Retro Review: Metal Storm

Metal Storm is a side-scrolling shooter and platformer, featuring a mechanic that flips the whole game on its head—literally. Your mech has the ability to reverse gravity, adding a great puzzle element to the already sometimes frenetic action.


Metal Storm was released in 1991 by Irem, a company probably best known for R-Type and responsible for a ton of arcade games in the 70s and 80s.

There are some strong cosmetic similarities between Metal Storm and R-Type (including a cameo of the R-Type battleship), but they are very different games. Metal Storm does show its scrolling-shooter pedigree in several places.

My life got flipped–turned upside-down

Metal Storm’s gravity gameplay allows you to choose to play on either the top or the bottom of the screen at any given moment. Sometimes there’s an obvious use for the mechanic, but often it just gives you two ways to go through the level, which is pretty cool.

An important note here is that you do actually reverse the gravity in the room, not just for your sprite, meaning that when you are walking along the ceiling, so are all of your enemies. Well, kind of.

Similar gravity mechanics have been featured in a number of other games, such as Strider, Mega Man 5, and more recently Super Mario Galaxy, but Metal Storm was one of the first to explore the concept and I really don’t think it has been put to better use. The entire game revolves around the idea (yuk yuk), and it never feels like a gimmick.

What the ability to manipulate gravity really brings to the game is a nifty puzzle element not normally expected from games of this type. One area loops vertically, for example, giving you some unconventional options like shooting up to hit things beneath you.

You will have to learn to change your orientation instinctively, as you often need to switch to your upside-down mode by reflex to avoid imminent death. Luckily, the controls are responsive enough that any mistakes should be your own (stupid) fault (I speak from bitter experience).

I’ll tell you how I became the prince of a solid platforming shooter

Even without the ability to flip gravity, Metal Storm would still be a solid platforming shooter, with a wide variety of enemies and assorted dangers to either evade or destroy.

On the default difficulty setting, the action isn’t always as fast-paced as many similar games (thought it has its moments). Once you beat it, however, you’ll be able to play the Expert version, which can get to be goddamn stupid insane.

Boss fights in Metal Storm are not particularly hard on the standard difficulty either, but they do stand out as creative and highly satisfying encounters. There is a careful sort of choreography involved, which should be familiar to scrolling shooter fans.

It’s a fairly short game, with only seven stages to fight through, which is a bit of a let-down, but the replay value is extremely high and attempting the Expert difficulty should take you quite a bit longer than your first playthrough. It took me a while to beat once upon a time, and I failed miserably while writing this review.

Make me a sandwich, Geoffrey

Metal Storm is a really great looking game by NES standards, and I don’t think screenshots do it much justice.

There are some kind of trippy moments here with parallax scrolling, which can be a good or a bad thing depending on the drugs you’re on at the time (or whether or not you are epileptic), but by and large the colors, the animations, and the level of detail in the game are far ahead of the class on the system.

Parallax scrolling wasn’t actually possible on the NES, but Irem’s programmers were able to simulate a parallax effect by having each background tile redrawn with every frame. In spite of this, the game runs very smoothly.

The sound, too, is top notch. The music in particular is great, and reminds me somewhat of Metroid (to make my requisite Metroid reference for this review).


Metal Storm may not have enough meat to it to warrant a purchase for some, but for veterans and fans of the NES it might just be the new gem of your collection. For what it is, it’s practically flawless.

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