Monday, October 15, 2007

Metal Slug Anthology review

The original Metal Slug was released in 1996 for both the arcade and home version of the Neo Geo hardware, and was developed by the small company Nazca. SNK liked what they saw, and so they bought both the company and the Metal Slug brand name. The franchise is still going strong (with Metal Slug 7 slated for a DS release), despite several less than stellar games including Metal Slug 4 (more on this later) and the poor attempt to move the series into 3D on the PS2. Metal Slug Anthology came out last year for the PSP, Wii and PS2, and is a collection of Metal Slug 1-6 as well as the remix of 2 known as Metal Slug X. We're taking a look at the PSP version today, because it's perfectly suited to the portable format. It seems that we're also trying to win a record for the most times we can put the words "Metal Slug" into a review at the same time...

Format: PSP
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Developer: SNK PlayMore/Nazca
Genre: Run & Gun Shooter
Region: Europe (runs on any PSP)
Price: £29.99 RRP, can be found for £10-£15

Graphics: 9 out of 10
The cartoon style visuals and extremely fluid animations that are packed with incidental details are one of the hallmarks of the Metal Slug series. Most of the games, with the exception of 4, have imaginatively designed levels that each have their own twist - be it a unique vehicle, weapon, enemy or other special event. This is one of the things that keeps you playing on, so that you can see exactly what weird and wonderful stuff the developers can come up with next. Highlights include a camel with machine guns attached, mummies and zombies that you can be turned into (the zombie has a fantastic blood-spewing special attack) and becoming fat if you pick up too many food bonuses. The boss battles are also fantastic and frequently fill the entire screen, as do the many bullets and missiles they spew at you. There is a bit of an issue with slowdown in Metal Slug 2, but this seems to be a problem with the game code rather than the PSP, as it's fixed from Metal Slug X onwards. It just goes to show how powerful the Neo Geo was, and how ahead of it's time the series was also, because they compare remarkably well against the 2D games of today.

Sound and Music: 7 out of 10
The music of the earlier games is definitely in the 16-bit style - a bit tinny and synthetic, but well composed. By the time you get to 6, the music has been completely remastered and the familiar tunes from the early games have been given a new lease of life. There's a fair bit of speech in the games, mostly announcing which weapon you've picked up as well as the "Thank you!" when you free a POW, and again in the earlier games it's a bit fuzzy but by the later entries it's nice and clear. The sounds you will be hearing most frequently however, are the sounds of bullets and explosions. The Metal Slug games are completely manic, never sitting still for a second and the sound reflects this.

Here you can see the Metal Slug tank itself battling against a giant armoured crab with cannons attached from the third game in the series.

Game Mechanics: 8 out of 10
If you are familiar with run and gun shooters such as the Contra series, Alien Hominid or perhaps Treasure's Gunstar Heroes, you should know where the Metal Slug series is coming from. Basically, you (and a friend if you know someone with a PSP and their own copy of the game) take control of a soldier up against insurmountable odds - be it against an evil Nazi style army, the undead, aliens from outer space, tribesmen or even nastier aliens from outer space. There are many different weapon to pick up and you can fire in any direction, which is handy as your enemies can appear from any direction as well. These weapons include the Heavy Machine Gun, Rocket Launcher, Laser Gun, Flamethrower and many more, and they all cause their own unique death animation when used on your enemies. There are also a wide variety of vehicles to pilot, from the super deformed Metal Slug tank of the title, to the camel, to helicopters and planes. These vehicles having their own energy bar which can be refilled by collecting fuel canisters. If they take too much damage they will explode, so it's best to jump out before that happens.

Scattered throughout all the levels are many POW's who need rescuing, and doing so will cause them to drop either a weapon or an bonus item for you to collect. Upon completing a level you are given bonus points depending on how many POW's you managed to rescue, but each time you die the number is reset - and you will die often, believe me. Each of the games in the collection have 5-6 levels and they are all fairly short (it takes just over an hour to complete each one). Chances are you will replay them however as apart from the first game in the series, there are 4-6 characters to choose from each with their own abilities and weapons.

Here is the tooled-up death camel facing off against another of the bosses - Jeff Minter would be proud!

Innovation and Cleverness: 8 out of 10
Although the run and gun niche genre was already well established by the time Metal Slug came along, it took things to a whole new level with all the hidden features that were packed into each game. What's more, each game (again with the exception of 4) features very well designed levels with fiendish boss battles that will test your reactions to the max. Why am I giving 4 such a hard time? Lack of imagination basically. It was the first game not to be developed by the original team and instead of featuring all the wacky enemy types we'd become accustomed to and giant bosses, it just kept on reusing the same old Nazi-esque baddies from the first game and nearly every level featured a battle with the same helicopter. The games either side - 3 and 5, are probably the best in the series, with 5 being my personal favourite because instead of the alien invasion that features in the other games, it instead focuses on some tribesmen who discover a possessed hockey mask and then go on a kill rampage. It's then up to you to stop their evil plans, of course!

Value and Replayability: 9 out of 10
Metal Slug Anthology can be picked up for about £15 brand new from most places these days, which considering you're getting 7 games is very good value for money. There's also a Gallery option in the game which includes Wallpapers, Music and an Interview for you to unlock, which requires tokens that you obtain from beating the games, so it'll take a while to unlock everything.

Overall: 8 out of 10
Metal Slug Anthology is an excellent package, featuring (almost) perfect emulation. The 7 games may be quite brief, but the level of detail and the multiple characters ensure that you won't have seen everything in one play through. The brevity of the games also suits the PSP format perfectly, as you can pick up the game whenever you have a few minutes of downtime and play a level or two. The games are very tough but you don't have to worry about not being able to finish them as you are allowed infinite continues (purists can also turn this off). All in all, this is an excellent collection which further establishes the PSP as the console to own for retro fans.

This boss battle is quite a memorable one as you're chased up a tower by a giant metal snake.

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