Sometimes it feels like there should be asterisks next to the little scores above. At the bottom of the review would be an explanation that because the game in question has a cult following, there should really be two sets of scores; one for the rabid fans, and one for the rest of us. Metal Slug 4 & 5 is such a game, and will be received very differently depending on which group the player falls into.
Taking that into consideration, this paragraph is for the hardcore Metal Slug devotees. What you need to know, quickly: both games are included in their full, nearly arcade-perfect glory: Yes, Metal Slug 4 is really a throwaway but it?s a nice addition considering the price tag: There are infinite continues, and whether this ruins the game or not is up to you: No, there is no online play, and in fact the only extended play is through a level select after the game is finished, and a record of all the prisoners and bonus items collected. You probably don?t need to read any more of this review, go buy the game just as you would no matter what a review said.
Now that all three of those readers are out of the way, maybe it?s time for some information for the rest of us.
Metal Slug is a wildly popular (well, for its genre anyway) side scrolling shooter, a throwback to the glory days of simple quarter-eating arcade machines that were absurdly difficult. If you liked the classic Contra, you?ll probably like Metal Slug. Specifically, if you liked Contra and could finish it without using the famous Konami code — with remaining lives in the double digits — you may like playing Metal Slug on something other than the easiest difficulty. Metal Slug 4 & 5 include, as the name suggests, arcade ports of both games, a bonus for the fanatic and the casual player alike. Scoring this game is thus difficult, and a balance has been struck between suitability for those unfamiliar with the series and the understanding that the goal of this title is to accurately represent the arcade games.
If that sounds a bit confusing, you’ll quickly understand once you see the visual presentation. It looks like something that could have been done on the Super Nintendo, and that’s not some kind of exaggerated hyperbole. Even though it’s a sprite based, fully 2D game it looks exactly as it did in the arcade, meaning it’s about as nice as a 2D shooter gets. Animations are fluid, there’s an epilepsy-inducing amount of action on the screen at almost all times, and nothing ever slows down. In short: yeah, it’s supposed to look that way.
The audio has to be judged similarly. It is, in fact, very good, but frantic running and shooting doesn’t give the sound department much to do. Again, it’s representative of the arcade versions, and is in that sense a success. More variety of the ‘enemies dying’ effect (since there are so many of them and they do that an awful lot) would have been nice, and when picking up the rocket launcher upgrade the announcer sounds like he’s saying “rocket lawn chair”, but those are the only real complaints. The under appreciated star here will be the guitar-heavy soundtrack that subconsciously keeps the adrenaline going through the frenzied action.
Normally there’s not much to say about this type of game beyond the fact that you run to the right of the screen and blow up everything you see. As this collection shows, however, Metal Slug has more than earned the title of best 2D shooter series ever. There’s an amazing amount of variety, from enemies that turn you into a blood-gushing zombie, to dozens of different vehicles to ride in, and on to weapon upgrades that include explosive robotic mice. These are genuinely fun shooters with some surprises beyond just sprinting to the end of a level and blowing up a boss that takes up three quarters of the screen.
These are also traditional shooters in one important way: they’re incredibly difficult. One touch from an enemy bullet or oversized rocket and you’re dead (unless you’re in a vehicle), coming back to life with only a few grenades and a handgun. Some of the later stages are downright frustrating, even with two players on the easiest difficulty level. The casual player is rescued by the addition of infinite continues; just press start and you’re back on your way. This is unfortunately the bane of many a hardcore fan, so it can be considered a huge tradeoff made by SNK who may alienate some of their fan base in an attempt to make the game playable for the other 99% of the gaming population.
Infinite continues also make the game extremely short. If it were a parking space, you wouldn’t be able to back in a Mini Cooper. Play them straight through and both games can be easily completed in an hour and a half. It may take fifty continues, but it’ll be quick. The real value is in the ability to replay individual stages, and collecting bonus items and rescuing dirty hippies. Sure, the game says they’re prisoners of war, but they look more like refugees from a weeklong Phish concert. What Metal Slug games are perfect for is two-player, low-brain-activity blasting sessions, where you don’t really care what happens as long as things keep exploding (kind of like Contra with the Konami code). But that’s all there really is, and that’s what keeps this title from scoring somewhere in the nines. Some kind of online mode or additional customization would keep it fresher longer.
At $40 for two excellent arcade conversions, think of it as paying $20 for each game. Metal Slug 5 is the obviously superior version, and in all honesty it would have been better were it just $20 for that alone, but this is still a good deal. If you’re a hopelessly nostalgic gamer who wishes for simpler days, when you spent more time playing a game than watching cut scenes of the story, and when they weren’t afraid of making games challenging because hey, once they got your quarter there was no giving it back, Metal Slug 4 & 5 is a healthy dose of classic goodness. If Halo and Half-Life are your idea of shooters, you may want to pass this up. And if you don’t know what Contra is, you need to play this before you embarrass yourself.