Giving you “the basics” of a videogame series—its essential games, major differences between the games, and a little criticism.
We’ve all been there, gang. Sat in the local Quizno’s with a group of your closest friends, discussing the women (or men) you’ve slept with, the wacky antics in which you have participated, when all of a sudden—and without warning—your dearest friend suddenly pipes up.
”Say, [YOUR NAME HERE], what do you think is the best instalment of Nazca’s seminal Metal Slug series of run ‘n’ gun shooters?”
You choke a little. You freeze up. Everyone’s looking at you. All their eyes. You’re forced to admit a lack of knowledge of the franchise. It’s OK, they say. No biggie. But you know better. Your shame is infinite.
That night, you take your own life.
Recognise this? Well, you don’t have to any more! In this column, all of Metal Slug (within reason) will be covered. That’s right, the whole kabula. The whole shebang. The whole damn thing. Read on now, and learn.
This Month’s Series: Metal Slug
Metal Slug (Arcade, Neo-Geo/CD, PS1, PS2, PSP, Saturn, Wii)
A breath of fresh air in the somewhat dormant run-‘n’-gun genre, Nazca’s Metal Slug was released in 1996 to near-universal acclaim. A masterful splicing of comedic 2D art and intense shooting action, the game was an instant hit.
Players take control of Marco Rossi and Tarma Roving, a (very) small squadron attacking the near-endless Morden army single-handedly. Armed with a pistol to start, players can acquire the Heavy Machine Gun, (which makes short work of enemies as it tears through them like butter), Flame Shot (which sets its victims aflame, waving their arms and howling) and the devastating Shotgun (which quite literally blows foes away, leaving nothing but dust), to name a few.
The game gets its name from the titular Metal Slug tank, which is equipped with a wide-arc laser and a powerful cannon. Leaping into this machine evens the odds drastically, and additional “Slugs” were added in later instalments of the series.
A hallmark of the series is the vast bosses your soldiers have to face, and the original sets this precedent with gusto, with enormous tanks and other dangerous machines setting about Marco and Tarma at the slightest provocation. Indeed, the scope is grand throughout, with a particularly memorable house demolition proving a high point.
Metal Slug is still arguably the best in the series and sets the standard for an SNK institution.
Metal Slug 2 (Arcade, Neo-Geo/CD, PS1, PS2, PSP, Saturn, Wii)
Two years later, Metal Slug 2 was released to an expectant world. It wasn’t revolutionary as a sequel (the graphics remained much the same), but it added enough new features and gimmicks to make it much more than just a “mission pack.” For a start, there was the introduction of two new female characters, Eri and Fio. Playing as these femmes in no way affects the game, but it’s still nice to have the option. Also, a handful of new Slugs appeared, from the Camel Slug to the fragile Slugnoid mecha.
Collecting enough food items causes your character to become a bit of a porker, stuffing their face with a chicken drumstick as they gun down enemy soldiers. Also, in the second-most-hilarious arcade game voiceover moment of all time, “fat mode,” is signalled by the announcer shouting “Whuh-oh! BIG.” (For the record, the funniest moment is Magneto’s “WELCOME TO DIE!” in the six-player X-Men arcade game.)
A strange (and consistent) addition to the series began here with the appearance of supernatural creatures, such as mummies and aliens. The aforementioned mummies attack with a strange purple gas that turns your character into one of them if hit; this slows you down drastically and is rather irritating, as the game suffers from enough slowdown as it is. Yes, the otherwise fantastic Metal Slug 2 is rendered near-unplayable by some of the most crippling slowdown I’ve ever seen in a game. It’s a huge shame, but the problem was fixed by the next year’s “revision.”
Metal Slug X (Arcade, Neo-Geo/CD, PS1, PS2, PSP, Wii, XBLA)
Essentially, Metal Slug X is Metal Slug 2 how it should have been the first time around. Bosses are switched around a little, colour palettes are changed, and there are more secrets and new weapons (Drop Shot, Enemy Chaser, Super Grenade and the surreal Iron Lizard). Best of all, the horrendous slowdown of its predecessor is gone! Fantastic stuff.
Metal Slug: First/Second Mission (Neo-Geo Pocket Color)
Released 1999, 2000
The Neo Geo Pocket Color’s Metal Slug titles differ from the main series in many ways, though they aren’t a bad facsimile of the real deal. They comprise many shorter stages, in which familiar blasting action is to be found alongside
a greater focus on platform jumping. There are many hidden objects, and, in the sequel, the more prisoners you rescue, the higher your rank ascends. Only when you outrank a prisoner will they impart their information to you, which seems a bit stingy, given that you just saved their lives.
In the original, pressing the Option button on the handheld will switch you from firearm to grenade mode, which is rather clunky in the heat of battle. Thankfully, the sequel fixed this by using Option as the grenade button by default, which makes gameplay smoother and less niggly.
These titles are still good to play today; it’s a shame we never saw a compilation of them both for the GBA. Side-scrollers weren’t exactly ten a penny on the NGPC, so these were a nice surprise in many respects.
Metal Slug 3 (Arcade, Neo-Geo, PS2, PSP, Wii, Xbox, XBLA)
Metal Slug 3 is a lot of people’s favourite, for compelling reasons. First, it introduced branching paths to the series, which lead to greater replay value—though, conversely, many of the game’s most interesting features can be entirely bypassed using these alternate routes. The game also added more new Slugs, such as the cumbersome Elephant Slug, the speedy Ostrich Slug, and the, erm, moist Slug Mariner, which also heralded the brand new underwater stages in which your chosen character goes up against giant eels and enemy submersibles.
The game only includes five missions, though mission five feels longer than the previous four combined and is impressive in its scale, if not its repetition. Certainly, while Metal Slug 3 throws a lot of new elements into the pot, not all of them are unqualified hits. The Zombie mode introduced in mission two makes for a cumbersome, dull experience, though the level itself is extremely atmospheric and boasts one of the game’s best boss encounters.
All in all, Metal Slug 3 is nothing if not divisive; as many will passionately sing its praises as will tear it to shreds. It moves the furthest from the Metal Slug template yet, which—depending on your personal taste—is either to its detriment, or makes for a richer gaming experience.
Metal Slug 4 (Arcade, PS2, PSP, Wii, Xbox)
Metal Slug 3 was a tough game to follow, and its sequel (developed by Mega Enterprise, rather than Nazca) disappointed many gamers on release. The main problem with Metal Slug 4 is that there’s simply nothing much new—many areas are recycled from earlier titles, and most of the bosses are simply patchwork renderings of mecha components from the first three games.
Strangely, Tarma and Eri are no longer playable, replaced instead with two new characters named Nadia and Trevor, who never appeared again. Also, a confusing medal collection system was included, though it adds little to the game besides more point-earning opportunities.
The game channels Metal Slug 1 much of the way through, with rather straightforward levels, none of which are particularly interesting. The whole package seems rather by-the-numbers, which is a shame, as Metal Slug should be anything but.
Metal Slug 5 (Arcade, PS2, PSP, Wii, Xbox)
Korean developers Mega Enterprise got their act together this time and crafted a game that feels a lot more like a “proper” Metal Slug. There are no new weapons, but a (basically useless) Mega Man-esque slide feature has been incorporated as well as a couple of new Slugs, one of which is a handsome-looking car.
The bosses have a rather different look to them, with slightly less intricate (but very cool-looking) construction. They also seem to alternate as far as relative awesomeness goes; the first mission has a sweet-looking tank boss, but mission two is disappointingly anti-climactic.
The supernatural elements have been cranked up for this instalment, with a bizarre, disjointed narrative running alongside the action—strangely, though, the mummy/zombie modes have been removed, which makes gameplay a lot faster and more frantic. The final boss encounter is truly baffling and comes out of absolutely nowhere. Lovely animation, mind.
Unfortunately, as solid as Metal Slug 5 is, there isn’t much I can think to say about it. You’ll have fun, but you won’t see or play anything particularly new.
Metal Slug Advance (GBA)
The Game Boy Advance was mooted to be receiving ports of the first three Metal Slug games, which were eagerly anticipated by the community. Sadly, it was not to be, and Metal Slug fans were instead fobbed off with what is debatably the most idiosyncratic entry in the series. The trademark animation has been (understandably) cut down to fit on the handheld, but the art itself is perfectly fine (though 90% of it is recycled from earlier titles). All blood is removed.
Metal Slug Advance lets you play as two new characters (Walter and Tyra) and consists of five main missions, each divided into several bite-sized areas. As with the NGPC games, you have a health bar, which, when depleted, sends you back to the title screen. As a result, the game is quite hard. Health pick-ups are less prevalent than they are in First/Second Mission, and the difficulty is higher. Despite this, however, you’ll see off the five main missions fairly quickly. However, there is more to this game than meets the eye.
The meat of the game is in the new card collection system, which essentially means you will be replaying the missions over and over again, looking for more hidden cards that offer you various interesting upgrades to your arsenal. There is also a mind-numbing bonus stage called “Dungeon,” which is basically a card grind that has you fighting through endless identical rooms looking for another ace for your pack.
It’s hard to recommend this game, really. It’s just a mess, but not without its enjoyable moments. Try before you buy.
Metal Slug 6 (Arcade, PS2, PSP, Wii)
A huge leap in quality from the previous two efforts, Metal Slug 6 is almost a breath of fresh air for what was becoming a rather stale franchise. Two further characters joined the standard four: Ralf and Clark, known to SNK fans as the Ikari Warriors, stars of the game of the same title and the King of Fighters series, alongside team-mate Leona. Strangely, the characters all have different properties in this game (Fio carries more ammo, Eri can throw grenades in all directions,
Marco has a stronger pistol, etc.), which, while adding variety, also needlessly over-complicates things. It is this overcomplication that keeps Metal Slug 6 from being the pinnacle of the series—for example, the ability to carry multiple weapons is particularly unnecessary, as you lose them both when you die anyway (unlike in, say, Contra 3).
This game was the first in the series to be developed for SNK’s Atomiswave arcade system, and it shows. The “camera” now zooms in and out to frame the enormous bosses (such as a runaway train loaded with weapons and a huge serpentine monster that you can stand on), and every character now casts shadows. Sadly, the backgrounds lose a little of their charm in this format, with rather plain pastel-like art replacing the intricate pixel work of old.
Metal Slug 6, while definitely a step in the right direction, is still a disappointment.
Metal Slug 7 (DS)
First off, I’ll state the obvious: nobody expected Metal Slug 7 to be a handheld title. Until this game’s announcement, handheld systems had only played host to spin-off titles, but this is undoubtedly a “proper” Metal Slug.
Everything from Metal Slug 6 is in there, from the pointless combo system to the equally pointless dual weapon wielding. In fact, Metal Slug 7 is the most unoriginal effort since Metal Slug 4, with many areas devoid of interest. The gameplay is generally solid and certainly enjoyable, but it hardly revolutionises the series.
While we’re on the downside, the game’s graphics are, frankly, disgusting. They appear to have been drawn at full resolution and simply squished down onto the DS’ smaller screen, making the whole thing look rather indistinct. Once you’re a few missions in, you don’t really notice it, but it’s certainly a poor effort.
Thankfully, the package as a whole is rather complete, with a compulsive “Combat School” mode (as previously seen in the Neo-Geo/PS1 versions of earlier games), which entrusts you with over 100 missions, though they don’t vary much. Still, it’s a nice gesture and a good way to add replay value to a game with only seven missions.
Incidentally, there are Metal Slug titles that I haven’t covered here, such as the PS2’s 3D Metal Slug (2006) and a glut of mobile phone games. The reason for not including these is, quite simply, that I haven’t played them, and they don’t really constitute “The Basics” of the series, anyway. Some may argue that the NGPC games don’t, either, and it is those people whom I refer to the raised middle finger on my right hand. Most of the featured games appear on the Metal Slug Anthology (PS2/PSP/Wii), which is well worth the bargain price. Thank you for reading.