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Released: 1991
Company: Irem
Genre: Soldier Shooter

Soldier shooters, by design, don't often stress a lot of mental gymnastics. Many of the challenges put forth by the genre entail more instinct and reflex than strategy. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does tend to water down the concept and make most soldier shooters appear to be fairly predictable. After all, the theme itself is relatively simple, and there's only so much you can change without making it something that isn't really a soldier shooter. This is where MetalStorm emerges as such an excellent title - by adding just one extra twist to the gameplay, and tailoring some of the challenges to suit this twist, it became one of the most innovative games on the system.

I want to get the plot out of the way first, because that's the one element of this game that doesn't stand out very much. This is yet another one of those games where the plot is secondary. It's your standard tale of impending doom - a base once created to defend Earth has malfunctioned and has turned against it, and it's up to our hero du jour to infiltrate the base and destroy it. We've seen it before (The Guardian Legend leaps into mind) but it's innocuous enough to stay in the background and not interfere with the actual gameplay. Perhaps the only gripe I have about the story is with regards to the ending, which promises your character "immortality" for having completed his mission. However, it's fairly ambiguous if this award is in a legendary sense, or if they actually had some way to prevent this guy from dying.

The game is constructed in a similar fashion as most soldier shooters: a series of side-scrolling levels each filled with robots and laser turrets, with spikes on the floors for good measure. But, as implied above, there's one feature that turns the game upside-down. Literally. Your protagonist has the ability to reverse the gravity of the level he's on. That, by itself, adds a whole new dimension to the game, but the programmers designed the levels to take full advantage of the Gravity Flip. There are times when the game plays like a puzzle and not a soldier shooter, as you have to stand back and figure out how to get past the next obstacle. A couple of levels have no floor or ceiling, allowing for unlimited vertical scrolling. In another stage, you're trapped in a box moves its way through a minefield.

The learning curve is nearly perfect, with just the right amount of levels, and each boss requiring a little more skill than the last. Unfortunately, the final battle is extremely anti-climactic. After polishing off a challenging and imaginative boss in the sixth level, the last boss consists of four gun turrets, each coming one at a time, and whose projectiles are very easy to dodge. For a game this challenging, the ending is a bit of a letdown.

The game also shines presentationally. This game has some of the best graphics on the system. For instance, the backgrounds are terrifically drawn, with some of the levels featuring almost parallax scrolling. The hero is animated terrifically - when you push up on your controller, you see him move his gun above him instead of it suddenly appearing there. When you take a fatal hit, the explosion that results is awe-inspiring. My only wish was that your character was colored a little more brightly. The orange-brown tint that's used in the game is a little too dark for you to stand out from the surroundings very well. The music also enhances the experience in a huge way. Even though there are a couple themes that are recycled for more than one level, the entire soundtrack is a winner. From the first level, whose major key relaxes the player into the challenge, to the sixth level, which hits home the abstraction of the stage's layout, to the urgent boss music, MetalStorm has some incredible tunes.

Since the Gravity Flip was such an integral part of the game, it was crucial that the people in charge of coding this game made the move simple enough to execute. They managed to make the move easy to pull off. However, there is a bit of a snag involved. Since you can aim your gun in the four major directions - which in itself is a plus - there have been a couple times where I mean to shoot upward and jump, but accidentally flip and collide with whatever it was that I was shooting. Another unique feature is the shield Power-up that's available occasionally, and your ability to use it offensively as a weapon.

Essentially, the Gravity Flip makes this game as fun as it is. Without it, you've got yet another mundane and forgettable soldier shooter. With it, though, MetalStorm is a hoot. There are a couple places were you might take some cheap hits because of traps that appear without warning, but those really don't interfere with your enjoyment of the game. There's only one game within this genre that gets more attention from me than this, and that's Contra - the granddaddy of all soldier shooters.

To put it succinctly, MetalStorm is the thinking man's soldier shooter, and does a very good job in both its presentation and execution. It left me quite impressed when I first played it, and future visits to this game have only improved its standing with me.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 16
Challenge: (Hard)
Aesthetic Score: 20
Overall Score: 86%