Metal Morph

metalmorph
Thrilling.

Metal Morph. You are bald man in the future. You can turn into a blob of mercury-type metal stuff and go through pipes. You are shot at by enemies, who generally shoot you as soon as possible, meaning you hae no time to dodge or return fire, and you die. Often. This is Metal Morph.

The game’s central gimmick could have been far better implemented than it was, surely. The ability to turn from human form to globular comedrop form? That could be used for puzzles in a far more engaging way than it is (which is sub-Mario level “warp pipe” type stuff– you know those levels where oyu enter a pipe and actually watch Mario “move” through it, and come out in the smae level? Like that).

But there’s plenty you could say that could have been better. The character design reminds me too much of Kano from Mortal Kombat to intrigue me in any real sense (it is possible, even likely, that this game predates MK but it’s irrelevant, the character archetype was played out lnog before; I just lack the pop culture vernacular to pinpoint when, precisely, this became boring). I don’t care for side-scrolling gun games anymore. Better games have made the rest redundant. And this game is as redundant as they come.

I will be straight with you: I believe that, while we hold this time in games very dear, I truly believe that game design has gotten far better since these days. Well, let me be more specific: bad game design is far better than it once was.

To explain: picture all of the worst games on the NES and SNES and Genesis and remember how uniquely awful they were. They were often unplayable. Unenjoyable. Without purpose. Without even justification for their own existence. Fast forward to now, and think of where the dregs are, gaming-wise: cell phones and Flash games, perhaps?

Now think: when is the last time you played a mobile game worse than Metal Morph? I bet it has been quite some time. At some point, the bottom of the gaming pack moved up. The nadir is no longer as filthy as it once was.

It’s games like Metal Morph that remind me to have hope for the future. Happy Hallowe’en.

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Metal Marines

It's so verdant, so green, so about to explode.
Who takes care of that grass?

Josef Plastico tightened his SPACE WORK BELT and squinted at the sky. Little lines crinkled up beside each eye like the folds in the skin on the back of a shaved cat’s neck. Josef Plastico had a shaved cat named “a Pornstar’s Crotch” that he bought since he had an allergy—he missed his cat.

According to Josef’s estimation, it would be about eight hours before he saw a Pornstar’s Crotch again, and about six before everything he built today was shot, blown up or otherwise destroyed. Josef worked for the SCAF building “temporary engagement structures” in the war against Zorgeuf and he wasn’t too fond of his job.

“That support beam is about 2 degrees off-centre,” said Josef, glancing distractedly through his LASER LEVEL SCOPE. “One good kick from a giant metal shoe and it’ll be tumbling down everywhere.” Josef’s crew muttered and shuffled their feet. One of them even spit chaw on the ground derisively. Another one of them spit chaw on the ground in bemusement. A third man spit chaw up into the air, caught it again in his mouth, and then spit it once more on the puddles of derisive and bemused chaw respectively. “Stop spitting chaw!” yelled Josef, pulling a DYNAMIC MECH WRENCH from his SPACE WORK BELT. He brandished the DYNAMIC MECH WRENCH in the air like a caveman would with an ORDINARY CLUB.

“We’ve got a lot of building things that will be horribly destroyed ahead of us in the next few hours, so everyone better get used to the idea of Sisyphean labour and get on it!” One of the workers pulled off his STANDARD ISSUE HEAD PROTECTING ENERGY HELMET AND BREATHING APPARATUS and scratched at his matted hair in confusion before reaching into a STYLISH YET UNSUITABLE FOR THE CONSTRUCTION SITE CANVAS BAG out of which he pulled a GALACTIC DICTIONARY AND THESAURUS, MULTISYLLABIC EDITION. He found the entry for “Sisyphean,” nodded, and got to work building an ICBM SILO. A few others slipped on chaw puddles.

Hours later, Josef surveyed the site. Billions of dollars and thousands upon thousands of hours of research led to the scientific vista before him. He marveled at its elegance, its simplicity, its deadly efficiency. Then a robot blew it up. Josef threw his STANDARD ISSUE HEAD PROTECTING ENERGY HELMET AND BREATHING APPARATUS on the ground and swore loudly. Every day it was the same thing: putting their toys back together long enough for the children to fight again, and then cleaning up the resulting mess. It was a never ending cycle of attrition, each side only pausing to rebuild their structures and process the dead into LIFE-SUSTAINING PROTEIN DRINKS.

I’m so tired of this dystopian future, thought Josef, watching for the third time that day as a SURFACE-TO-SURFACE MISSILE BATTERY came tumbling to the ground. Then he was struck in the head by a piece of shrapnel from an exploding robot’s groin plate, and died on the grass.

Meanwhile, back at Josef’s tiny EFFICIENT CUBE LIVING QUARTERS AND REST ZONE, a Pornstar’s Crotch pawed ineffectively at a can of MARTIAN SALMON.

Metal Combat

Here come more robots!

This is the easiest game I have ever played. It’s so easy I’m bored of it.

The training portion of this game lasts a whole 5 levels and takes almost 10 minutes. First they teach you how to shoot one energy ball. Then they teach you how to shoot a bigger energy ball. Then they teach you how to shoot an even bigger energy ball. Then they teach you how to use the bomb. And they teach you how to block shots (you shoot them!). All of this doesn’t matter. The whole game can be won without any difficulty by shooting the bad guys in the chest repeatedly.

They make it impossibly easy for you. The bad guys don’t even fight back when they’re being shot. The energy bolts seem to disrupt their energy systems. I was able to take them all down without even taking one shot.

And after they have exploded several times, they, in traditional Japanese fashion, berate themselves at having lost with horrified looks on their faces. They looked so pitiful. I didn’t have the heart to keep disappointing these poor men. They would say things like, “I am the best ever!! How could I have LOST????” And I would titter and say, “Poor baby.”

But then again, I only got about halfway through the game, to where they reveal the mad twist (the main bad guy isn’t actually the main bad guy!! Sheeeeeee-). So maybe later the enemies figure out a way to counter the just-keep-shooting-them strategy. I dunno though. It seems pretty unbeatable.

The dialogue is also pretty funny:

We can't be flying robot fighting machines. Some of us are, it's true, only human.
Don't we all feel like that sometimes?

Mega Man X 3

Whatchoo talkin' bout, Willis?
Who died and made you king?

Mega Man X 3 is like a whitewashed tomb: its pristine and beautiful exterior belies the putrid, rotting corpse within.  I don’t usually subscribe to the whole graphics versus gameplay diametric, but this time the relationship is definitely inverse.  In Capcom’s efforts to make a better looking, better sounding Mega Man, they actually forgot how to make a Mega Man game in the process.  Deliberately unforgiving level designs densely populated with death machines hell-bent on your destruction give way to sparse, open, and redundant rooms, sometimes filled with nothing at all.  The former – characteristic of the NES originals – was frustrating yet strangely fulfilling, to the point where you may find yourself yelling to no one in particular, “I AM A HARDCORE GAMER!!” after some astounding feat or other.  The latter will have you scratching your head, wondering when the game will suddenly kick into gear and become a real Mega Man game.  This, of course, never happens.

Mom?  Dad?  Is this a joke?
Hello? Is anybody there?

I kid you not, some of these rooms exist for no reason whatsoever.  You run into the room, only to immediately run out of it again (you even unlock a door on both ends).  And yet, during both these events, the ‘camera’ slide-transitions as if to signify ‘this is the next area’.  That’s just stupid!  If I was the artist, I’d be pissed, not only for wasting a perfectly serviceable room, but also for wasting my valuable time.

X 3 is full of these unnecessary flourishes that force you to expect more than it can hope to deliver.  The polished visuals and cyperpunk settings scream ‘anime’, but its back foot remains firmly planted in the NES era.  The ‘story’, ‘acting’ and dialogue is especially cringeworthy, and while I’m sure it’s no worse than what you’d expect to find in Mega Mans (Men?) 1 through to 6, at least they were upfront about their intentions: to be games.  By bringing the presentation forward, Capcom have announced their anime aspirations.  By leaving the rest behind, the game appears naked and antiquated.  The playable ‘intro’ would have been nice if it wasn’t just a pre-game wank.  You’re Mega Man, you run in there, blow up a few things, only to get punked by a former ally within the first minute (“you’re far too trusting, Mega Man!”).

Mwahahahahahahahaha!!
Excuse me, waiter! There's some Elizabethan acting in my Mega Man!

This is the game’s ‘Raiden’ moment, where Zero (a robot replete with ridiculous anime hair, originally groomed to be the star of the X series) must rescue Mega Man.  Except, instead of saying “I thought this was called Metal Gear Solid because it had Solid Snake in it”, you’ll be saying, “I thought this was a Mega Man game!”  Once you’ve rescued him, though, it’s back to business as usual, and Mega Man will be handling things from here, thank you very much.  This ‘intro’ seems to have served no other purpose than to show off a playable Zero character, only to neuter the titular character in the process.  For the rest of the game, Zero is relegated to piece work and similarly showy cameos.

The hair humanises him a bit more, get it?
Robot hair is all the rage in 21xx.

I tried oh so hard to love this game, but I couldn’t help but compare it to its uglier, more frustrating cousins – you know, games with some semblance of level design.  And then it dawned on me that level design, important though it is, is never graded by the mainstream gaming press alongside the bullet points of graphics/sound/gameplay/replay value.  Even though graphics should be servant to level design; good gameplay is a symptom of good level design; and replay value is a symptom of good gameplay. Followed closely by: how many poorly designed videogames got a pass on those four bullet points alone? Answered by: probably this one, for starters! And then I started thinking about games with good level design, and booted up a new game of Super Metroid.

Mega Man X2

Mega_Man_X_2_SNES_ScreenShot3
You're really getting to the bottom of the villain barrel when their elemental power is wheels.

Wire Sponge.

Morph Moth.

Flame Stag.

Magma Centipede.

Crystal Snail.

Wheel Gator.

Bubble Crab.

Overdrive Ostrich.

Are these Mega Man bosses, or Splinter Cell subtitles, or Japanese vending machine drinks? In any case, they’re evidence that someone is running out of ideas.

Wire Sponge?  Wire Sponge? Really?

Shockingly, it turns out that Wire Sponge’s level is really hard and he has like, grappling pom poms that kill you.  Are you surprised? I’m not.

I have decided that I hate Mega Man, and his incredibly deadly world.  Why would anyone live there?  It’s miserable.  Either there are thousands of robots trying to kill you, or there is one unkillable robot constantly trying to kill you and all your friends.  Nobody wins.

Just kill yourself, Mega Man.

Just kill yourself.

Mega Man X

YOU GOT THE TOUCH!!  YOU GOT THE POWER!!

I’m somewhat confused here.

Mega Man X was Dr. Light’s attempt at creating a self-thinking and feeling robot. Dr. Light was also worried that X might be able to turn against humanity (obviously, because he made the same damn mistake multiple times already in the previous games), so he seals him away in a capsule for thirty-plus years until it can be decided whether X would be a threat.

How about this, Dr. Light: Don’t put guns and crazy super weapons on robots! PROBLEM SOLVED.

X supposedly has thoughts and emotions in-line with a normal human. Nice, but then add a titanium-alloy skin and a fucking energy weapon for an arm, and it doesn’t take a PhD to point out that we have a damn KILLING MACHINE on our hands. I mean, what kind of emotions do you expect to go through his head the first time he meets someone and they want to shake his hand, only to find that it’s been replaced with a space-man gun? Or when he tries to hold a loved one on a cold night against his icy, metallic epidermis?

“Hey, X, high five! Oh, shh…sorry man, I forgot…”

Asshole.

Mega Man Soccer

mmansoccer1
It only belongs to Megaman because he runs the fastest. That's all that matters in the world of low-stakes deathbot teamsports.

It’s 200_-whatever-the-fuck and robots something something.  We’ve all been there.  Fucking Dr. Wily and Dr. Light comparing robo-boners throughout time while destroying the world probably because they both had a crush on the same nerdy girl in their highschool AV club except that she actually liked Billy Walthers who played baseball.  She liked baseball because the statistics were fun and her and Billy had a lot to talk about as a result.

SO ANYWAY these two run around breaking shit up.  It wouldn’t be so tragic if Dr. Light didn’t always win with his surefire Quality Over Quantity strategy.  At this point Dr. Wily probably has the lowest self-esteem of all time.  He’s sullen.  His latest skull palace is filled with tiny dying cacti from the henchman housewarming.  He won’t answer his phone when you call and you always have to leave a message.  You know he won’t call back.  His few friends have stopped trying to get him to come out because he’ll always say “maybe” but then never comes.

So one day Wily checks his email on one of those stupid robots with the helmets that are designed for squatting or whatever, I guess.  And he gets this message about his nephew and how much he loves soccer.  His nephew feels accepted and he feels like a winner even if all he’s doing is standing at backfield and maybe dribbling a little before giving the ball up to some bigger kid without asthma. They’ll even go out for a team pizza party if they lose.

Wily has an epiphany.

If he can convince Dr. Light to take him on in a game of soccer with their robotic creations, he can finally be considered an equal!  He can, at the very least, feel like the winner his mother always told him he was.  This is because soccer is like sports-based socialism in that the very act of participation makes you part of the success.  Even if you don’t win.

mmansoccer2
Everyone was apparently better at DIF than RUN. Fucking useless robots.

Anyway, they don’t tell you any of this in the introduction screens of Mega Man Soccer.  I guess it’s implied.  I dunno… because otherwise what the fuck are we doing playing soccer and why are all these guys who normally shoot at each other on the same team if not for the purpose of feeling like winners for once.  I mean, really.

It’s a pretty good soccer game though… there are balls, slides, headbutts (only on balls though, tee hee), gooooooooaaaaaaaaaalllllls, passing to centre, passing to wing, passing to centre, passing to wing, passing back, passing back to centre, passing to wing… this game has all the things I’d think one would need to call it a soccer game with robots with the exception of remorseless carnage but I guess we can’t have everything.

mmansoccer3
I would watch WAY more soccer if it took place on a fire or needle field.

But really though, this is all about allowing Dr. Wily to feel good about himself.

To quote Dr. Charles Klosterman: “To say you love soccer is to say you believe in enforced equality more than you believe in the value of competition and the capacity of the human spirit.”

And then at the pizza party, fifty-six innocent bystanders are slain and the few survivors spin tales about a brutal robot fracas over who gets the last slice.

Or something.