Game Review: Metal Slug Anthology for the Wii and PSP

For $20, you can now own what would previously run you about a cool grand. Thank goodness for technology endlessly marching onwards. Metal Slug is regarded as a side-scrolling shooter of classic pedigree, filled to luxurious excess with hand-drawn details and animations of an unmatched level. Matched with an innocently twisted sense of humor, the whole painterly project hearkens closer to the works of Studio Gibli than it does Contra. Metal Slug Anthology on the Wii and PSP collects Metal Slugs 1, 2, X (a justifiably improved version of 2), 3, 4, 5, and 6. Short of the portable versions seen on the Neo Geo Pocket and Game Boy Advance, this is every last possible scrap of Metal Slug available for you to get your mitts on. Emulation in this package runs great, with no noticeable slowdown, clean sprites and animation, and small load times of a second or two between levels. Art galleries and music players are unlocked with tokens earned from playing through games. As a collection, this package performs wonderfully, save some odd controller configurations, eager to implement Wii-waggle in the oddest ways. However, some of the individual games themselves fail to sustain this constant level of quality.

The first foray into the Metal Slug series still plays perfectly well, introducing so many of the series staples in fun and fresh ways. Of course, the game is still designed to play as an arcade machine, demanding a steady flow of quarters with the enemy’s unholy accuracy with thrown grenades. Metal Slug 2 brings enough new content to ensure it a worthwhile entry, despite recycling some assets from the original. Metal Slug X is the perfect example for "remixed" versions of games; the leisurely pace is ramped up for constant action, bosses and levels are made even bigger and crazier, and new weapons and vehicles make the game its own despite being a rehash. Metal Slug 3 is arguably the pinnacle of the series, with artwork so crammed with loving detail that it becomes difficult to keep track of what’s happening on screen. The craziest vehicles, the meanest bosses, and a projectile blood-vomit attack — Metal Slug 3 has it all.

Unfortunately, SNK closed shop afterwards and floated around in limbo while owned by competitors and pachinko manufacturers. And then it was announced one day: the resurrection of SNK under the new flag of Playmore, with a new Metal Slug to show that this was still the same great SNK that the fans had been clamoring for. However, Metal Slug 4 was not the return to greatness that they had been expecting. Sure, at its core it still played like a Metal Slug, but the excitement and soul of the previous entries was missing, leaving Metal Slug 4 to feel like an obligation the "new" company lazily pushed out. Gameplay is made unfairly difficult with many falling deaths due to scrolling screens, and new material is very scant, going as far as to basically recreate the zombie level from Metal Slug 3.

Thankfully, Metal Slug 5 bucks the doldrums and returns to the big and crazy fashion fans adore. New sprites adorn the game throughout and innovation strikes in the form of slide maneuver. I was surprised to see a post-SNK entry approach Metal Slug 3‘s level of greatness, with giant robot punch-outs and a celestial demon final boss. Finally, Metal Slug 6 made its debut, bringing a score multiplier meter and the ability to carry a secondary weapon. Despite these gameplay refinements, the game is a bit lackluster. The first couple of stages are disgustingly easy, but later stages ramp up the difficulty to an impossible level, with frustratingly cheap bosses that refuse to die. Once the new avocado-headed alien foes are introduced, you’ll be shooting them and only them for the remainder of the game, which can be tiresome after hearing their musical death-squeak for the thousandth time.

Does a decade-old series of five (well, four and a half great games and two mediocre games, with admittedly little difference between them) have a place in today’s bump-mapped 70+ hour deathmatch world? Oh my, yes. Some revered games of yesteryear end up a boring and awkward mess upon revisiting, but Metal Slugs are always enjoyable and polished. Maintain your roots. Shoot stuff on a 2D plane.


Box art