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 Post subject: Metal Black (Arcade - Saturn - PlayStation 2 - XBOX - PC)
PostPosted: Tue Mar 31, 2020 9:48 am 

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Joined: 11 Oct 2008
Posts: 250
Location: Autobot City, Sugiura Base
More arcade classics, this time is Taito's obscure shmup Metal Black, released in 1991.

They have fallen one by one, building castles to the sun.
Only ruins can be found on battlegrounds.

The gameplay of Metal Black at first looks simple as your basic horizontal shooter, but that is only the surface of what this game is, as we also notice there's no Power Up items to increase the ship's firepower.
Well, here's how Metal Black works: Powering up is based on picking particles called Newalones, These are the power up for both your laser shots and the Beam, which is the special weapon of this game. The beam can be used as a straight energy blast by holding the button during its highest energy levels, or it will split into spinning beams as we push the button without holding it. Keep in mind, both your firepower and the Beam share the same gauge, so if you use the beam, you'll power down. But in return, you can keep your power levels if you lose a life.

While the gameplay mechanics work perfectly, the game itself will become tricky and quite difficult because unlike Darius, you don't have a sub-weapon, pods, or a shield item to protect your ship, not to mention, one hit and you'll lose a ship. This is where the game will use this disadvantage on its favor as it will throw you enemies with unique attack patterns which very few times become abusive and with the stage layout providing them cover from your regular shots, they will try to force you to use the Beam. Fortunately, you can rack up a couple of lives by getting a certain amount of points based on the arcade dip-switch requirements, but it still requires a lot of skill and stage memorization to know when to unleash the beam or use your regular laser shots.

I'll fight!, I'll die! I'd rather be shot down in flames!
I'll fight!, I'll die! Burning and fading away. Come hell or high water!

The main feature of this classic shooter comes out during the boss fight, as the enemy can use the Newalone particles to power up itself and unleash a beam attack just like yours. This is when the Beam duel comes as both Beams collide and clash in a collision of powers where only the strongest beam will over-power it depending on how much Newalones you've picked. If you've got enough, the energy orb generated by the clash will turn blue and will hit the boss. This concept broke the traditional use of bombs or sub-weapons we knew before, like a "Before-After" in gaming terms.

Oh, No! I said all of the wrong.
Oh, Yeah! The faster we roam.
Oh, No! It's time we kick in once and for all!

Once you've finished Stages 1 and 3, you'll be in a bonus stage where the game changes into a missile targeting mini-game where the objective consists of destroying all the enemies within the time limit. Sounds simple enough, but the problem is the time itself as it goes like 3 in-game seconds per 1 of real time, but shooting down all of them grants you a Perfect Bonus of 10,000 in "Over Ride" and 20,000 in "Black Out" along with how many points you've got in the stage. When the game is played in Co-op with a second player, it becomes more of a competitive challenge, basically this is more than just a simple bonus stage.

Aw'right let's take roll: Sugiura (here.), Whitetail (here.), Freeman (here.)
Xiao Long (here), Schnee (here.), Meiling (here.), Mitchell (here.), Bradshaw (here.)
Logano (here.), Moffitt (here.), Rollo-Koster *Laughs from the other 19,999 pilots are heard*

On a curious feature, if you (and your friend if they're playing Co-op) die in the final stage and decide not continuing the game, you will unlock a bad ending where 20,000 Black Flies are deployed to fight the enemy. According to the producers, this scenario implies the imminent end of mankind because unlike you and your partner, the rest of the military doesn't have an idea about where is the enemy.

To end with the gameplay section of the review, the game was ported in 1996 on the Sega Saturn by Ving as part of its "Arcade Gears" series and in 2006 on the PlayStation 2, XBOX and PC as part of Taito Legends 2. Both games are arcade perfect ports, however, there's minimal details. While the Saturn version only loads the game after pressing start, the Taito Legends 2 port loads after selecting the game in the menu. For some reason, the Taito logo animation of the Attract Mode was removed, as a result, the first seconds of "Red & Yellow" (the humming sounds) don't play until the intro repeats again once the demo ends. This "issue" doesn't happen on the Saturn port. However, the end credits in the Saturn version credits Ving instead of Taito like in the Arcade/PS2 port.

You know you're in big trouble when the line between reality and fantasy fades away.

Graphically, the game relies a lot in digitized stuff from buildings, caverns and even the Moon, resulting in a photorealistic game, all of these combined with pseudo 3D perspectives like the sky in stage 1 or the screen effect at the beginning of stage 3, where it changes as it enters on the 3D-esque tunnel left by an abandoned space station. One of the main aspects of Metal Black's graphics is the surrealism on the entire game, as the game slowly blurs the line between reality and fantasy as the world and universe around your ship gets weirder and weirder, starting that effect in stage 2 where the Moon that was in the background was actually the boss hiding on an "egg" shaped like the Earth's Moon and the real Moon slowly becomes a cluster of colored spider web-like structures on the warp speed moving starry background. Stage 3 is a more deeper submersion beyond the reality-fantasy borderline as the alternate dimension is a world built upon collapsed space stations and structures that become a stronghold for the enemy.

BLAST FROM THE PAST: Clearing a stage LITERALLY blows you away!

Rather than having a typical stage clear scene, the round clear is the boss death explosion with debris hurled at high speed, giving the game a major notion of intensity. It's like they've made something as simple as clearing a stage to become a blast that blows you away. Not to mention how the Taito logo appears in the Attract Mode as it makes a jet noise while its slammed on the screen and makes an explosion noise as it "waves" fading on the screen, like "It's Taito. Put this game in the arcade and BAM!".

In 2086, two peaceful aliens journey to Earth seeking our help.
In return, they gave us the plans for our first Hyperdrive.
Allowing mankind to open the doors to the stars.

One of the graphical innovations of this game, along with the digitized images and waving effect stuff, was the use of 3D wireframes for the Black Fly, breaking with the basic 2D graphics which were common back then. The three dimensional effect wasn't only limited to the wireframe thing, the bonus stages although they're made with 2D sprites, they have a 3D feel due to the movement of your ship, enemies and the missiles, the effect is better appreciated in the second bonus stage as the background has more movement and has that "tunnel" effect in the background.

The music contrast with the dark nature of the game's atmosphere while we have a calm and hopeful soundtrack during most of the game, being "Dual Moon" (Stage 2) the most fast paced of all as it combines those "jungle/tropical" styled drums to the space flight, "Born to be Free" (Stage 1) has that hopeful, bright future ambient despite flying in a destroyed, lifeless world. "Waste Days" and "Gate of Guardian" (Stage 4 and boss) are a blend between the silent, yet mysterious and fascinating nature within the crystals, combined with the overwhelming nature of the unknown that surrounds us. "Time" (Stage 6) i can only describe it as a song that comprises the mysteries of our world and universe, and man's wish to explore those mysteries and find the answers within them...until the theme pulls a mash of the previous stage themes.
Boss battle themes are an exercise of the terrors that the hostile nature represent, "Visitor" for example, is the musical essence of the enigma, uncertainty and the following fear-strike from the enemy.

- For a game based on the Western-based Gun Frontier/Gun & Frontier, the game is more of a prequel than a sequel as the game takes place years before the first game.
- As a prequel, it explains the technological step-back to Wild West times once mankind reaches Gloria as the exodus of mankind due to the invasion collapsed all technological and financial systems.
- One of the enemies in "Down To Earth" (Stage 1) is the F-14, which is kind of odd since the jet was retired in 2006, 36 years before the events of the game. Back then, no one had an idea of when or if the Tomcat would be retired from service.
- The dinosaur fossils represented in the background of the final boss battle belong to the Coelophysis, a dinosaur from the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic periods 203-188 million years ago.
- The companion star Nemesis is based on the hypothetical red dwarf located beyond the Oort Cloud to explain a perceived cycle of mass extinctions in the geological record, which seem to occur more often at intervals of 26 million years.
- The name of the first boss, Apartheid, comes from the Afrikaans word which means "The state of being apart", an old system of racial segregation in South Africa, abolished by Nelson Mandela.
- The similarities between Apartheid and Ghost (Stage 5 boss) implies the creatures belong to the same species of giant creature used by the invaders.
- Omega Zone, the final boss is based on the Carinaria cristata, better known as the Glassy Nautilus


For a prequel of a Western shmup there's too many Darius references.

- This was the first game originally intended as Darius III, where Proco Jr. and Tiat Young returned to Darius only to found it ravaged by Belser's forces. Taito considered it a very dark scenario for Darius and decided to change it into this game.
- References to Darius can be found everywhere, Stage 1 has a hermit crab using an aircraft carrier as its shell, just like Yamato in Darius II, there's mechanical fishes as common enemies in many stages, Feeder (stage 2 boss) is basically a successor of Driosawm, and its Newalone picking worm resembles a small Driosawm.
- Stage 3 has space stations similar to those from Darius II, this could imply that they're the colonies once inhabited by the people of Darius after leaving the planet.
- The dust clouds used by emerging enemies (hermit crab, Apartheid and Gishiin) were later reused in Darius Gaiden: Silver Hawk (Crusty Hammer emerging from the clouds for example).
- In G-Darius, the Newalone appears as the Triple Power Up special item that appears when the player continues the game (replacing yellow with green). In Ver. 2.0, the item is replaced with an orb of each color.
- The beam duel mechanic is also referenced in G-Darius as the Alpha Beam button tapping to overpower the boss Beta Beams.


- Border Down features a beam duel-like system similar to the one of Metal Black, since Taito ex-employees worked with G.Rev during the game's development.
- The Macromolecule Assist from Thunder Force VI requires to capture particles to power up the Over Weapon just like the Newalone-powered beam.


Honey, I think I've resetted the Universe.

For most shmuppers, the ending of this game is bizarre and weird from anything we've saw in any other game. The best way to understand it can best be described like this: The player has resetted the Universe and reality as we know it after the battle took place in the flow of time itself.
During the boss battle, the background will change to random images that may look out of place, but if we analyze them, they begin to make sense as the original background depicting colorful galaxies, representing the Universe we know today, suddenly change as the boss battle begin.

Background 1 [BGM Excerpt: Yueez] - Black space: The absolute nothingness in the Universe, prior to the Big Bang, 13.798 billion years ago.

Background 2 [BGM Excerpt: Visitor] - Negative-colored Monochromed Galaxies: The Big Bang, and the creation of the Universe as we know it.

Background 3 [BGM Excerpt: Dio Panic] - Dinosaur fossils: The Cretaceous-Tertiary Mass Extinction (K/T Extinction) 66-65 Million years ago, which wiped out 75% of all life on Earth, including the Dinosaurs, clearing the path to the evolution of mammals and opening the doors to the primitive human beings.

Background 4 [BGM Excerpt: Born to be Free] - Primitive Man (Homo Erectus): Age of Mankind. With the extinction of the Dinosaurs, the hominids like the Homo Erectus will evolve to the modern-day Homo Sapiens, becoming the new dominant species on Earth.

Background 5 [BGM Excerpt: Dual Moon] - Primitive Man with Train Wagons (or either Steam Engines or Electric Generators) on the background: Mankind's Power of Invention and the Creation of Machines. Millions of years of evolution and the power of the brain gave humans the hability to create tools and machines. From the discovery of fire in the Stone Age to the creation of advanced structures like buildings, vehicles and digital technologies like the Internet. Technology allowed mankind to surpass the limits of the human body imposed by nature beyond any known creature on Earth. The Power of Invention becomes the key to the technological progress of the human race.

Background 6 [BGM Excerpt: Gate of Guardian] - Soldiers, Tanks and Jets: Weaponization and Militarization of Mankind. The Power of Invention brings the creation of the weapons, although weapons were made for hunting and survival, they brought a negative side effect on the technological progress of mankind with the origin of warfare and the creation of weapons of mass destruction, becoming the cause of most conflicts and wars throughout human history. What was once a blessing gift from nature, became a curse for humanity at the same time.

Background 7 [BGM Excerpt: Area 26-10] - Ruins and waste: Collapse of Civilization due to a Global War, leaving Earth and human beings on ruins. It could also be a Garbage Dump, representing the pollution of Earth caused by human beings as they expand its population uncontrollably and consumes Earth's resources more and more.

Background 8 [BGM Excerpt: Time] - Ruins and a Cat with strage eyes: Schrödinger's cat, which pictures the paradox between timelines, from the creation of Earth to its destruction.

Background 9 - All previous 8 backgrounds and Earth breaking in two: The culmination of all the negative actions of mankind leading to the total destruction of Planet Earth and the end of life on the planet as we know it. It could also represent the end of the cycle of creation and destruction of life, the world and the Universe. The Black Fly pilot curling in a fetal position, flying away and out of existence also represents this metaphor of the end of life as the cycle of destruction comes to an end.

Background 10 - Earth surface seen from space with the epilogue text: A new beginning. The end of the cycle of destruction marks a new beginning for the Universe and Earth as they enter in a new cycle of creation and regeneration. This new beginning is supported as we see the earth blue again instead of the orange dead world we've saw through the game.

Background 11 - Sun rising over the sea: The beginning of the first day on the new world where hope revives and life, including mankind, will resurrect and prosper in peace.
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away." (Revelation 21:1)

A dark, yet beautiful and surreal shooter with incredible music and amazing graphics. Metal Black is, despite its darkness, a stunningly audiovisual experience that will amaze us with its gameplay and its enigmatic nature within it.
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