Metal Slug Anthology
PlayStation 2 (SNK Playmore 2007)
The big G-S-G-S-G
General opinion: One of the coolest arcade game series ever
Story: Not much of it, but fun enough for an arcade game
Graphics: Great, apart from the screen size
Sound: Pretty good
Gameplay: Fun, fast and challenging
The first Metal Slug game was released in arcades in 1996, and was an instant cult classic. It featured fast, challenging, but fairly simple gameplay, excellent 2D graphics and animation, and also a sense of humour. A total of six sequels have been released so far. The gameplay or visual style have not really changed over the years. The format, however, is so good that that doesn't really matter.
This anthology collects all 7 of the arcade titles in the series. That's Metal Slug through Metal Slug 6, plus Metal Slug X (which was basically a remake of the second game with bug fixes, but also other significant changes, like new enemies). The ports are very faithful to the arcade games. In fact, the box calls them 'arcade perfect'. It also includes bonus material, such as artwork and music, which is cool if you like such things, but I don't really have much use for random bits of artwork, and listening to music tracks on a PlayStation isn't really very convenient.
The stories of the games involve soldiers going on special missions, and invariable saving the world in the end. While the first game was a fairly down to earth military adventure, later titles have involved aliens and other supernatural threats. The stories are quite simple and cliched, but fun. There's no dialogue in the games, though, and few cut scenes. Without reading about the story in external sources it can be hard to figure out what exactly is going on.
The games themselves are side scrolling platform shooting games in the tradition of Contra. Your character can shoot, jump and toss grenades. You can pick up weapon power-ups to gain better weapons. A specialty of this series is the ability to, at certain points, board small tanks (called Metal Slugs) and other vehicles. Like in most arcade games, two players can play at once. Most titles also have several characters to choose from, although, except for the latest title, the characters don't differ in terms of gameplay.
The stages are very well designed. The action is hectic. There are always tons of enemies on the screen, and avoiding getting hit soon gets to be a real challenge. Like most arcade games, these can be very tough, and unless you're very skilled you can end up using lots and lots of credits to play through them. Luckily you don't need coins to play the home versions, and you have the option to use unlimited continues. Which means that pretty much anyone can play through the game and enjoy the great stage and enemy designs. Of course if you want a real challenge, you'll have to limit the continues you use.
Up to Metal Slug 5 the games were made for the Neo Geo system. In the late 90s this was already a fairly aged system, but these games pushed it to its limits. While the resolution is pretty poor, the sprites are excellently animated and the stages full of fun details. Of course the graphics aren't up to modern standards, but that's really not the point here. These games have a timeless quality that feels retro and modern at the same time. The soundtracks are nothing to complain about, either. However, with action this hectic, there's rarely much time to really listen to the music.
But this wouldn't be a real review without complaints as well. The one big issue here is the screen size. Like with many PAL conversions, the vertical resolution is smaller than the TV's. Unlike most games, however, this isn't presented in a normal letterbox style, but with one wide black bar at the bottom. This does not look pleasant. There are no options to change the view format, and no NTSC mode either.
One could also complain about the games being too hard. They certainly are too hard for a person of my skills to beat without unlimited credits. But arcade games are all about the challenge, after all.
Aside from fighting games, the only arcade genre to have real depth and longevity, the Metal Slug series probably features some of the best and most fun arcade games ever made. Despite the screen size issue, this collection is probably the best and most convenient way to play them. Although pretty long for arcade games, individually the games are fairly short, played through in less than an hour. (Assuming you use lots of continues. Otherwise they may take a lifetime of practise.) But with a total of seven games there's a lot of value for money here, if you like challenging, side scrolling action. Of course they're most fun when played with a friend, and even more fun with a quality arcade controller, like the two player X-Arcade panel.
Ben B. Bainton, 1 July 2008