Reviewed by A.S.Rajkumar (with some invaluable help on the game's
origins by Randorama)
am a bit over fond of analogies, so let me try out a new one.
can be compared to women*. There are the acknowledged
and undisputed beauties of each generation (tastes may vary from generation
to generation), somewhat more 'perennial' beauties, the plain ones,
the ugly ones with a moustache to beat Hercule Poirot's, the ones
we love so irrationally (love is blind) and the frustrating
ones which manage to force us to love 'em. One's tastes also depend
on where one will draw the line between attractive and unattractive...and
here I break off the analogy. The last two categories I've listed
are highly subjective and ultimately tell us what we prefer
over Smith, Lopez, or Hasegawa. Or even the accepted canon of good
taste. But let me get back from my Annual Reviews in Gaming mode
to the Shmupping Reviews mode. On to Metal Black.
Rayforce/storm/crisis, the Toaplan collaborations and not to
forget the almighty Space Invaders...Taito certainly has contributed
a lot to the genre of shmups. But...Metal Black? It was ported
to the Saturn, but certainly isn't a very recognised shmup.
Black (aka Project Gun Frontier 2) is set in 2043, where
we have run into aliens from a companion star to the Sun called Nemesis
(I believe this was a popular theory floating around in the Eighties
and Isaac Asimov even produced a decent novel based on the idea).
They jump on us and flatten us out using powerful 'beam weapons',
powered by a molecule called Newalone by Earth scientists:
molecule on the left is Newalone, while I have put a picture of adenosine
triphosphate (ATP), the biochemical fuel, on the right for
to the wonders of reverse engineering, Earth scientists make their
own Newalone-powered killing machine called the Black Fly,
which suspiciously looks like a sawn-off Lockheed SR-71. But
the project is frozen by a possibly humiliating treaty signed by Earth,
and Earth falls into a time of decay and darkness. In the meantime,
some bloke blasts off in the Black Fly to sock it to the aliens of
much for the story. The actual game is, at first appearance, a pretty
but bog-standard horizontal shmup, with a high dose of cheapness.
But, fortunately, there is more to that.
thing you cannot miss, almost overriding the cheapness of level design,
is the overall feel of Metal Black. Taito sometimes
has a knack at atmospherics which makes its games go a long way; this
is at its strongest in Metal Black. There are several truly
memorable visual moments in this game: the first stage over dried-up
ocean beds (if there was anything left of Greenpeace then, they'd
be saying I-told-you-so gleefully), the hatching of the second-stage
boss from a Moon-shaped egg, the Newalone beam duels (more on that
later), the first-person bonus stages. The Engrish, strangely enough,
helps at times. And the music often (but not always) heightens the
experience. I could go on for a while, so I will stop here. If there
were a shmup Oscar for Art Direction, Metal Black would win
it. Nothing I have seen quite matches it.
straightforward. Your ship controls fairly well. Weapons-wise, you
have a single twin-beam shot which gradually powers up and maxes out
as you collect Newalone molecules (which look like this:).
In terms of armament, that's (almost) it. And here the gameplay issues
begin. Gradius had options, R-Type had the Force and
missile pods, Darius had the 'bombs', but this game has nothing
to give you protection around the rest of you! The game exploits this
fact mercilessly. You will be attacked relentlessly from all directions,
and often without warning. To its credit, the cannon can take out
enemies a little above and below it. And if that wasn't enough, the
enemies get progressively cheaper. From unfair screen-spreading shots
to slowing you down, the only dirty trick the enemies don't use is
your cannon is charged up fully, pressing button 2/B will unleash
the famed beam weapon. It packs quite a punch at first; as it loses
power, the beam splits up in a lightning-like effect, then finally
peters out. The splitting-up can be useful to clear the screen of
pesky enemies, but the beam's real purpose is to duel with the games'
bosses. During any boss fight, the boss will charge up its beam and
unleash it at you. This will knock you flat unless you duck (chicken!)
or fire off yours at the same time. Hammering at button 2/B at the
same time will cause the formation of a fancy-looking energy ball,
and depending on its colour, it will either hit you or the boss (purple
is good, anything else bad). Quite nice, and a definite precursor
to G-Darius' alpha/beta beam duels. It doesn't kill them
as well as G-Darius' beams. But, like the alpha beams, one
cannot switch them off.
a mixed bag. Everything (or almost everything) is a bit pixilated
and can get ugly- especially the explosions and the bonus stages.
The bosses have a habit of disappearing against a black background
in shimmering, rolling colours, and that doesn't really work out either.
Your explosion isn't memorable enough for you to really take notice
at times, either. However, the backgrounds are quite attractive (Jupiter
in Level 5 is gorgeous), and at times approaches a truly organic
feel (as opposed to the Giger Grand Guignol we have been brought up
on since R-Type)- as if one is inside a living organism. Backgrounds
and enemies are often well-animated, and there are some quite
fancy scaling and parallax effects throughout the game. Your ship,
though, is quite ugly in profile.
& Sound FX
effects are quite bad (something Taito is good at, paradoxically),
except for the boss warning siren and the cracking of the boss-egg
in Stage 2. Taito often goofs this up, but one can easily overlook
this because of the soundtrack. Composed by YACK of Zuntata fame (Taito
game, right?), it fits the game's mood and really helps you get involved
with the game; much more so than, say, Darius Gaiden's soundtrack.
In general it is a rather laid-back affair, with a few more pepped-up
interludes. The game is also kind enough to provide you with the levels'
track titles! Wonder if this was the first game to do so.
- Sorry if you are a woman, or gay
screenshots are split up into two pages: take your pick!
1: Stages 1-3
PAGE 2: Stages 4-6 (and summing-up)