Rediscovering: Metal Warriors

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Back in the day, c.1993 or so, I was managing a video game store called Master Player. It was pre-Playstation, and the games industry was sort of wondering what it was going to do next as the kids started to get tired of their 16-bit consoles, and so we had a lot of spare time to play games in the store.

One of these games was Konami’s Metal Warriors, a sort of spiritual (not actual) successor to their very well regarded Cybernator. This new game was a very solid mech combat platform game with a decent single-player story mode and a fantastic two player VS mode. On one particularly slow day in my store we played over a hundred consecutive head-to-head rounds, and with match times ranging from a handful of seconds to several minutes, this was no small feat.

But the game was that good. The question now though, is: how is it now, nearly twenty years later?

(note: this is part of a series of Rediscovering old games. For the rest, click here!)

Well, years later, it’s still brilliant. I picked up the controller and all the controls were instantly remembered. This game makes full use of the SNES controller, and every mech has different actions for every button. Where possible, the same ones are used, for shooting or mêlée attacks for example, but some mechs are so radically different there’s just no way to do this, and so learning the controls is a primary goal.

The creativity in this game is striking. There are six different mechs to choose from, and they’re not just the same unit with adjusted stats and a new skin. From the slow and plodding Prometheus with its devastating cannon and airmines to the flying Drache with fast with unlimited mobility and 8-way shooting, the game offered crazy variety. And it was variety that was still very well balanced. When we played VS mode we’d use random mech and stage selections, and there was never a time when we would expect a loss or victory based on the mech we’d been assigned.

Throughout the single player game the level provides you with appropriate mechs, and sometimes you’ll pass empty ones which you can either destroy or commandeer. If you choose to swap mechs, your current mech will stop, open up and a little man will jump out, complete with little jetpack, and you’ll be incredibly vulnerable until you’re safely back in another one. This move is used to great effect throughout the single player game when you need to fly through tiny human-scale corridors and pilot ships or disable barriers. And it leads to remarkably tense times in multi player when you’re throwing away one mostly-ruined mech and racing to get into a shiny new one before the other player notices you’re vulnerable and annihilates you.

Note: The Rediscovering series updates as the games are played, so this is not a complete article… yet! How exciting!

[ Apr 29 2013 ]



Apr 29 2013

One of the first things you notice while playing the single player game is the cut scenes. Some versions of the box make a big deal of the game’s 16-megabit size, and it shows in the cut scenes exactly what that storage was for.

The game is gorgeous, with detailed space cruisers and swooping red mechs complete with big bursts of thruster fire and tiny maneuvering flames.

Before your missions start there is often a briefing. Sometimes it’s an overhead view like this one, but there are others as well.

And of course there’s a panorama shot of the mech hangar, because mechs, man.


Apr 29 2013

The single player levels are difficult and require a few playthroughs, as was common of the era’s games. If you lost your mech, or it was so badly damaged it could no longer shoot, levels would become impossible to complete. Sometimes the instructions aren’t entirely clear, or the level doesn’t really explain itself well.

In one of the first stages you have to infiltrate an enemy base and escape, but ‘escape’ means ‘wander out into empty space far enough for the game to consider you truly exited’ and if you don’t wander quite far enough, the level never ends.

Several of the stages are protect-em-ups, where you’ve got to keep the enemies from destroying the power cores, or the guns on a ship. What this means in practice is you’ve got to babysit one core or gun, and let the rest get destroyed. There’s no penalty for this, and trying to protect more than one means you effectively protect none. The first few times you play this isn’t obvious, but once you notice it, the challenge drops precipitously.

The graphics seemed pretty excellent back in the day, but I struggle to find any really impressive screenshots while playing the game. It’s possibly a matter of size – the levels are quite large, often sprawling, and those 16 megabits needed to be spread around pretty thin, especially with all those cut scenes eating up the storage. Still, when you’re playing it, the game is realistic and impressive enough without really amazing the player.

The first mission is a simple rescue: find agent Marissa and then shoot your way out the back. A very good introduction level that introduces most of the game’s concepts. A few disposable weapons, a replacement mech when yours wears out, and a hidden one if you do some exploring with the conveniently located missiles.

This is me at the start of level one, full health and ready to kick ass.

This is me a few minutes later, so nearly dead I’ve lost my weapon arm and can do nothing more than run around hoping to find another mech or a health item before someone so much as sneezes on me. Metal Warriors doesn’t have any sort of on-screen display to indicate time, score or health. None of these things are important in the game’s universe. As your mech takes damage it loses its shiny red colour, becoming grey before starting to throw off sparks, losing its ability to fight, and finally exploding. It’s up to the player to gauge exactly how much more risk-taking is prudent before abandoning the mech for another. If you’re lucky enough to find a health item, you’ll be back to full strength instantly.


May 8 2013

Metal Warriors’ 1-player game is not easy. It’s not easy at all and without the benefit of emulators save states I don’t think there’s any chance at all I’d ever beat the game. It’s damned hard, but awesome for it.

Enemy mechs abound, of course, and there are plenty of ’em lurking in places you’d rather they didn’t. Automated sentries pop down from the ceiling, missile launchers roam the hallways, huge turrets block your path and, from time to time, enormous lasers reduce you to smoke. Also land mines. And floating air-mines. And ooh, there are landslides too. And ice! Walls and floors you can shoot through, and etc and so on.

It’s varied enough that you never feel like you’ve seen it all, each new level brings a new location, from deep space, snowy winter and leafy jungles.

In motion the variety is well presented and looks impressive enough, but in the screenshots you start to see the seams a bit. Tiles that don’t quite line up, noticeable edges between tiles, etc. But it’s a small complaint that does not at all detract from the game.

And, after a few more hours playtime, I’m prepared to say that this game has aged exceptionally well. It’s a brilliant game with tight controls, good sound and music. When playing, it just feels right. It feels awesome, in fact. I don’t think it’s quite worth five hundred bucks (the going rate on ebay, it seems) but it’s definitely in my list of top five favourite SNES games.

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