The minute you start playing Metal Torrent, you're almost done. But the brevity of Nintendo's first DS shoot-em-up isn't the worst of it. My local bank offers more entertaining ways to press buttons and hear jangling sounds.
Metal Torrent is a $US5 vertical shoot-em-up for the DSi from publisher Nintendo and development studio Arika, the dynamic duo that brought us the SCUBA-diving Endless Ocean games. I am happy this team has allowed me to virtually swim with giant whales and pet walruses on the Wii. These folks now allows us to visit bullet hell on our DS as we use a space-ship to shoot flocks of bad guy ships and dodge bad guy bullets. That description describes almost every shoot-em-up, but here there is a twist. Oh, there always is a twist. This time, it involves a torrent of metal. The potential!
Pattern OR Random: I love that this shoot-em-up allows me not just a choice of space-ships but a choice between having enemies fly at me in a set pattern or randomly. I love this not because I care but because someone would probably ask me about this after skimming my review and now I can tell answer them with confidence. (NOTE: I would have "loved" that the game saves replays of my playthroughs and lets me watch them, if I could fast forward them to spot the moments I did things I want to replicate or learn from. I would have "loved" the ability to upload scores to the Internet, a DS rarity, if I planned to play Metal Torrent more than four more times in my life.)
Poor Teaching : I expect that you will be able to play through Metal Torrent's under-15-minute campaign before you figure out the game's key mechanic. In an age of Nintendo games that make it very, very (very) clear how to play them, Metal Torrent wants you to guess. Screw that. I'll try to help. This is the twist: Shooting enemies produces cubic metal detritus. The metal cubes fly to your ship, which collects them, building a combo number that is tallied on the DS' lower screen. This drives your score into the millions. But the combo usually breaks if there are no cubes on the screen. This twist has a twist! The more enemies you kill to start your combo, the better the quality of cubes you then collect for the rest of the combo. Blow up a whole bunch and you'll be vacuuming turquoise cubes or, even better, brown ones. Sadly, this mechanic is very hard to learn.
A quality shmup like Ikaruga presents its first enemies in such a way that it makes it obvious how to use its (colour-flipping) system. How to use Metal Torrent's well? Who knows? You might say these mechanics could be good. But if you play Metal Torrent using the game's sturdy default ship - not the other one that blows up from a sneeze - they prove to be irrelevant to making progress and unsatisfying to execute. Please bear in mind that all this metal-cube-collecting produces a lot of jingling-change sounds, which is why the game makes me think of Coinstar coin-counting machines and the comparative greater fun I have learning how many pennies and nickels have been piling up in the red canister I keep next to my bed.
The Same Graphics: I am sure there are subtle differences to the corridors I flew through in Metal Torrent, deft switches of colour palette and whatnot. I am unmoved. Each one of the game's eight phases looks like the other seven, pretty much. You can observe this phenomenon carefully when a lot of enemies get on screen and the game slows down.
I have hidden some back-handed compliments to Metal Torrent in the above combo-chain of red words. I have done this to honour the Metal Torrent designers' possible hiding of a decent game mechanic within a game that fails to show it off or encourage the player to use it. Can I promise you'll "get" this game? Nay. But I can promise that Metal Torrent will hear lots of jangling sounds of small bits of metal colliding with other bits of metal. The only difference between that and a Coinstar machine is that the Coinstar machine lets you get some money in exchange for that. Metal Torrent does not.
Metal Torrent was developed by Arika and published by Nintendo for the DSi on May 25. Retails for $US5. A code to redeem Nintendo points to redeem the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Beat the game. Beat the game again. Etc. Ranked 361st in the world!
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