Of all the recently released Commodore 64 games, there is one that has aroused a high level of interest, hype, negative comments and debate all at once, and that single production is Metal Dust, which is a somewhat brutal horizontally scrolling blast-fest similar in many ways to other games of the same genre, but with one crucial difference; it requires a C64 or C128 with a SuperCPU loaded with at least 4MB of RAM, and is only available on 3.5" 1581-compatible floppies. Forget the few games that won't run in C64 mode on a C128: this was the one game that could only be played by a handful of people throughout the world, many of whom are GEOS users who had no real interest in entertainment-based software. But thanks to the fine work of Soci of Singular there is now a stable and very accurate SuperCPU emulator for your desktop PC or laptop, it will allow you to load Metal Dust as well as do almost everything the 20Mhz, 16-bit accelerator does. C64 emulation has changed forever.
I start this review having been one of the few people to have actually played Metal Dust before the advent of the SuperCPU emulator; in fact, I was one of the few people outside of Protovision to get hold of the final release candidate before it was published, and I therefore reviewed it for Retro Gamer and Micro Mart at around that time (circa 2004). So, whilst Jason can offer a fresh perspective on Metal Dust, I will answer this: has it stood the test of time?
YOU ARE NOW ENTERING THE METAL DUST
To start with, the game allows two players to head into the depths of space to obliterate all of the nasty alien scum and to face some rather fierce mid- and end-level bosses along the way. The two player mode is a nice addition, but having friends close by who even knew that the SuperCPU existed, never mind wanting to play Commodore games, just wasn't going to happen. Unless you had an interest in productivity and/or GEOS, being in the SCPU owners club could be lonely place.
So I had to do things the hard way, and that was by myself. Fortunately, however difficult Metal Dust was to me (and might be to you) there wasn't much in there that I couldn't learn, from the attack waves to how the bosses moved and each weak point to hit and the safest paths to navigate. Starting out on the easiest difficulty level (which is a built in cheat mode, if you wait long enough on the title screen), I progressed through each level and difficulty setting, eventually completing the game on all but one difficulty, having a lot of fun along the way. What it takes is some time and patience, but you will be richly rewarded, especially if shooting wave after wave of malevolent aliens is your idea of gaming Nirvana.
I revisited the game recently just before the emulator was released and found that I could play it quite instinctively, completing it after half an hour, but then I was playing it on the wimpy "Normal" difficulty setting with ten lives per continue. I went one up, to five lives per continue and completed it again, and found that I could pretty much sail through the first level unscathed, and beat the second quickly. The third, however, has always been a tough nut to crack, and I still have difficulty now; after that, the final level feels easier than it should in my opinion.
It's fair to say that I know the game pretty well, and therefore I can appreciate the little things like the cameo appearances from some other C64 games and the obvious inspiration provided by Manfred Trenz. I can also see where there is slight sprite flickering, and where the ship scrolls in front of the top-layer of parallax for about half a second. These small glitches are to be expected from a 1982 graphics chip, but the VIC-II is been hammered to a decent degree in my opinion.
The music change when you reach each of the eight bosses adds some tension to proceedings quite nicely, and each unique digitised track per level is a nice touch, although I do like the plain old SID music on the title screen and that which accompanies the game complete cut scenes. Has it stood the test of time? Yes, definitely. Has some of the shine come off over the years? Well, that's a much more difficult question to answer as it is the only SuperCPU game out there. With the advent of the emulator, more SuperCPU-specific software might be released, but I question whether this will be of the productivity kind, the demo kind or the playable kind. So this game might be the only one you'll ever see for the accelerator and on that basis it's definitely worth a look even if you're not a big shoot 'em up fan.