Metal Marines

 

Metal Marines
My cartridge has seen better days, but is still a game worth plugging in occasionally

 

So this review is being completed on request. It is, however, a game that that I played as a child so I do have a bit of a soft spot for it already. Nevertheless I have played it again this week trying to be open minded. The version I have played is the SNES 1993 release.

Set in 2117, after a destructive war has flattened the Earth, the United Earth Empire band together to rebuild. Your role as commander of this army is to protect the Earth from the threat of a colonial empire attacking. The plot is explained briefly in the start menu, and to be honest I played this game a number of times before I actually took the time to find out who, and why I was fighting!

Metal Marines is a strategy game where you and and A.I opponent battle from two separate Islands. The idea is that you construct a defence while sending missiles and Metal Marines ( giant robot fighting machines from what I gather) to attack your opponent and try and destroy their H.Qs. There are a number of units that you can build, from defensive AA missiles and gun pods, to offensive missiles and the destructive ICBM (although I never found the ICBM practical to use-too expensive and uses too much energy!) Also you construct support units to give you more energy, money and to build your units faster, and although these units are expensive, they will prove invaluable to your cause.

The map is set out in grid format, you select a square to build on and select the unit you wish to build. As long as you have the funds available, that unit begins construction immediately. You can upgrade certain units to improve their use, such as upgrading your Marines for higher HP and range, or your missiles so they send two missiles rather than one (both upgrades were necessary for me to have any success)

I enjoy this game, I am a fan of strategy games and this one with its simple structure worked well for me. I love the fact that my early strategy of building Supply-HQs in such large amounts that I simply out build the opponent became impractical very quickly in this game and I had to amend and rethink very early on. Some levels I hung on through blind luck and hoping my opponent wouldn’t find a base that was left largely defenceless. Other levels I targeted the opposition missiles and then built large numbers of defensive Metal Marines while I built up enough cash to upgrade. Other missions I highlighted a flank I could exploit and peppered it until I could break through, or targeted their supply buildings to prevent them building.

However you choose to approach a level I found that at times even the best laid plans would need to be changed mid way through. A stray missile sneaks through your AA defence and takes out your own upgraded missiles, or a ship loaded with upgraded Metal Marines lands on your best defended base and suddenly you are forced to abandon construction near it and relocate to another base. Many times I threw down the control in anger screaming that the computer was ‘cheating’ as they knocked out a supply H-Q that I had saved to build, and it was blown apart before construction was complete, only for me to pick up by controller and vow vengeance on my sneaky opponent… but I have been known to be a little dramatic at times.

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The game-play becomes hard, with a steep learning curve. Early missions are almost impossible to fail as you learn the controls. However later missions where you have a small island with few build spots, or no starting units, or an you are facing an island that seems impenetrable become very frustrating, but very rewarding when you bring down their base. The learning curve is assisted by the various adversaries you face off against, who get progressively more intelligent. Early commanders do not seem to learn from their scouting missiles for example, later commander will spot your important building and systematically take action to destroy them. The various terrains offer variety to each mission, meaning you have to plan a strategy for the specific terrain of both you and your opponents island. The graphics I think are reasonable good, albeit a little blocky at times and the sound effects and music work well with the theme of the game. I actually found myself humming the music a few times after playing this game again.

Controls are simple enough, although I do have vivid memories of my Dad playing this game as a child, and not being able to control the game quick enough as he was unaccustomed to gaming. As such he would let us ‘play’- in that we would hold the control and do exactly as we were told. Heaven forbid we built something in the wrong place, or did not attack quick enough! However the fact he enjoyed the game so much, even though he couldn’t get to grips with the controls shows that the strategy element works.

That’s not to say that the game couldn’t be improved upon. For example there are some units that I just couldn’t find effective use for. The ICBM, as I mentioned, proved too expensive and energy inefficient to be practical, and really I would only build it to show off (which is weird, and unnecessary if you are playing by yourself!) I loved the idea of building decoys and dummy bases to confuse the enemy, but found I could build more useful units with the same amount of money. The land mines too were an idea that I loved, A metal Marine steps on the invisible mine and causes damage, but again I found building a gun pod for the same price more efficient. The cut scenes where your opponent calls you to either brag when they are hammering you, or panic when you are getting on top were charming for a short while, but I soon turned them off as they became an unnecessary distraction from the narrative I was constructing in my head. Modern gamers will notice you cannot obtain new units, and your arsenal of weapons cannot be improved upon as the game goes on. There is also limited replay-ability, as once you have beaten it there is no real need to go back and play again. That being said there were enough missions here to keep me occupied for a long time.

However I enjoy this game. When I purchased my SNES a few years ago it was a game I went hunting for in the attic as I wanted to own it again. It varies between challenging and engaging, to frustrating and seemingly impossible. I have played the same level, lost spectacularly several times, written it off as impossible and then come back and completed it without a struggle. Similarly I have been winning, before a stray missile changes the game completely by taking out some vital units of mine. Worth a play if you enjoy real time strategy games, but prepare for some frustration!

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