Konami’s arcade history is replete with signature titles that celebrated the splash of colors, action, noise, and vibrancy of the scene. Their games, along with many of their peers’, were why a generation of gamers were saddened to see arcades go the way of the dodo.
Their library covered pretty much everything — sports, shooters, adventure, and of course, the beat ’em up. Their most popular beat ’em ups involved licensed properties like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the X-Men, and The Simpsons. All of those were a lot of fun, especially when they boasted four-player drop-in, drop-out participation encouraging strangers and friends to get together and save the world.
One thing that was particularly neat about some of their beat ’em ups was the care put into the art direction creating an cartoonish, if not purely anime, aesthetic. Konami didn’t just want you to plug tokens and quarters into a machine and mash buttons. They wanted you to feel as if you were playing through an animated feature much like how Sega’s Arabian Fight was like short of becoming a laserdisc event like Dragon’s Lair.
Metamorphic Force in ’93 was like that.
Like many of Capcom’s beat ’em ups, Konami worked the story behind the game into the teaser with fancy graphics and animation much like what they did with another beat ’em up that came out in the same year — Gaiaopolis.
In Metamorphic Force, that story outlined the rebirth of an Evil King and an island of doom rising up from the waves to take on the world once more. The goddess Athena summons the souls of four heroes and gives them the gift of metamorphosis, the ability to change into powerful beasts, in order to stop this evil.
The reverse page of the American flyer above also spent quite a lot of text on telling the kind of story that the arcade game briefly covers. It was several paragraphs of prose putting to shame even the kind of expanded fiction found in the manuals of NES arcade ports turning itself into another example of just how Konami wanted to push the expectations of their titles.
One other thing that Konami did that almost as atypical (at least compared to Sega, Namco, Capcom, and a few others) was building whatever arcade hardware was needed at the time. System 16, an arcade hardware museum site online, laments this in their Konami section summing it up by quoting what some have said as “what CPU have we got a lot of today”. Instead of working towards a standard like SNK’s Neo Geo AVS or Capcom’s CPS hardware, Konami just seemingly built stuff based on whatever was on hand creating a huge, and almost nightmarish, stable of parts over the years. Some of it used the tried and true Motorola 68000 CPU/Zilog Z80 combo, others went a bit more exotic with PowerPC chips.
The hardware running Metamorphic Force was apparently used in only one year, 1993, and with a tiny handful of other games (which included the fantastic Gaiapolis mentioned earlier). It didn’t really have a name, other than a nickname calling it the “Mystic Warrior” based board (Mystic Warrior was one of the games it ran). It was also a Motorola 68000 based board.
Metamorphic Force is probably what Sega’s Altered Beast would have turned into if it were a bigger beat ’em up than it was and had turned itself into a Super Sentai fantasy spinoff. Players get to pick from four different characters. In the arcade, depending on the cab and its hardware settings, the game could run with two or four players simultaneously with position determining who they were.
Each of the main characters had different strengths and weaknesses. Ban was a martial artist with decent speed. He could transform into a Minotaur. Claude was a swordsman who fought like a distant cousin to Samurai Shodown’s Charlotte. He was quick, and his White Wolf alter ego was also fast which made his character a good choice. The same with Max who was like Ken of the North Star, only blonde and who could transform into a black panther. Last was Ivan who wielded a small log, was slow, and could transform into a bear.
The action took place across six sizeable stages with a variety of anthropomorphic enemies ranging from lizard men to elephant-headed fighters, all rendered as big, cartoonish sprites with plenty of expressive detail. Lizard men laughed at you, special effects exploded from your chosen character’s body when they transformed, and the bosses all died spectacular looking deaths.
Gameplay had the usual suspects in the beat ’em up grab bag — punches, kicks, and jump attacks. Desperation attacks were also in for damaging supers at the cost of health.
Health was tracked at the top with numerical register that functioned similarly to Gauntlet’s — it slowly degraded over time though you couldn’t jack it up with tokens. In the Japanese version, it was replaced with a gauge instead and didn’t degrade. Your beast form also had a secondary gauge beneath your health that, once it ran out, transformed the player back into their human form. Continues were forgiving in picking up right where you died while retaining your score and the game didn’t end after the credits finished rolling, either.
Difficulty-wise, it wasn’t that tough of a game, but it was still a lot of fun. Enemies came at you in droves allowing players to reap their ranks almost at will just like a super-powered anime hero. Environmental dangers such as energy beam traps and falling off of certain edges, added a bit more detail to the challenge. The bosses, in particular, had a surprising level of detail to them, often saying something before they started to try and beat the guts out of you . And the music? An interesting mix between butt rock and fantasy action synth which all sounded great. If there’s one thing that Konami’s creatives did well with their beat ’em ups, it was in the presentation.
Sadly, Metamorphic Force didn’t find its way out of the arcades. Most of Konami’s beat ’em ups apparently didn’t aside from the licensed stuff. It’s really too bad. Metamorphic Force wasn’t the most challenging beat ’em up, or the most exciting, but it had a lot of that Konami “flair” in trying to make it something more than what its parts suggested with its cartoonish graphics, fast paced action, boastful bosses, and a larger-than-life intro and ending that made an ancient hero out of everyone.