183 Reviews liked by SlapOnToast
Played until unlocking the end credits. Fittingly, they were printed on toilet paper. A swan song to nearly 15 years of dual-screen handheld goodness, featuring nuggets of absurd and subversive humor that normally don't exist in the same room as Mario. The DS began with WarioWare and its legacy ends with WarioWare. Yes, unless you're replaying the same minigames over and over for the extra goodies and high scores, it's light on content. Still, it's a 4-hour goodbye to the DS line, and hopefully a sign that Nintendo's creative staff hasn't fully let go of its weirder side. After all, Mario RPG remakes be damned, I can't imagine the standardization is that deep if they're allowing this many poop jokes and Pikmin killing in a video game.
It's telling that the two brands featured in 2008's Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe both were subject to major reboots in the years that immediately followed the game's release: Mortal Kombat with 2011's Mortal Kombat (often referred to unofficially as Mortal Kombat 9), and DC the same year with its "New 52" relaunch, under which the publisher canceled all of its ongoing comic series, jettisoned decades of in-universe continuity, and launched 52 new series all at issue #1.
These were at once narrative and economic gestures, attempts to streamline years worth of storytelling for hoped-for new audiences in a way that fundamentally altered the ways in which stories would be told within those universes -- along with the ways in which those narratives would be disseminated to consumers -- for years to come. For DC, that meant taking the first steps in embracing the comics industry's inevitable digital future. For the developers of Mortal Kombat, that meant publishing increasingly slick games with flashy downloadable bonus characters that screamed "corporate synergy."
Now, I'm not arguing this game is why these franchises deemed it necessary to reboot. Certainly, both had coughed up their share of dubious content since the early 1990s. Rather, MK vs. DC is a symptom of, at minimum, the perception of rot at the core of each of these brands in the late aughts: a rot that made rebranding necessary if these brands were to endure.
The game's script, by Jimmy Palmiotti, comes at the end of a decidedly "corporate" phase in the writer's career: it was immediately preceded by his work, in 2007, on comic book versions of Friday the 13th and The Hills Have Eyes. But whereas his Friday the 13th comic (while fairly by-the-numbers) at least evinced some meta-awareness of the brand, MK vs. DC plays its silliness ineffectually straight. Most encounters in the story begin with some random character slowly approaching another from behind and saying something like "Hi, I'm Catwoman," to which the other replies, "You DARE to enter my domain?!" Then one or both of them shouts, literally, "FIGHT!"
What inevitably follows may well be the aesthetic nadir of dial-a-combo fighting gameplay. It's mostly functional on a technical level, but it's so chunky and predictable that by the player's second fight, it's already the least interesting aspect of the game. This extends to the game's match-ending "fatality" moves (or "heroic brutalities," as they're called for the DC superheroes), which are conspicuously less gruesome than typical Mortal Kombat fare owing to MK vs. DC's "Teen" rating.
The game's lack of commitment to either DC's rich characterization or Mortal Kombat's uncompromising violence is especially striking given that, with their respective reboots just a few years later, each brand would become more like the other. Mortal Kombat 2011 went full superhero sci-fi, with an invasion plot that predated Marvel's The Avengers by a year; DC's "New 52" went full nineties grimdark for many of its new series (with the Joker graphically slicing off his own face by the publishing initiative's second week, for example).
By 2013 the brands had become virtually indistinguishable, at least in the video game world, with alternating releases (and frequent cross-promotional guest appearances) in the fighting-game genre. DC's sixty-issue adaptation of the game Injustice: Gods Among Us, about a violent Superman gone mad, was a critical and financial hit, paving the way for yet darker comics from the publisher and even to R-rated animated adaptations (not to mention 2021's live-action, R-rated The Suicide Squad). Meanwhile, the 2021 film Mortal Kombat wore its influence from superhero team-up films more proudly than ever in franchise history.
The narrative and aesthetic convergence of DC and Mortal Kombat may not have taken place fully in 2008, but their crossover fighting game clearly set the wheels in motion. That being said, I can't help but wonder at alternative histories. What different kinds of narratives might we have experienced from either brand if they had never met? To crib from The Dark Knight's lexicon, perhaps the dark and violent stories produced for us by these franchises aren't the ones we most needed; but, for as long as we continue to indulge in them, they're the ones we most certainly deserve.
<0zym4ndias> i am 0zym4ndias
<0zym4ndias> king of kings
<0zym4ndias> look upon my gear, ye mighty, and despair
(0zym4ndias last seen online 5475 days ago)
Both Final Fantasy XI Online and Final Fantasy XIV Online have an early quest involving the player character being assigned the role of a diplomat by your home city-state, and traveling to the other two city-states to see what's going on there. In XIV, this is an easy task that you can accomplish in under half an hour, as cutscene-based airship rides bridge the vast gaps in seconds. Despite the calamity it suffered 5 years before A Realm Reborn begins, the city-states of Eorzea recovered with a zeal befitting their colonial natures, rebuilding their fortunes atop the well-worn foundations of civilizations past - Allag, Ampador, and Vana'diel.
Vana'diel, XI's setting, has no such luck. Its world is comprised almost entirely of large desolate wastelands, still feeling utterly devastated by the war that occurred 20 years prior in its backstory. And there aren't any convenient airships waiting to take you across that vast distance to the other city-states. You can't even get a mount until you reach Jueno, the farthest and most dangerous of the initial city-states to reach. If you want to complete your mission, you're just gonna have to walk.
Vana'diel is a hostile land, but only partially because of the monsters. Yes, those critters can and will ruin you if you venture far outside the cities alone, so you'll need some helping hands to survive out there, but more hostile than that are the obscenely vast distances that, even if you know exactly where you're going (there are almost no directions to anywhere) can lead to multi-hour treks just to get from one town to another. But your most dangerous foe, especially in 2021, is the user interface.
The thing is, in some ways, I kind of love it. The bleeps and bloops and lo-fi menus are so evocative of a particular time and place online, a vibe only surpassed by the immaculate PlayOnline launcher, a pre-Web 2.0 vision of online community that is sometimes what I genuinely wish the entire internet looked and sounded like.
But it's also a nightmare. Maps are uniformly terrible, with barely anything marked on it and no indication of how to reach far-off places. If you ask the person who tells you to serve as an emissary to the other nations how to actually get to them, he will tell you to fuck off and go work it out yourself. This is what the game is like to play after nearly two decades of patches to make it slightly more convenient and accessible. And it's still as frictional as a porcupine.
The thing is though, there is a method to this madness. Or, at least, there was.
Wild though it may be to think about now, looking at this game where you can't even jump, but XI was a forward-thinking game for the time. It was the last FF game series original director Hironobu Sakaguchi worked on in any meaningful capacity, and while the man has been known to puff up his own myth a bit, there does seem to be an agreement that many of the most unique elements of the game's design come from Sakaguchi and game director Koichi Ishii's desire to make players feel individually small and powerless, but powerful and meaningful when together, to organically forge from the players the kinds of bonds and parties of the offline Final Fantasies. The game even had multinational servers, unlike the region-based systems of modern MMOs, where players could play together no matter where in the world they came from, enabled by a to-this-day genuinely innovative auto-translation system that allows players to type key phrase that will be automatically translated into another player's client language, bridging the gap between languages just like Final Fantasy XIV's cutscenes bridge the gaps between it's locations. Much of the game's design was designed to force players into meaningful interaction and cooperation, because without others, you could not survive Vana'diel.
Don't know where to go? Ask someone for directions, or better yet, pay for a higher-level player to escort you to where you need to go! How do you unlock the Dragoon job? Ask a Dragoon! Need to get to the bottom of a mine filled with monsters that you have no hope of defeating alone? Find like-minded allies who also need a boar ass from the bottom of said mine, and venture forth!
Vana'diel is a hostile world because the design of the game is hostile, acting as a dark shadow looming around you and the other players, pushing you together to fight against it. The Shadow Lord may be the ostensible villain of the plot but the antagonist is the game itself, pushing back at you to push you together.
It's an engine for frustration more than anything else. By many accounts, this hostility engendered genuine camaraderie back in the day but it also alienated as many as it enthralled, and in the contemporary iteration of the game, it has been drained of its purpose. Painstakingly detailed guides on multiple wikis telling you exactly where to go and when and exactly how to optimally navigate the obtuse web of systems that had players thinking that hugging walls could aggro every enemy in an instance in 2002 remove the need to actually interact with players meaningfully in the game world, which is just as well because almost everyone you encounter is a level 99 demigod that shall not deign to engage a lowly mortal like you lest they interrupt the busy AFKing schedule they've been committed to for the past 19 years. The thing that makes the game playable in 2021, the Trust system, is also the thing that obliterates much of the design of the game, as in an instant you can summon a party of highly competent NPCs who will effectively allow you to solo all but the most difficult of encounters. In a game where almost every facet of its design is built around getting you to interact with others, Trusts and Wiki guides allow you to sidestep vast swathes of the game design, leaving only a strangely lonely and austere game experience whilst also keeping its places and people accessible to a modern audience who never experienced the game's prime.
If you aren't here for the (genuinely immaculate) vibes, then you're probably here for the story, and while I can only account for the base game story, it isn't much to write home about. It's steeped in an even more intense strain of the Fantasy Racism tropes that accounts for the least palatable sections of XIV's story, to the point that it would almost be avant-garde, the way the Bastok nation storyline has you working unquestioningly for a cartoonishly evil state that openly uses slave labor, to defeat the embodiment of rage and anger felt by those exploited by them: a being called, uh, the Shadow Lord. But it doesn't really put the work in to make it interesting. By many accounts Rise of the Zilart, the first expansion, picks up immediately where the base game left off and recontextualizes events to make things much less uncomfortably racist, but due to the games frankly bizarre attitude towards difficulty scaling, Zilart is so difficult that most guides encourage you to complete almost all the expansions that came after Zilart before you tackle the thing that resolves most of the threads hanging from the story that propelled - well, gently nudged - me through the first 50 levels, and I'm a long way off from all of that. Despite the systems of Final Fantasy XI being neutered to allow players to access the story, the base story lacks almost all bite without them. I'm sure defeating The Shadow Lord was an immense mechanical accomplishment given meaning by accomplishing it with your friends in 2002. But now? It barely registers.
Still, there are moments of true beauty where the magic of this game somehow manages to shine through. Once you have your wiki open on the other screen, and a band of unwaveringly faithful NPC trusts, you can set forth on your quest. Going from Bastok to Windhurst as I did, the first leg of your journey will end in the seaside town of Selbina in the Valkurum Wastes, from which you must take a ship across the sea to the town of Mhaura. Maybe here, the game will use a cutscene like XIV? No, of course not. Buying a ticket, you are brought to a little gated area to wait for the ship (a potentially 10-15 minute wait) just like real public transport. Then you get on the boat, wait for it to set off, and then you can climb up onto the deck to enjoy a low-res version of the world and it's landmarks roll past you, while a beautiful track plays that belies this game's history as a product of the remarkable Chrono Cross team (https://youtu.be/jaKmkoy1r7o). This whole process takes a long time, and it can take over half an hour to reach Mhaura from Selbina. And there isn't really anything to do on the way but talk to your fellow passengers. And before you think I'm about to launch into a boomer rant about how we all used to talk to each other before our headphones and ipods and playstation ps and zunes, the beautiful trick of all this is in what happens halfway through the voyage.
On my trip from Selbina to Mhaura, another ship, without warning, pulled up alongside ours, and a band of undead pirates lept aboard. Barely managing to fight off one, I couldn't hope to face the entire band on my own, and retreated below decks, waiting for them to give up and move on. But instantly, in my head, I saw a story unfold. Of a whole group of players, each of whom came to the boat on their own, suddenly having to band together to beat back the pirates. This whole boat ride, all it's length and waiting, is an engine designed to organically facilitate a genuine fantasy story beat, of individual adventurers on their own banding together - maybe even becoming friends - to defeat a foe they did not expect. It was honestly kind of beautiful to imagine.
But it was just imagination. I can see how the design of this area could facilitate that story, for sure. I'm sure it happened, in the past. Maybe it forged genuine friendships that transcended the world of Vana'diel, or maybe the impromptu alliance disbanded as they disembarked, and went their separate ways, never to see each other again. But there isn't room for either now. There's just me, watched over by my silent NPC allies, enjoying the wonderful music and beautiful vibes as I imagine what may, once upon a time, have been.
Is Final Fantasy XI a good game? I don't know. I can't know. It's not here. I'll play to see the stories, sure - Rise of the Zilart, in particular, has my attention for seeming to share a lot of ideas with Shadowbringers - but the actual play experience that the systems of this game were designed to create has not been preserved. Final Fantasy XI, as it exists now, is a museum. A (lightly) guided tour through its impossibly vast, crushingly empty world, everything within a memorial to the experiences its systems were designed to facilitate, now gone and beyond our ability to revive, no matter how powerful our healing magic is. There's something kind of beautiful and wonderful about what Final Fantasy XI tried to do. But that game is gone. All that's left is its headstone, and those that left in its wake, some continuing to visit and remember, and most leaving it far, far behind them.
Monster World IV
The gameplay here is immaculate. Pure JRPG goodness, if a little on the easy side. No wasted mechanics, winning is fun, losing is fun, random encounters and boss fights are all fun. The money/equipment economy feels balanced all the way through, which is incredibly rare for this sort of thing. There’s no minigame chaff except for one unbelievably bad stealth section. Normally immaculate gameplay should guarantee a three-star review, but this clearly /wants/ to be a story-focused game above all else, so I have to underweight the fighty stuff.
I can see where people get confused and think this is a good game, story-wise, because it has the structure of a much better game. There’s a lot of sort of baseline stuff that suggests a lot of care went into designing this as a game that could tell a complex story through lots of different kinds of scenes. PCs swap in and out as the story demands so it’s not stuck to the “adventuring party” format; there’s a certain deftness to the blocking with the little sprites that gives a lot of flexibility to the talky bits; and it’s /very/ talky—these games are famous problems for localizers, I guess, because every little JRPG-type man-on-the-street interaction is a novel and changes contextually every time a character so much as sneezes. It’s all suggestive of a game that’s very patient, that does a lot of “worldbuilding” and character work, and is setting up something more complex than the normal get-the-boys-together-and-fight-God JRPG plot.
But it’s not! The story and the character work are, in practice, /incredibly/ bad here—pretty bad even by video game standards. A comment you’ll see about this game is that it’s unfortunately a bit boring because it’s doing all this patient worldbuilding and setup work rather than getting to the story; this is false. In fact, at the end of the game the kingdom has been taken over by sinister conspirators whose palace coup is actually a front for an apocalypse plot involving retrieving an ancient doomsday weapon from a secret prelapsarian robot palace beneath the castle. This is actually where most JRPGs end up after forty hours. What seems to be giving players the impression that this is not in fact happening—that the two main characters are still walking around meeting different Mayors and battling small-time Sky Bandits at the end of the game, as in the beginning—is A) this sort of ambience of “slow-burn” that the game projects and B) the fact that all of this is so completely dramatically inert.
I’ve never felt an RPG journey from “let’s go to the sewers for some training!” to “the A U R E O L E has been unleashed, and the R I N G G U A R D I AN has awakened” to be so free of conflict. These characters never really struggle. The story structure revolves more around them being /delayed/ then thwarted—there’s never really a point where they don’t know what they’re going to do next. They are constantly encountering and re-encountering incredibly helpful, friendly people who have the exact information they need. The next step in the quest is often, “let’s go to the bar to talk to X about this,” or, “Y wants to meet in the morning, so let’s go back to the hotel.” Characters do a lot of checking in on each other and relaying information, sometimes along roads full of monsters, and then eventually they find where the bad guy is and go proactively to bring them to justice.
All of this would work out fine if the scenes of characters hanging around hotels were psychologically insightful, or compellingly naturalistic, or funny, or sexy, or anything like that. Other reviews of this game on this website will suggest that this is so—a lot of “plot: 6/10; CHARACTERS: 10/10.” Anyone who thinks this desperately needs to watch an R rated movie. All of the writing here (and it’s not just the localization, which seems high-quality) is… I would define it as “sub-anime.” The “jokes” are terrible and often homophobic. Everyone’s primary character trait is how happy they are to see each other, plus maybe some plot-inert “flaw” (Schera drinks too much, but in a cool high-functioning way; Olivier is bisexual, which grosses the other characters out, but they heroically put up with it; Agate has a gruff exterior, which everyone immediately sees through to his heart of gold). There’s not a single joke that lands.
There is one main dramatic thread about which the game musters up a bit more genuine passion, and it fucking sucks: the main characters are a sixteen-year-old brother and sister by adoption, and they’re starting to develop feelings for each other. Watching this warmed-over Pornhub scenario play out completely mechanically, without an affection mechanic to jimmy or even a nominal love triangle to form an opinion on, is like a forty-hour-long sleep paralysis nightmare, in which you know exactly what’s going to happen but are powerless to prevent it. Imagine my horror when a character casually mentions that a nearby town is famous for its hot springs…
There are two other major dramatic threads: the first involve the characters’ father, who disappears in the beginning of the game. This should at least give you something to worry about, except that the game, terrified of stressing you out, keeps having characters insist that your dad is fine, or even that they just talked to him last week. He does in fact reappear at the end, completely unharmed, to tell you how proud of you he is. The other thing is Joshua’s mysterious past, which is way too vague to be of any interest, and then sort of comes out in a sputter at the end of the game. I was told that the game ends on a cliffhanger, by the way, which is such a generous definition of “cliffhanger;” a minor character reveals himself to have been evil all along, announces that everything that happened in the game was according to his plan, and then walks off with a vague promise to continue doing bad-guy stuff in the future. No cliff, no hang.
What the game is counting on is propinquity, the great ally of the game developer. If you spend enough time with these people, watching them hang out, alternately imagining that you “are” them or that they’re your friends, eventually you’ll fall in love. Clearly this has worked on a lot of gamers, and if the game were any better (say, as good as Fire Emblem: Three Houses, another game I would not describe as well-written) it might have worked on me. As it stands, I kind of like Kloe, the schoolgirl (I know, I know) character who turns out to be the secret princess and fights with a rapier and a trained falcon named Sieg. Sieg is cool, and Kloe kind of seems most convincingly like she would be friends with the protagonists. Her bit of the game includes a fascinating interlude where the protagonists are assigned (the gimmick is that you belong to “the Bracer Guild,” which is a sort of multinational benevolent fantasy Pinkertons) to attend a high school (?) to help out with a school play (??) in drag (ah, okay). I’m not sure I was ever more interested in the story than during this bit, which promises all the parapedophilic low-level sexual intrigue one expects from a different sort of game. (This is one of /two/ sequences in the game where Joshua has to crossdress, by the way; the other one involves a maid uniform, for purposes of sneaking into a palace. This all just makes me nostalgic for the edgier, more complex queerphobia of Final Fantasy VII’s crossdressing gag.) But it all fizzles out into the same chumminess as the rest of the game; all the schoolgirls agree that the siblings are made for each other and you walk around after the play meeting an array of Mayors, each of whom congratulates you on your stunning efforts.
Apropos of the secret princess, a note on the politics of this game: it’s completely unreflectively pro-royalist. The Queen of the Liberl Kingdom (yes, “the Liberl Kingdom”) is a wonderful old lady, and her granddaughter, Kloe, is a wonderful young lady. But there’s another heir, through the distaff, the queen’s nephew the Duke, who is a shitty, pampered, self-obsessed aristocrat. Kloe and the Duke have a coequal (not “contested,” just “equal,” like no one has gotten around to reading the line of succession yet, the Queen being only sixty) claim to the throne, and nasty bad actors in the military, in service to foreign interests, lock the queen in her room and abduct the princess and announce that the Duke has been made heir. Vile treason! Luckily the Benevolent Fantasy Pinkertons are here to set things to right. Now, I’m not a whiner about this stuff, and I’ll accept a benevolent princess and kindly queen, but this isn’t Zelda: it’s supposed to be a complex palace intrigue story! Maybe it should think about this stuff for even a second!
Anyway, I haven’t ruled out playing the second one eventually, because I’m a mark, and it’s supposed to be better, and the gameplay really is fun. But I’m very glad that I have regular exposure to way, way better art than this. If this is your idea of “plot pretty good, characters excellent,” I consider you a victim. Of what, I’m not sure exactly. This game, much like every villain I sliced my way through in the course of playing it,, is only the innocent pawn of something much larger and more sinister, but that I can’t spend too much time thinking about, because it’s boring and I have better things to do.
Super Mario Bros. 2
Did my first warpless playthough of this game, still really like it! Fun to just play in between work stuff on the Switch, and damn it I just really like this game and how different it is from the rest of the series. I know WHY it's different, but that doesn't mean I can't think it's fun that the Mario series tried something like this, and maybe I kind of wish they did it a couple more times. The way throwing works is kind of awkward at first, but as soon as I understood how to throw things far from you vs throwing them right in front of you it was never an issue. I like the boss fights, the variety in levels, though some of them definitely aren't great, love the music, the ability to select a character, and a lot of the best Mario enemy designs are introduced in this game. I'm glad I enjoyed it just as much as I did when I played it the first time.
the opening montage of Up really destroyed a whole generation's concept of effective nonverbal storytelling by making them think a parade of prefab domestic clichés embellished with flavorless Milestone clipart set to overbearing music is in any way sophisticated or interesting huh
this girl is a tasteless unfuckable dweeb and i wish her all the worst. the way she's simultaneously a self-insert wish fulfillment character AND the most hapless and bland cozycore dork imaginable is really dark tbh. inexcusable taste in stuffed animals! stop decorating with your diploma already you absolute MONSTER!!! When a sappy celeste-adjacent chiptune ballad plays as it's revealed via context clues that she came into her own after a trip to Japan (and returned w/ a bevvy of basic tourist kiosk tchotchkes) and now feels confident enough to explore rockabilly-lite fashion...hell. It's all so flavorless and antiseptic--she is 30 where the hell is her hitachi wand and why CANT i stuff her horrid garb into the closet in the ideal organizational format--the pile? the subject here is so unpalatable that i honestly would have preferred they scrap the whole progressing narrative concept entirely (esp. when its used in such an unambitious way that communicates very little beyond trite sentimentality; life has its ups and downs, #gratitude, don't make time for haters who dull your shine, the more things change the more they stay the same, when god throws out a mug he buys you a wacom tablet) and instead present a medley of varying rooms/spaces occupying a plethora of subjects, aesthetics, and experiences, but also idt the same devs who chose this protag have anywhere near the worldliness or savvy to attempt something like that. impressive amount of unique isometric assets and cool implementation of foley though!
surely there are fighting games you could get excited for that aren't made by companies currently in the midst of sexual harrasment lawsuits and has a "Allegations over gender discrimination and sexual harassment" section of their wikipedia page longer than any other section on there
Part 2 of a series reviewing Takatsuna Senba's games at Taito.
In Senba's retrospective on Metal Black and Dino Rex's development, he's especially cruel talking about Rex. He goes as far to call it Kusoge - which frankly, it kinda is. But whilst his tone surrounding it's twin game, Metal Black, is less harsh, it's still tinged with a strong sense of dissapointment, lamenting a troubled development and failing to live up to Gun Frontier.
And at first thought, it's kinda hard to get. Metal Black is probably the game of which he and the team is most known for and definetly it's most influential. And when you come from it from Dino Rex and the experience of getting beaten up by a fat purple sauropod's janky disjoints, the opening of metal black in particular is just such a drastic leap in quality it's kinda hard to see how it's creator couldn't be proud of it.
Metal Black's first stage, like many of Taito's games in the 90s, is an absolute treat. It's depiction of a dead earth, with the sun hanging low behind a dozen parralax layers, a giant hermit crab using an aircraft carrier as it's shell, and an eldritch abomination at the end of it - it's still beautiful. And all along Born to be free, one of ZUNTATA's best ever tracks, plays. It's a wonderful, somber start to the game that hints towards the surreal voyage that Metal Black takes off towards for the rest of it's runtime.
After taking off from the dead earth, you go on to face moons which are eggs for aliens, bizzare dream landscapes, some truly bonkers alien designs, kaleidoscopic backgrounds, and eventually images of human war and digitized cats in the background of the final boss. When you combine this with Senba's styling - thick outlines on sprites, use of digitized sprites, deep backgrounds with heavy use of pseudo 3d sprite scaling - Metal Black really resembles little else, and is often absolutely gorgeous to look at. Taito's own Darius series - of which Metal Black was originally intended to be an entry before being deemed "too dark" - is about as close as you're going to get, but it's really not very close. MB's aesthetic is way less refined than something like darius gaiden, and has a lot of rough edges like it's weird UI and a lot of asset reuse, but I honestly wouldn't have it any other way.
Special mention also has to go to the soundtrack by YasuhIsa Watanabe, also known as YACK. According to Senba, he told an unnamed member of Taito's sound team he didn't think they would be able to fullfill the vision he wanted whilst during development of Gun Frontier (which was done by a non-taito composer) - with the aim of "Lighting a fire under them" for Metal Black. It seemed to do the job.
Metal Black's soundtrack is absolutely incredible - it's probably YACK's best work and really hammers in the dark, somber edge to Metal Black. It also is fantastically timed to be in cue with events in stages and boss events, and despite the darker, slower nature of the music compared to say, Darius - still carries an intensity when it needs to.
So, this all sounds amazing. And MB sometimes is. Stages 1, 2 and 6 in particular are brilliant audiovisual feasts. But the problem is that MB is kinda not a good shmup, and to an extent fails to bring together all it's incredible visuals and effects into the great whole it could be.
MB's gameplay is just not great. The beam system it uses, where firing your super laser diminshes normal shot power, is actually pretty interesting and future games it inspired have done similar things well, but the game notably only has a forward directional attack in a game which has loads of enemies coming from behind. Without warning. Yeah.
The level design in general is just generally uninteresting and full of pretty cheap enemies and ways to die. There's also just too many of them. MB's about 40 minutes long, with 6 stages, which could have worked, but around stage 3-5 the game sort of levels out on how far it's surreal visuals and stuff goes until the finale turns it to 11, and the game lulls a lot in this period. Stage 5 could probably have been cut outright for my money, and none of them in this period offer anything particularly interesting gameplay wise. This section really hurts the feel of MB, where it really just feels like it's spinning it's wheels.
Also, the less said about the bonus stages the better. They kill the pacing and just kinda suck.
So I get why Senba isn't happy with this game somewhat. The gameplay sadly brings down the experience quite a bit and it plays a lot worse than Senba's earlier work, Gun Frontier. It's a messier experience and compared to Taito's other vibe-powered shmups - Gun Frontier, Darius Gaiden, Rayforce - stages dont flow into each other well, and it's hard to put a finger on what the story of the game even is.
Nontheless, I hope he becomes proud of it eventually. This fucking mess of a STG, made by 4-6 people over a 6 month period whilst juggling another game and Taito's management being dicks, remains rad as hell and a massive influence to STG developers 30 years later. Taito's darius series in particular took massive influence from it, and refined elements of it's bonkers imagery into more focused, polished experiences in Gaiden and G. Ex-Taito staff later formed G.Rev and did years of contract work to be able to fund a spiritual successor - Border Down.
I do think Gun Frontier is the better game of Senba's, and if the aim of Metal Black was to exceed it, I don't think it does. And whilst it's attract mode labels it as "Project Gun Frontier 2", it's really something very different - and something that's influence in the genre and beyond will always linger.
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