Metal Storm
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • NES
  • Developer:
    • Tamtex
  • Publisher:
    • Irem
  • Released:
    • US February 1991
    • JP 04/24/1992
Score: 80%

This review was published on 01/30/2017.

Metal Storm is a side-scrolling platform video game developed by Tamtex and published by Irem for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Famicom. It was originally released in North America in February 1991 and Japan on April 24, 1992. During the early 1990s, consoles were transitioning between 8-bit and 16-bit, with systems like the NES and Sega Master System being replaced by the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis. As a result of that, many of the NES games that came out during this period went ignored by the public. Unbeknownst to most gamers at the time, however, it was during this period that some of the best NES games ever made got released. Metal Storm is one such title. The game didn't get too much press coverage back then, though it did somehow wind up on the cover of Nintendo Power issue #22. At any rate, this is one of the NES' many unsung heroes.

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The year is 2501 and mankind has colonized the solar system. As part of this effort, "Cyberg," a battle station equipped with a massive laser gun, was built on Pluto to defend Earth from possible alien invaders. However, a computer malfunction has caused Cyberg to wreak havoc. Cyberg is now using its powerful laser gun to systematically destroy all the planets in the Solar System! Neptune was Cyberg's most recent target, forcing the people of the united Earth Nation to watch helplessly as the planet exploded before their very eyes. The people of Earth tried to activate Cyberg's self-destruct function, but the device that controls it has been mysteriously jammed. To make matters worse, Cyberg's laser gun is now pointing towards Earth. It's still possible to manually activate the self-destruct device, but this must be done from within Cyberg. Mankind's last hope falls onto the shoulders of a single pilot, who is sent to infiltrate Cyberg using the most sophisticated weapon available, the M-308 Gunner.

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You control the aforementioned M-308 Gunner, which is a bipedal robot armed with a gun, similar to a Gundam. Pressing the d-pad left or right will march your robot in those directions, the A button makes it jump, and the B button fires the gun. You can shoot in the four cardinal directions by holding the desired direction on the d-pad as you press the B button. That's all pretty standard fare, but this game's main innovation is the gravity flip mechanic. At virtually any time, you can hold up on the d-pad and press the A button to reverse gravity. In other words, you'll be walking on the ceiling! Further, if you jump while on the ceiling, you'll fall upwards back to it. Everything controls the same while gravity is reversed, except you aim upwards by holding down, and vice versa. To return gravity back to normal, you hold down and press A. The whole game revolves around your ability to flip gravity, which controls quite well and is quite fun.

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Throughout the game, you'll find three main power-ups: the Shield Force, Power Beam, and Gravity Fireball. As its name implies, the Shield Force creates a barrier that deflects bullets and harms nearby enemies, but lasers can still penetrate it. The Power Beam makes the shots fired from your gun a little wider. Lastly, the Gravity Fireball makes it so that your robot temporarily transforms into a deadly fireball whenever it reverses gravity, damaging enemies on contact. You can only have one of these at a time; grabbing another will replace the one you currently have, so you must choose wisely. There are a couple of other helpful items you can get, such as bonus points, extra time, 1ups, something that destroys all enemies on the screen when picked up, and armor. Despite being a hulking mass of machine, your robot dies in one hit to anything that's even remotely harmful, but the armor allows you to sustain one additional hit. The power-ups are pretty standard, but they do add a tiny bit of strategy to the proceedings, as you need to pick the best one for the current job.

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All the stages will test your gravity flipping abilities in one way or another. For example, you're able to jump upwards through certain thin platforms, but if you want to go downwards through them, you must flip gravity. There'll be arrows plastered on some platforms to denote which ways you can pass through them, with some of them being one-way trips. Then there are gates that flip around whenever you change gravity, sealing off different paths depending on which way gravity has changed. Touching these gates whilst they're moving also instantly vaporizes you, so you have to be far away from them when flipping gravity. You've also got dangerous flamethrowers that activate or deactivate depending on the gravity's current state. Some enemies will even reverse their own gravity when you do, whereas others will stay put. This all gives the game a bit of a puzzle solving vibe, forcing you to do some serious thinking in amidst the action.

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Outside the fairly standard first stage, most of the other stages in this game are quite unique. The uniqueness begins as soon as the second stage, where the tops and bottoms of the screen go in an infinite loop that'll totally disorient you. It's even possible to make yourself fall in an endless loop, but fret not, for you can get out of it. You must use this infinity to your advantage as you flip gravity to avoid spikes and other traps, all the while navigating the mind bending environment. Another stage has you locked in a moving cage that floats around as enemies and obstacles bombard you from all sides. The stage design gets truly trippy later on, such as a big area with wraparound for the top and bottom of the screen, meaning falling to the bottom places you back at the top. While it's a bit easier than most other NES titles, the game is still fairly tough. Thankfully, there are unlimited continues and even a password system to resume progress.

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Bosses await your presence at the end of every stage. As with the stages, most of the bosses will require plenty of gravity flipping. For instance, the first boss is a giant stationary machine that shoots rings at you, and the only way to damage it is to shoot its weak spot, which randomly appears at different parts of its body. You have to be quick and flip gravity at the right time in order to reach each of the weak spot locations. The second boss consists of a seemingly endless stack of turrets that fire lasers at you, and as with many of the stages, you can go up or down in an incomprehensibly infinite loop. One boss is a little pod that attaches itself to different parts of the background while threatening lasers move around. Another boss is a neat transforming robot that fires different laser patterns depending on its current form. Yet another boss consists of three ships that fly around the room in a continuous circular pattern, and you must ride them while avoiding the deadly lasers on the floor and ceiling. Again, reversing gravity is essential here, as you sometimes have to ride these ships from below. Basically, the bosses are as unique and inventive as the stages.

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Strangely, despite being developed in Japan by a Japanese company, the game came out in North America first. Even stranger, there are some minor differences between the Japanese and North American versions of the game. The biggest difference is the addition of an introductory story sequence and some extra text. Everything else is relatively minor, like different colors for a few backgrounds and the M-308 Gunner's sprite being changed to a whiter shade to better match the game's box art. As far as the game play is concerned, both versions are nearly identical, though the Japanese version has some additional hazards that make certain sections of the game much harder. Both versions of the game are close enough that it shouldn't matter which one you opt to play, though.

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For its time, Metal Storm was highly original, being one of the first games to experiment with gravity in such a deep manner. Even though the entire game focuses on manipulating gravity, it never gets old, because it consistently finds new ways to keep the concept fresh all throughout. This game is the very definition of taking a singular concept and executing it exceedingly well. Bottom line, this game is good. If you haven't had the opportunity to play Metal Storm yet, then get right on it!

Word Count: 1,454

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