A little look at… Metal Sight

Metal Sight’s a 1989 X68000 game by System Sacom, who’s most famous game is… probably this one, now I’ve written about it. Still, fame has never been any real measure of quality – Choujin’s a great example of a extremely playable one-hit wonder on the same hardware and from an even smaller team than Metal Sight’s.

The Space Harrier comparisons are inevitable and warranted, as they are with any 80’s game that involves high-speed into-the-screen action. Sacom’s title adds a little spice to proceedings by incorporating sprite-based ‘tunnels’ and ‘paths’ in parts of certain levels – nothing to the level of Sega’s glorious Galaxy Force II, but then again it would be entirely unreasonable to expect even the X68000 to go toe-to-toe with cutting-edge arcade hardware released just the year before.

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There are ten stages in total, with the player able to start from anywhere up to stage 5 via the options menu. Being able to start halfway through the game without any penalty beyond your end-of-level rank might sound like a bit of a cheat, but the game’s the sort of old-school hard that makes death a frequent and inescapable experience, so this little level select feels more like a welcome relief. Even so on any difficulty above easy stages can be over in mere seconds if you’re not paying attention, and that’s taking Metal Sight’s green/yellow/red/dead shield system into account. So after a many, many deaths you’ll decide it’s time to either put your fist through the keyboard, strap on a headband and practice in a suitably 80’s movie montage style, or take a breath and remember that this game came out when Harrier ‘em ups were a big deal in arcades never mind in your own home – the very genre itself was a fresh concept and everyone was trying to find their own way, so it’s no wonder Sacom’s title’s a little rough around the edges.

But this contextual leeway can only carry the game so far, and there are some areas that deserve unreserved criticism.  Stages - should you ever live long enough to finish one - simply fade to black in a very unsatisfying manner when you reach the end, as if there’s more to the level but you didn’t do well enough to see it. It’d feel like a lukewarm resolution in any game, but it’s especially jarring here given the intensity of the action happening mere seconds before. This fade-out can even occur while a boss is shooting at you, as if the designers felt obliged to include the artist’s sprite work but couldn’t be bothered to do anything with it. While the hardware obviously limits what could have been achieved to some extent, both Solid Lancer and Knight Arms did a much better job of creating spectacular and memorable encounters – and Solid Lancer’s running on significantly weaker hardware too.

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Overall Metal Sight’s still not an entirely enjoyment-free experience though, and if you have the patience to learn the ropes the game takes less than half an hour to play through from start to finish with a few disc swaps along the way. It’s just one of those games that’s technically impressive for the time but has little else going for it - which is something of a problem when the X68000 has a wealth of better shmups and action games readily available.