Thursday, 25 May 2017

PC Engine Shmups #11

Metal Stoker (1991)
By: Face Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: NEC PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16 First Day Score: ???,???
Also Available For: Nothing

Only five minutes ago (okay, a few months ago) I finally got around to playing Granada properly after all these years, declaring it in the subsequent review a highly original title, the likes of which I've seldom encountered. And now, such a short time later, I've found another extremely similar game, and one that was released the same year no less! I'm not sure who came up with the idea first - Wolf Team with their MD (and X68000) tank 'em up or Face with this Engine exclusive - but the similarities are more than a little surprising. I'm not sure if that includes the back-stories as Face's game was only released in Japan. The limited in-game text simply advises you to 'master the controls of the custom CS-05' and also casually mentions that your assignment is to 'clear the indicated zones under various conditions'. What this amounts to, however, is very similar to your objective in Granada - blow the crap out of everything that moves, and some things that don't too!

There are seven stages altogether which are all split into numerous smaller sections. The number of these varies from stage to stage but there are usually between four and nine. Generally, the more of them there are, the smaller they are, with some even being a single screen in size. Most areas, though, are at least a few screens in size, viewed from directly overhead, and scroll in all eight directions. Your CS-05 tank can move accordingly and there is a handy lock button too, which keeps you facing the same direction as you move around so you can concentrate your fire on your quarry while avoiding its own shots. You have a few methods available for dishing out your punishment which come in the forms of different tanks (or, as is perhaps more likely, different configurations for your tank). You only get one to start with though, and naturally it's only equipped with a forward-firing pea-shooter gun, but thankfully this doesn't remain the case for long.

There are five different tank types (eventually) which are gained by way of the relevant pick-ups, and they can all be powered-up too. The default tank type gains some addition forward shots as well as weaker rear shots while the other tanks offer powerful forward laser shots, stationary mines, a short-range energy shield that causes damage as well, and small homing missiles. A decent variety I'm sure you'll agree, and once collected you can switch between them whenever you like via the pause screen too. Mighty fine. Enemies are numerous too - infinite in most of the game's areas in fact - so it's a good idea to quickly familiarise yourself with each tank when it becomes available. Most are suited to certain areas or situations though, and can obviously be a bit too specialised for general use, so you'll probably find yourself sticking to one of the first two tanks for most of the game.

Enemy defences include lots of gun towers while the more offensive hardware comes in the form of a few aerial attackers as well as various types of tank and ground-based vehicles, and it's the latter that often prove to be unlimited in number so it's usually best to only take out the ones blocking your path or making a nuisance of themselves. Exit from each of the game's many areas (about 40-ish?) is dependent on fulfilling certain conditions. Usually these involve destroying certain targets therein such as cannons or submarines (which I initially thought were purple hippos) but it can also include a boss of some description too. While these can sometimes take the form of a screen full of gun towers or something, they will more usually be larger, stronger tanks or ghastly contraptions of some sort. Happily, they seldom cause too much of a problem, but Metal Stoker: Neo Hardboiled Shooting, to use its full name, is still a tricky game.

You retain all power-ups upon loss of a life and you get four hit points to use before this even happens, but the points are not replenished after each area (though they are when you complete a stage). It's easy to take damage too, thanks to all the guns which are often in inconvenient locations or the usually-constant presence of enemies, both of which are happy to spew their bullets all about the place. The stages feature both indoor and outdoor areas and range from tight mazey corridors to wide open spaces teeming with enemies, and they all have at least something that's unique to them. One even has watery bits, another quite late on has teleporters, and one is basically a boss rush (it's not even the last stage!). They are all named too - Compute Polis, Gio Front, Torrid City, Desert Base, Hell Laboratory, Cyber Space, and Floating Fortress - to give you an idea of the kind of locales you might expect to visit. If you can reach them.

There are certainly no major issues that might deter you from trying either. The graphics are nice, with varied stages and lots of different sprites and bosses - the latter in particular look great for the most part. The audio is just as good too. It includes some cool effects and lots of tunes which range from okay to fantastic. This splendid front end combined with the simple controls and varied action-packed stages makes for a pretty sweet blaster which definitely rivals its more well known MegaDrive-based contemporary. I think I prefer Granada a little - it seems a bit more precise or intricate in its style - but Metal Stoker is very close behind it which is fantastic considering I hadn't even heard of it until recently. As mentioned, it is tough going - probably more so than Wolf Team's sizeable game which is far from a walk in the park itself - but for skilled shmuppers it offers a unique (on the Engine) and challenging take on the well-worn genre.

RKS Score: 8/10

Gameplay Video: here's a video of the whole game being played by one of the talented fellows at World of Longplays (check out their great channel here). Oh, and don't watch if you want to avoid spoilers!



  1. >Metal Stoker
    So in English instead of Engrish it should be
    - Metal Stroker
    - Metal Stalker

    1. Some apparently believe it's part of the Mad Stalker series but it's not. Good game though, however its name came about :)

  2. Hmmm, metal stroker sound so wrong ��