Neo Geo CD
Pinned down behind enemy lines, with ammunition running short in his heavy machine gun, Lt. Tarma Roving chanced a quick glance over his shoulder, back at the lionhearted Capt. Marco Rossi as he relentlessly unleashed wave after wave of devastation from his newly acquired laser rifle. With more of General Morden’s men closing in on the duo, and Marco now seemingly fresh out of firepower, the situation was beginning to look exceedingly forbidding. Just as Tarma was about to leap over a doom-inducing gap in a desperate quest for ammo replenishment, two grenades lobbed over one of the enemy’s newly established strongholds, consequently blowing a handful of Morden’s minions to smithereens. As the dust settled from the concussive blasts, the silhouettes of two women appeared before both Marco and Tarma. Sgt. Eri Kasamoto, along with Sgt. 1st Class Fio Germi, had arrived to save the two men’s hides for what felt like the fifth time today. Knowing it was a good idea to bring those two along in the first place, Tarma gave Marco a quick nod before the quartet headed back into the heat of the battle… back into the fire and flames of a madman’s war. Two years had passed since the last crisis that these valorous heroes were forced to face, but with rumours abound that Morden may have secured an alliance with aliens of all things, Metal Slug 2 might turn out to be an even tougher mission than their first.
Released for the Neo Geo CD in the summer of 1998, Metal Slug 2 was a sequel that had some pretty substantial boots to fill. With its predecessor ultimately going on to be heralded as one of the greatest video games ever made, it would be an understatement to say that Marco’s next adventure would have to bring something pretty sizeable to the console. Fortunately, Metal Slug 2 came packing, and then some. Loaded to the edges of the disc with more of the same incredibly addictive gameplay, while offering a plethora of fresh content such as new characters, weapons, stages, enemies and even sprite transformations, SNK went above and beyond to cram everything they possibly could into a sequel that was already shaping up to be another title synonymous with fun. From the onset of the game booting up, it becomes obvious that Metal Slug 2 is bigger and badder, improving on (almost) every aspect of the original. For starters, the player is given a choice of character (something sorely lacking from the original) but the option isn’t simply between Marco and Tarma, as two new characters have been introduced to the series by way of female soldiers, Eri and Fio, both of whom offer a welcome change of pace to the all male landscape of the first game. In addition, there’s an awesome new weapon available for dishing out pain and destruction upon Morden’s troops, appropriately named the Laser Gun – my armament of choice in Metal Slug games to this day, is capable of eviscerating enemies on contact and can take down larger adversaries in mere seconds. Into the bargain is a new secondary weapon to go along with the trusty grenade. The “Fire Bomb” (a Molotov cocktail) is a massive upgrade to the standard grenade as it covers much more ground and burns up enemies (including those protected by shielding) on contact. Lastly, there are a total of three new Slugs introduced in Metal Slug 2, those being: the SV-Camel (a standard camel with a turret mounted onto its back), the Slugnoid (an exo frame capable of jumping to prodigious heights along with packing two Vulcan Cannons), and the Slug Flyer (an airborne Slug equipped with a cannon and missiles).
By far, two of the most memorable additions made to Metal Slug 2 are the transformations that the characters are capable of going through. The Mummification transformation is a really awesome one, for as soon as your character of choice becomes tainted by the ominous purple mist (gas?), they’re immediately transmuted into one of the living dead – tightly wrapped in mounds of a bandage, toilet paper-like substance that restricts walking and jumping speed along with limiting the player to use of a standard pistol. The only way to break the mummy’s curse is to find an antidote somewhere within a stage – that, or just die on purpose and respawn in your human form (if you’re not too concerned about high scores). The second transformation (and my personal favourite) is the Fat transformation. Some of the obtainable bonus items that lead to higher scores in the game happen to be of the edible variety. Should your character pick up an overabundance of food along his or her journey, they will inevitably become, well… fat. This is an absolutely hilarious transformation that has me laughing every single time it happens. Your character goes from running through levels to barely walking, seemingly sucking in air whenever you allow them to stop moving. Moreover, your character’s melee weapon amusingly changes from a knife to a fork, and all of their projectile armaments take on larger characteristics, as even the bullets mowing out of a heavy machine gun appear huskier. In order to return a character to their former mass, one would have to (quite realistically) have them continuously run for a time (while avoiding food items) or obtain a can of diet-powder (painfully unrealistic).
As was the case in the first game, each and every stage in Metal Slug 2 is meticulously detailed, with each sprite, backdrop, and weather effect practically bursting out of the screen in masterful 24-bit glory. The game’s introductory stage, Drifting in Desert, would go on to become one of the series’ most iconic levels and manages to capture the look and feel of real-time Saudi Arabia in a way that the technology of today couldn’t even come close to authenticating. There’s just something about the charm and ingenuity that went into developing a game back in the 90’s that is scarcely felt in today’s titles. Everything from the sand to the palm trees look to be delicately crafted and the music that accompanies the aesthetic is brilliant. Judgment is still one of my favourite songs spinning out of a video game, full stop. As an added bonus, the banners waving around during the stage’s boss fight (when translated from Arabic) read: “I have diarrhea”, “I need medicine”, and “bring me a doctor”. Like I said, it’s the added charm that makes a game special.
As I briefly touched on, the music in Metal Slug 2 is all awesome – perfectly catered to each level’s unique settings. Another one of my favourite stages in the game, Return to Hong-Kong is further brought to life by the music it’s teamed up with. Seriously, you can’t get much closer to HK without actually going there than you can with Metal Slug 2. Back to the China is a righteous offering of sound that, much like Judgment from the Drifting in Desert level, will get stuck in your head until you inadvertently find yourself returning to the game for another play through.
Included in Metal Slug 2 are all of the bonus options offered in its predecessor (check out my review on the first game!) including a level select screen (once you’ve completed the first level), a brand new Art Gallery, and the return of Combat School (seriously, check out my review for the first game – all of this is covered!), which in and of themselves are great reasons to grab a copy of the game for your Neo Geo CD console as they’re not a part of the game’s cartridge counterpart.
Lastly, let’s talk about the elephant in the room when it comes to Metal Slug 2’s major (depending on who you ask) downfall. The game is plagued with significant slowdown issues. In that I mean your character (and everything else) will seemingly enter near zero gravity at some points as she ever so slowly starts to glide through the air following a jump, firing her pistol at a rather leisurely pace for someone that’s being attacked by dozens of enemy soldiers. I think part of the problem here was that SNK simply tried to cram as much as they could into the game, assuring that it would go on to be the dynamite sequel that it still (in my opinion) rightfully turned out to be. That said, a ton of action happening all at once on the same screen can sometimes equate to things running a little less than smoothly, as was still seen years later in future releases such as 2001’s Phantasy Star Online Ver. 2. The problem was nothing new and, for a lot of games, wasn’t going anywhere. To some, the slowdown complications of the game are a deal breaker – they just can’t stand them. I, on the other hand, actually find them quite useful at certain tight spots. Keep in mind that Metal Slug games run at a blistering pace, offering nonstop action and merciless difficulty, so the unintentional slow motion is more than welcomed by someone like me who wouldn’t mind actually beating the game for a change. While running on the Neo Geo CD, Metal Slug 2 also has to pause mid-level a few times in order to finish loading all of the stage’s content, but those periods only last a few seconds and they’re generally few and far between.
Overall, Metal Slug 2 really is a must have for your Neo Geo CD system – unquestionably one of the preeminent titles for the machine. It may not operate as smoothly as the first game, but it’s still the equivalent of Super Mario Bros. 2 for the console. With killer graphics, music, gameplay, and even more Metal Slug charm than the first, secure yourself a copy of this fantastic sequel to beef up your catalog with a title that may not be as loved as it’s older brother, but still has a ton of worthwhile fun to offer.