Neo Geo CD
Nazca Corporation / SNK
What can be said about one of the most revered video games of all time that hasn’t already been announced by almost everyone who has ever wrapped their mitts around a controller? A blockbuster title released for the most ballistic console available, Metal Slug and SNK’s Neo Geo were a match made in heaven for the player that was ready to run and gun his way through countless enemies and unforgettable experiences. With in-game artwork that made 3D games of the time look substandard, coupled with some of the most fun and addictive gameplay ever designed, Metal Slug made history as an exemplary title the day it was released. For a game revolving around a wartime scenario, the adventure is loaded with enough charm and cheeky humor to keep you smiling like a maniac as you mow through innumerable foes and come across some of its very unique details. Assume control of the game’s heroes, Marco Rossi and Tarma Roving as you attempt to stop madman General Morden and his Rebel Army from taking over the world. Back in April of 1996, one of the surest ways to describe Metal Slug would’ve been like relating it to Super Mario World, what with its classic platforming elements of trotting along, jumping from one spot to the next, all in an effort to make it to the end of the level. Now forget about Mario’s red cap, his blue overalls, and swap in some black boots, a white bandana, and two belts of ammunition coupled with a heavy machinegun and you’ve Marco ready for 24-bit war. Metal Slug is brimming with nonstop, all-out action and never lets up. The game was a smash hit and would spawn several successful sequels. Additionally, the series would go on to single handedly cause a resurgence of interest in the run and gun genre of video games – this during a time of substantial change in the industry, when mainstream focus was largely shifting away from two dimensions and into the third. Nazca Corporation would take what worked for Konami’s Contra series while utilizing the power of SNK’s still impressive hardware to develop a masterpiece that caught the attention of the hippest gamers during the mid 1990’s. It may not have been a swanky new 3D game for the PlayStation or Nintendo 64, but there was simply no denying its colossal allure. Metal Slug had arrived, and everyone wanted to get their hands on it.
Part of what makes Metal Slug so much fun lies within its brilliant simplicity. Run through stylistically cartoony levels, shoot everything in sight, and try not to get hit along the way. That’s the basis of Metal Slug’s gameplay as you shatter and decimate mounds of enemies in an attempt to stop the world from being overthrown. Found within the levels are health and ammunition replenishments, along with several different weapons to test out on rival soldiers. One of the fantastic quirks about the game is that every weapon is verbally pronounced (save for your pistol) as you pick it up. I’ll never get tired of hearing the in-game voice proclaim “Heavy machine gun!” followed by a reloading sound effect as I’m about to unleash a barrage of carnage on the level I’m destroying. Grenades can also be lobbed at enemies to deal even gnarlier damage, but make sure you don’t run out of them too quickly as they can really come in handy at some of the game’s tougher spots. That said, Metal Slug is a notoriously difficult game if you’re looking to hit a really impressive score. All it takes is a single hit for Marco to be knocked out of commission (though, if you’re riding within one of the game’s namesake Metal Slugs – a small tank capable of unloading gargantuan damage, you can withstand a few more hits until it explodes, forcing you to jump out), so having a pal join in for some co-op action can make the journey a lot smoother. Akin to another great Neo Geo platformer, Top Hunter (check out my review on that game, too!), selecting between the game’s two protagonists is seemingly forbidden, meaning player one will always have to be Marco, whereas player two will always venture out as Tarma. This lack of choice makes up my only nitpick with the game as it would be cool to tackle the game solo with Tarma once in a while.
One of the many ways that Metal Slug made a name for itself at the onset was by being a really beautiful title. From its prepossessing pixel art to its over the top details of legitimately everything, Nazca spared no expense with regards to making this one of the most impressive looking 2D games of all time. The skies, the water, the snow, heck, even panels of wood are immaculately detailed. Each and every level looks like a painstakingly perfected work of art. It’s almost as if the developers went over every iota of the game with a monocle before releasing it. Not to overstate things, but if there were a game that Bob Ross himself could have painted, it would’ve been Metal Slug.
I’m a big fan of the expressions used in this game. Everyone from Marco, to the enemy soldiers, and even the game’s bosses all look like they’re full of over the top declarations as they scream, smile and laugh their ways through the experience. Speaking of trekking through the experience, there exist numerous prisoners of war for Marco and Tarma to rescue along their way, all of whom are superbly detailed (tied up, looking scraggly and malnourished, I genuinely feel bad for these guys) and will try their best to assist the duo by offering some sort of health or ammunition supplement if you manage to save them.
The music and sounds of Metal Slug are outstanding. The soundtrack really makes me feel like I’m running through pixelated warzones as cold-blooded soldiers roar towards me in cruel looking tanks. Predictably, the quality of the game’s tunes are amplified thanks in no small part to the Neo Geo CD’s righteous ability to make almost every game sound as crisp as possible. Additionally, one of the most prodigious features of Neo Geo CD games is that they’re all red book audio compatible, meaning I can take my Metal Slug disc in the car with me and jam out on the road.
In contrast to some other releases for the platform, the Neo Geo CD port of Metal Slug does include a few rather significant extras that are missing from its cartridge counterpart. Firstly is the Art Gallery, which allows the player to cycle through over 180 slides of superb (and often hilarious) drawings relative to the game. I’m usually not one for clicking through picture after picture of artwork when games offer up galleries of their own, but looking through Metal Slug’s was a blast, and the option to pick and change your music while you’re perusing is a really nice bonus.
Another exclusivity that the Neo Geo CD version of Metal Slug supplies is the option to select what stage you would like to tackle once you’ve completed the game. This comes in handy if you’d like to run through just one of your favourite levels as opposed to having to play through the entire game just to reach it. And last, but certainly not least, is the doubly cool Combat School feature, which has you, the player, enlist in the military. Once you’ve input your name, birthday, blood type and sex, you’re able to select from two entirely new modes of play. Pin Point Attack is a game of survival meets time attack as you’re assigned to combat waves of enemies as quickly as possible. To do this, the player is gifted with a meager three lives and infinite ammunition. Survival Attack challenges the player to complete the entire game with a risible single life and unlimited ammo. I’m willing to bet that I’m not going to complete Survival Attack in my lifetime, but I will admit that the challenge is intriguing.
Overall, Metal Slug is a masterpiece. That’s really the most appropriate way of describing it. Simple, mind-numbing fun that has you running and gunning your way through some of the most beautiful levels ever designed in a 2D format. Sure, the recipe for success may have been fine tuned with the Slugs that followed it, but this first game is where the foundation was laid down and the legacy began. Not to be overdramatic, but Metal Slug has aged celestially and looks as great today as it did in 1996. I envy the younger generation of players that get to test drive this game for the first time as there really is nothing else like it. A joy to play or even sit back and watch others appreciate, Metal Slug is one of the greatest games I’ve ever played.