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Hall of Fame Review: “Metal Slug” (1996)

by on September 8, 2014

By Michael Mygind

Publisher: SNK

Platforms: Neo Geo Multi Video System (MVS Arcade), Neo Geo Advanced Entertainment System (AES Home Console), Neo Geo CD, Neo Geo X, Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation (Japan only), Sony PlayStation 2/PSP/Nintendo Wii (Included in the SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 and Metal Slug Anthology compilations on all three consoles), Nintendo Wii Virtual Console, PlayStation Network, iOS

Release Date: April 19, 1996

Mode: Single Player, Two Player, Co-Op

Genre: Run ‘N Gun

On three different occasions in the past year, I brought up the words “Metal Slug” while talking games with fellow gamers and collectors, only to get nothing but vacant expressions. My beaming smile immediately changed each time to a gasp of confusion. Metal Slug has been one of my favorite franchises since I first popped in a quarter at the pizza place down the street on a Friday night in 1997. It set a standard for fast-paced arcade games that pushed the envelope in brilliant level design, art direction and overall fun factor. It has since become a very accessible game with 6 sequels, 2 remakes, inclusions on 2 different compilations, and 6 spin-offs on many different consoles in both physical and downloadable releases. I feel it is my duty to spread the good word and convert those who are part of this demographic of gamers who have not yet played any of the games in this series by discussing the one that started it all.

With that said….”MISSION START!” Upon your first play, you will notice that Metal Slug does not make you sit through a cinematic or force you to read through screens of text in order to give you the story. It throws you right into the jungle with no explanation other than the assumption that you’re one of the good guys that’s taking on an evil army. You play as either Marco or Tarma, two mercenaries and the game’s protagonists.

Each level consists of running, gunning and slashing your way from start to finish while freeing POW’s that look like they came straight out of Rambo II. Once you free a tied up POW, you can catch them to collect a weapon power up which they give to you via a pair of boxers that they pulled out accompanied by a smile. This is one of the things that makes this game and the series as a whole stand out: the humor. Unlike most action games in the same vein such as Turrican or Contra, it doesn’t take itself seriously. Other notable comedic moments include an enemy boat with sun-tanning soldiers and crashing in on a couple of soldiers roasting marshmallows over a campfire.

While the majority of the game is played on foot, vehicles are also a big part of the action. These include a small jet and the Metal Slug, a tank which the game was named after. In the final level, you take over the turret of a gunboat to shoot down enemy planes. What hooked me from the start was the graphics. They look almost like they were hand drawn and pulled from a comic book. Couple in multiple planes of view and you’ve got one of the most visually stunning 2D action games of the 90’s arcade era. Another key tenet of this game is the inclusion of gigantic level bosses, which would only get bigger in future sequels. The game’s visual inspiration seems to have stemmed from multiple sources including 80’s action movies such as Rambo II, Commando and possibly Nazi soldiers as portrayed in the Indiana Jones movies.

The game’s music is often tense and epic, but occasionally jazzy. It pushes each level forward until it reaches the boss battle, in which the music escalates in intensity and steals the show by adding weight to the battle as well as urgency to complete the level. This music truly matches the desperation of taking on a boss with only one life left and a few grenades to spare.

Put all these elements together, and Metal Slug is the perfect pick up and play action game that is even better with a buddy. One of my close friends and fellow collectors came over to my house a while back to hang out in my game room. We plugged in my Neo Geo MVS cabinet & began playing Metal Slug. I started chatting while we played and after a few missing responses from him, he replied, “Mike. I’m sorry that I’m not talking. I’m having way too much fun!” This was his first time playing any Metal Slug game, and needless to say it made him yet another fan of the franchise. “MISSION COMPLETE!”

Bonus Trivia!: In recent years, I discovered that Metal Slug actually had two predecessors that laid the groundwork for its design: In the Hunt (1993) and Gun Force II (1994), which both featured the same art style and fast gameplay that is associated with Metal Slug. Both of these games were released by Irem for the arcades before the team behind both games, NAZCA, jumped ship upon Irem’s closing to join on with SNK and release Metal Slug. In the Hunt, the earliest of the two games, was a side scrolling submarine shoot ‘em up that featured gigantic exploding set pieces and even bigger bosses. These would become staples of the Metal Slug series. The first Metal Slug game borrowed sprites and sound effects from Gun Force II as well as the overall gameplay design and run ‘n gun mechanics, making it a spiritual successor. While Gun Force II only saw a release in the arcades, In the Hunt was ported to the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation in 1995. For fans of Metal Slug and games in the run ‘n gun and shoot ‘em up genres, I highly suggest that you seek this one out for a little bit of history on a game/series that I feel every gamer should play at least once in their life.

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