Metal Max 2: Reloaded - Import Retroview  

Remake, Reuse, Recycle
by Michael Baker

40-60 Hours
+ All the good stuff still there
+ All the improvements from later games, too
+ More of all the good stuff
+ Lots of free-ranging exploration
+ Doggies!
- A little too challenging at times
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Back in 2011, I started Metal Max 2 Kai, the port of the Super Famicom title, partly out of an interest sparked by the previous year's coverage of Metal Max 3. Imagine my surprise when, while in the middle of the GBA game, a full remake was announced for the DS. As much as I was enjoying MM2, I decided to hold off on playing it all over again. Some things were best left saved for the future. Well, the future is now.

   Metal Max 2: Reloaded takes all the good stuff from the original version (which is a copious amount in itself) and mixes in all the awesome stuff that the previous DS iterations had added to the series' format. The results are even bigger and better than I could have imagined, though as usual this is a series that makes the player work for that sweet taste of victory.

   The list of improvements reads like a list of regular features in modern games, but each has had a major impact on how the game plays. Individual character inventories have given way to the standard bag of holding mechanic, allowing for a lot more weapons and items to be stockpiled, so of course there's a hundred more ways to make things blow up, short-circuit, or melt in a most satisfying manner. Character classes and skillsets were added in, doubling the number of job classes while creating plenty of new avenues for combat strategizing and exploitation. A dozen new Wanted monsters roam the landscape, some with entirely new areas associated with them, while a few of the returning monstrosities have more story or other odd things added in to surprise the veterans of the series. And to accompany all these improvements, the developers ratcheted up the difficulty while still leaving enough room for the player to crank things up to eleven in the New Game Plus mode.

   The primary story remains functional in its simplicity. A gang of armed thugs known as the Grapplers has swept its way across the post-apocalyptic setting of Acid Canyon, wrecking much of the remaining holdouts of civilization and taking plenty of prisoners for rumored experimentation. In the village of Mado, four heroes stood against the threat, only to be burned down by the villainous Ted Broiler and his gauntlet-mounted flamethrowers. One of the few survivors is the protègé of the heroic soldier Maria, the Kid, who swears vengeance on the gang and its shadowy leadership. New to this version, the player has a choice of male or female protagonists. The developers didn't bother to change any part of the game's romantic alternate endings to reflect this, so fans of sprite-based lesbian marriages might get a little enjoyment there.

   Following the lead from Metal Max 3, MM2R has a well-organized system of notes for its subquests, and these random side stories will lead the player all over the map. Some are deliveries; some are traps. There are clone armies to stop, temples to rob, buses to catch, and even a murder mystery thrown in for good measure. This is before we even get to most of the Wanted monsters, each of which brings its own insanity to the table. The primary plot of this game may be thin on the ground, but there's a lot more to the game than just that.

Whose job was it to bring the weed-killer? Whose job was it to bring the weed-killer?

   The combat also takes advantage of the improvements made in the previous DS entries. The ability to equip three different weapons to a person or dog makes a huge difference all by itself, and the well-defined ranges and effect areas keep the combat lively and strategic despite its strongly turn-based structure. The tank side of combat has seen some upgrades, in particular the expanded ability to upgrade different pieces of equipment, refit chassis to allow for more guns, or add on special weapons that are particular to specific tanks. The game has literal tons of weaponry to purchase, but only so much space to equip it or engine power to carry it. With all the variety, it's easy to customize tanks as one pleases — though the player still has to mind the weight allowances, which also affect how much ablative armor the vehicles can rely on to shield their parts from disabling damage.

   There are a few spots where MM2R didn't quite hit the mark, though some of them are mainly obvious in retrospect after playing the latest in the series. Skill lists aren't as varied as they could be, though the ability to add a secondary class later in the game helps even things out a little. There's also a bar in the second town where the player can recruit non-story characters if certain skillsets become absolutely necessary. It's rarely obvious which weapons and skills can use the breakage mechanic for disabling machine enemies, and the only means of getting the better sorts of specialty shells requires a lot of item-farming and a high-level Artist skillset. Areas that force the player to travel on foot aren't always the best balanced in terms of difficulty, though at least Dr. Minch's revivification services are more convenient in this version. One final benefit is that it's now much easier to retrieve tanks that have been stranded in out of the way places.

Post-apocalyptic biomes are weird. Post-apocalyptic biomes are weird.

   The graphics and music in Metal Max 2: Reloaded have both been raised to the standards set by Metal Max 3 and the results speak for themselves. The original game was an early-era SNES title, with blocky sprites and a limited color palette. This new version looks better than anything on the SNES ever could, and even features a few short CG animated sequences that presage the graphics of Metal Max 4 on the 3DS.

   Metal Max 2: Reloaded is like a classic muscle car, taken from its dusty garage and given a much-needed tune-up. In the end, the graphics are just a new coat of paint, and the additions to the battle system amount to necessary engine maintenance. The bulk of the game is in its chassis, in the expansive map and insane scenarios that made the original a cult classic. And like any good classic car, it's ready to ride.

   See you later, steel cowboy.

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