Saturday, May 22, 2010

Metal Stoker


Metal Stoker often reminds people of Granada, a Genesis game that follows a neat little tank as it blasts its way across the African continent. A heck of a lot of creativity went into Granada's stage, boss, and weapon designs; fun-loving Face was a creative group in its own right but lacked the sorts of brilliant madmen who made up Wolf Team's ranks, so don't expect to find as many "cool ideas" on display in MS as you would in its prodigal counterpart. Thankfully, you also won't find MS's environments to be as ugly, its bosses to be as wimpy, or its action to be as tame as Granada's. Droves of fast enemies letting loose plenty of bullets make Stoker a difficult game to beat, though with an arsenal of five weapons (including lasers, mines, and energy bursts), your vehicle is certainly equipped for the task. And figuring out exactly when to utilize certain weapons is a significant part of the fun, though having to pause the action in order to make a change means most players will ride the multi-directional vulcan or the convenient homing missiles as long and as far as they can.

Unfortunately, the stop-and-start stuff is just the beginning of the problems that arise due to MS's awkward control scheme. Rather than allowing players to go the usual "hold a button to strafe" route, it instead demands a tap to lock your cannon in place--meaning two more taps are necessary if you're to switch to a new locked-line of fire. That's two taps too many with all the crap that's hurled at you in the later stages, and repositioning your tank-craft-thing to engage new threats is no picnic either (I don't know if you've ever piloted any tank-craft-things, but while they are indeed speedy little contraptions, they're not very agile at all). High-speed, projectile-heavy action sounds wonderful on paper, but cumbersome controls are always bad news, and when you're charged with overcoming the latter while dealing with the former, irritation inevitably sets in.

The stages are very large in addition to being tight and tough; there won't be many quick jaunts to safety here. Long levels simply means the odds are greater that you'll find yourself annoyed with the inadequate controls at some point or another. The board designs can be annoying as well, particularly the enormous-but-bland tile-warp labyrinths and a stretch of energy barriers that show themselves only when you're about to helplessly blunder into them (and force you to blunder about a great deal more just to figure out where there's a barrier-free trail to follow).

At least you're met by lots and lots of bosses as you do your blundering. Most of the early ones are lame circular things, but you'll eventually come across some very cool contraptions. Sadly, like the stages themselves, the boss fights are drawn-out affairs; count on instances where you're sitting there wondering just when the hell a battered bum is going to succumb to the beating you're giving him.

There are times in Metal Stoker when a tune reaches its catchy climax, or you figure out the perfect weapon to use during a particularly challenging stretch, or you solve a tough boss's attack pattern, and the whole experience feels pretty darn good. And then there are times when you're muddling along through a long, boring level, annoyed with the needs-another-button control setup and the grating sound effects, and the game just doesn't come off as a high-quality product. Really, it leans more towards the good side of things when all is said and done. But due to the adventure being so drawn out, replaying the damn thing is seldom a pleasant notion. Consider whether or not you want to spend your fifteen bucks on an up-and-down, one-and-done title.

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