Review: Metal Torrent (DSiWare)

Bullet hell with training wheels

Most gamers are familiar with "bullet hell" shooters: shoot-'em-ups with so many enemy projectiles that over half the screen is covered in them at most times. Despite this, however, many Western gamers haven't actually played any (as a lot of them are Japan-exclusive) and only know them from YouTube videos. Metal Torrent is the very first of its kind published by Nintendo, and as such it includes some features geared towards newcomers.

Like Star Soldier R, it's more about improving your score than making it through all levels, so don't expect a robust, decently sized main game. One game consists of eight "phases," or levels, each of which has more enemies (and thus more bullets) than the last. Your objective is nothing more than to blast as many of them as possible, trying to rack up a good combo and getting a ton of points out of it. Three phases also feature a boss, although it's really the same one three times, with slightly more attack power in every encounter.

There's two different modes of play: you can either play with fixed enemy patterns, or random ones so that you don't know what the enemy formations will be like and what types of projectiles they'll fire. The difference is really hardly noticeable, because most enemies die less than half a second after they enter the screen!

What does make a major difference is the spaceship you select. You can either pick the Red Orion or the Blue Nova, respectively one geared towards bullet hell newcomers and the other for pros only. When positioned at the center of the bottom of the screen, the Red Orion's cone of laser fire will practically cover the entire top half of the screen; all you really need to do is dodge bullets.

It also has a special attack that destroys all bullets on the screen, if you think you're in an inescapable position. This uses up part of an energy bar displayed on the screen not featuring the main gameplay; this is one of very few games that allows you to switch what takes place on which screen, so you can either play on the top or the bottom one.

But the thing that really makes the Red Orion so good for beginners is the fact that bullets won't destroy it. They'll pass right through you, and you'll only lose part of your energy bar if you get hit by several. Direct contact with enemy ships will instantly take off the same chunk of energy, but when is that ever going to happen?

Your ship won't explode until the energy bar is completely emptied, but you really have to be trying to pull that off — every single enemy you destroy will give you a pickup that restores a very tiny bit of energy. As enemies usually appear by the hundreds, the bar will refill in no time! Even if this is the very first shoot-'em-up game you ever play, expect to make it through the game with zero deaths if you pick the Red Orion.

The Blue Nova's a completely different story, and it will probably go unselected by 99% of all Metal Torrent players. Contact with any bullet or enemy ship will instantly kill you. On top of that, its range of fire is shorter than that of the Red Orion (although it's still fairly big) and the bullet-destroying special attack is instead an extra strong laser beam attack which goes straight forward. As very few enemies take more than one shot to destroy, and the thinness of the beam severely limits the area you can cover, you'll only really find yourself using this on the bosses.

Aside from trying to improve your score, there's not much else to Metal Torrent. There's online leaderboards for both game modes with both ships (so four leaderboards total), and you can watch replays of the top 10 scorers on each one, but don't expect to get on there yourself as there's some serious shoot-'em-up nuts out there.

The graphics at first appear somewhat impressive: the backgrounds are all 3D and look pretty decent. But there's only three different areas in the game, and in each it's really just a very small area that's repeating over and over. The music is as generic as it could possibly be, and will go completely unnoticed by most.


With only one real, fairly short game mode (the pattern randomization doesn't do that much, after all) and two ships catering to two very specific groups of players, Metal Torrent will only appeal to two types of people: those who are interested in bullet hell shooters but haven't actually played any, and those who are already highly skilled at them. Anybody inbetween should look elsewhere for their shoot-'em-up fix — the Virtual Console, perhaps?

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