through both sides.  Its disorienting to say the least and  will definitely trip you out as you will have to multitask and think of what’s going on in both ends before jumping.

I liked that the game very much eases you into gravity switching with the opening stages not requiring it as much.  As you go on you’ll sometimes have to execute multiple gravity flips in a row without touching the ground to avoid enemies.  This is definitely not built in the same mold as traditional action games like Contra, you have to pay attention to your surroundings before making your next move lest you die repeatedly.  Towards the end your reflexes will be put to the test in some brutal boss fights.

Test is an apt description.  That’s exactly what the game is.  Make no mistake; Metal Storm is brutally hard.  You can only receive 1 hit before dying without the aid of a power-up, and to be honest, most of the power-ups aren’t very helpful.  A lot of deaths will occur because you switched accidentally or didn’t realize a stage prop would come to life if you did.  The bosses are vicious and will have you sweating bullets especially the stage 6 boss, a series of 3 rotating turrets you have to navigate between to avoid the electrified ceiling and floor.  It’s entirely doable of course, and never reaches the level of frustration of Battletoads

 If you’ve made it this far you are a gravity switching ninja.  This fight is intense and will have you on the edge of your seat.  This is the type of challenge expert gamers dream of.  Also nice R-Type cameo in the background.

But it’s definitely worth playing despite this.  Thankfully the game has passwords so it doesn’t have to be finished in one sitting.  Despite its quality the game was not popular so it can be found for a few dollars at most and I definitely recommend buying it.

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