BAD'S Commentary Page


|| TITLE || Elbow To Elbow
  || WRITER ||   BAD
  || DATED ||   06.22.2009


When it came out, Mutant Storm - Reloaded (together with Geometry Wars - Evolved) used the dawn of HD technology to reintroduce the shooting genre to the masses. This was all through the reintroduction of a simplistic, free-roaming shooting formula that had long since died with some of the oldest titles in the genre. Prior to this, most modern shooters were either horizontal or vertical (with a few very rare exceptions), garnering little attention from critics who claimed the genre was old, tired, and repetitive (regardless of quality). Though simple and basic, both Mutant Storm - Reloaded and Geometry Wars - Evolved spurred new interest in the genre by casual youngsters and longtime shooting fans alike. The shooting enthusiast could enjoy its old-school approach to the genre, while the casual youngster could find refreshing fun in "the other shooting genre." It was a risk, but Microsoft pushed a few generic titles out the door and successfully resurrected the shooting genre. Hell, some say they even introduced the "manic shmup" to the masses (but that's whole other article for another day)! Even though Geometry Wars - Evolved was probably the more inspired of the two, but I had more fun with Mutant Storm - Reloaded, and wondered why I hadn't seen it on more of my friends' game lists. Where Geometry Wars - Evolved blazed relentlessly until it suffocated you, Mutant Storm - Reloaded was moderately-paced, with short breaks that allowed you to catch your breath. Despite this contrast, it seems Geometry Wars - Evolved had gotten more attention, but Mutant Storm - Reloaded apparently still did well enough to warrant a sequel, Mutant Storm - Empires. And much like its predecessor, it seems to have gone somewhat unnoticed, and needs more credit where credit is due.



The most noticeable changes from MSR to MSE are probably aesthetic. The design (as a whole) is better than the first one, and is more inspired this time around. Enemies are no longer microscopic gonorrhea gremlins and "shit flies." You still fight a few of the same nondescript"thingies," "sperm-dudes," tanks, and turrets, but their dirty friends have been replaced by a new host of enemies that range from lumbering, stomping duck dudes to boogley-eyed robot oafs and other assorted mechanical monstrosities. You also fight the token worms here and there, big and small, to make it full circle. The end-boss, in particular, looks surprisingly cool. Everything just looks more inspired this time (with an alien-cyborg look), and there's a lot more animation to be seen.

That inspiration, however, comes at the price of the original game's sleek ship design. Where the enemies in MSE have been improved and given personality, your craft is now some unknown thing with dangling legs attached to a big orange eye. It's not absolutely terrible, but compared to the four sleek designs offered in MSR, it seems the design went awry somewhere along the line. It's a little sad, actually, because had they stuck with the same player ship design as MSR, the combination of new enemies in MSE would have made it a nice Gradius clone. And it probably would have been more fun (and fair) than even Gradius itself!




In fact, though most of the game is overhead, top-down shooting goodness, there are a few parts where the action turns into a horizontal blaster like Gradius! This a somewhat of a departure from MSR, but a welcome one. How'd they do it? By putting lasers on either side of the screen (often seen in the previous game), and having enemies swarm at you from both sides. Longtime shooting fans will taste hints of Gradius in these parts of the game while dodging turret fire and blasting enemy streams from silos. The only thing missing is the cheap shot that Gradius enemies nut-out before they die, but nobody misses that cheap crap! These parts also have a familiar Gradius aesthetic, too, and it fits in well with the rest of the game's improved environments.

Speaking of the environments, they aren't just more detailed, but streamlined and put carefully together like a puzzle. You move seamlessly between areas through tunnels and gates, and it really feels like you're going somewhere (unlike MSR, where you feel like you're going deeper into the bowels of something you'll never escape from). Not to say that MSR had terrible level design, it's just that there's more in MSE's levels; directional arrows illuminating passages, turrets sprouting from trap doors, gears turning hatches open, and enemies dropping from rails. These seem like trivial things (compared to the dynamic environments in 1942 - Joint Strike or DoDonPachi DaiOuJou - Black Label Extra), but they bring MSE to life, and are precisely what the previous game lacked.

Back to the gameplay, Mutant Storm - Empire might remind veterans of Psikyo's Zero Gunner 2 with its 360 degree shooting and roaming, speed, and "Super Weapon." The "Smart Bomb" from the previous game has been replaced by a "Super Weapon" with limited use, and there are no longer any "Power-Ups." Going back and playing the previous game, I noticed that I miss the Laser weapon; it destroyed! The game is still all about shooting everything on the screen as quick as possible, but they took a cue from new shooters and made it more combo-oriented. "Combo-driven" implies that combos are somehow essential, but that is not the case in this game, so "combo-oriented" best describes it; you can play through the game just fine without completing combos. The combo-oriented scoring system is finicky, though, since it's more about killing certain enemies consecutively than it is quickly chaining kills (as in other titles). For some shooting fans, this might sound cool and refreshing, but there are definitely others that will be turned-off by the erratic pace. Even though you get more time between kills in Mutant Storm - Empires, I still think it's easier to combo in DoDonPachi DaiOuJou - Black Label Extra (a game that throws everything at you, including the kitchen sink)!



Like its predecessor, Mutant Storm Empire is very much an enjoyable game with the same great pacing and good control, but with improvements that make it a different shooting experience. It isn't as polished as Cave's DoDonPachi DaiOuJou Black Label Extra, and it doesn't have the nostalgic value of Capcom's 1942 - Joint Strike, but it's still a fun diversion until big-hitters like Takumi and Psikyo start using new hardware.