Review by The Vic Viper

Reviewed: 04/26/04 | Updated: 10/10/05

A great game in every way possible

Metal Storm: The Strike Mission is the embodiment of everything that made NES so much fun. A simple, yet highly innovative game, Metal Storm manages to be both extremely challenging and extremely entertaining. Developed by Tamtex and published by Irem for the NES in the United States and Japan in 1991, the game went pretty much unnoticed by the gaming community. While this is unfortunate it is not surprising since nobody has ever heard of Tamtex and Irem was not well known among Nintendo gamers at the time.

In Metal Storm you play the role of the M-308 gunner, a mech with one mission: to save humanity by destroying everything that stands in its way. A weapon near Pluto which was originally designed for human use has been taken over by a malicious computer program and is now out to vaporize the Earth. The M-308 is dropped in through an access corridor with the goal of destroying the central core of the weapon.

Metal Storm is a side scrolling shooter that is half about avoiding/killing enemies and half about navigating though the environment. In many ways this games is similar in concept to Contra, though there are many new things that make it much more complicated. You can shoot in four directions and the levels scroll left and right. Jumping is very accurate and the game responds instantly to any button you press.

For an NES title, this game looks and sounds great, though the key phrase is “for an NES title.” Animations are very well done, with most effects using numerous frames so the game isn’t as choppy as other games at the time were. While limited by the NES color palette the game does make good use of what little it had to work with and both the levels and characters are detailed and impressive looking. There are two different layers of backgrounds, as well as the foreground, which gives a nice perspective view as you move along. It wasn’t until the SNES that layered backgrounds became common, so Tamtex was a head of their time. There can be occasional flickering when many objects are on the screen at once. However this is rare and barely noticeable when it does occur, and there is no gameplay slowdown. The music is decent and the quiet background music helps create the “alone on a hostile alien construct” feel that the developers were going for.

Two things work together to make Metal Storm innovative (and fun). The first thing is the ability to reverse gravity with the touch of a button. When gravity is reversed the gameplay physics remain the same, except you are walking along the ceiling instead of the floor. Throughout the course of the game you will have to constantly reverse and normalize gravity in order to progress through the levels. While most of the environment remains the same regardless of gravity, there are certain enemies, gates, and platforms that alter their behavior depending on your orientation.

The other unique gameplay aspect is the way in which the levels wrap around themselves vertically, or "warping" as it is referred to in the game. What this means is that technically there are no floors or ceilings in certain levels. If you make your way upward or downward you will quickly end up on the same plane that you started on. Because the games scrolls vertically as well as horizontally, the transition from the "top" to the "bottom" is continuous, so it is not as if you drop off the level then instantly appear at the top while the screen does not move. Levels with warping are designed in such a way that using this technique is necessary to navigate through the maze.

There are a total of seven different levels in Metal Storm, though the last one is more of a continual fight with different bosses than an actual level. Levels are divided into two sections, and each section has a two hundred second time limit. Generally the time limit won't be an issue and in the few instances when you are rushed you can find bonus items that extend your time. Each level has a unique characteristic that makes it very different than the rest. Level two is a giant maze that introduces warping, level four takes place in a giant moving cage, in level five you are being chased by a giant laser beam, and so on. The first two or three levels are relatively easy, though they can still be challenging the first time you play. Once you hit level four the game become extremely difficult and gets harder each level. The first six levels have two sections and then a boss fight. Bosses are relatively hard compared to the level that they are in, and boss fights towards the end of the game are very intense.

Adding to the challenge is fact that it only takes on hit to kill you and there are a lot of enemies, projectiles, lasers, spikes, and other assorted hazards on screen at any given moment. You are given three lives to start with and dieing will result in having to replay the level half or boss fight again. It is possible to gain additional lives by collecting 1-up items, though they are few and far between. Other items you can find offer features such as bonus points, extra time, armor which lets you survive one hit without dieing, and lets you equip one of three different weapons. Your standard weapon is a basic laser gun that can fire two small energy balls directly forward. By collecting certain items you can equip better guns such as the plasma gun that is more powerful and travels through walls, the gravity fireball that makes you invincible as you alternate gravity, and a shield which deflects certain projectiles in front of you. You can only equip one weapon at a time, you lose them if you die, and you cannot stockpile items to use at a latter time.

Like most action games on the NES, Metal Storm is short and can be beat in a single sitting; however a password system means you won't have to. Once you become really good at the game it should take no more than half an hour to beat the game, but it will take a lot of practice to be that good. As an added bonus, once you beat the game you start level one again, but in "hard mode," which would be better described as "****ing insane mode." In hard mode the enemies take more hits to die, move faster, fire faster, there are more of them, and so on. Bosses have very different attack patterns and weapons as well. Level design is basically the same on the different modes, with the exception of level four.

Metal Storm is yet another entry on the list of great games that nobody has ever heard of because it received almost no hype (except for being featured on the cover of Nintendo Power). Fortunately for me that issue of Nintendo Power was the first one I ever got, and I bought the game because the robot on the cover looked cool.

Metal Storm is the type of action game with platforming elements that any fan of old games should be able to enjoy. Like most games of the time it was great how you could just pick up the game and play in one sitting without having to bother with a storyline or having to devote 10 hours or so to a single game.

Good luck trying to find an actual copy of this game; it was hard to find when it was still being published and is almost non-existent nowadays. Emulation is probably the only way that you stand a chance of getting to play it. Since it won’t cost you anything to try it, you might as well. You might just find yourself playing it constantly for years to come.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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