No Black Gold or Texas Tea required...
Remember the Neo Geo, that ultra-expensive system only affordable to Texas oil tycoons? Well, the Neo Geo's home market never took off, but it found its way into a little niche of Neo-phyte purists. Lucky punks with shelves full of three hundred dollar games...
The Metal Slug series is the Neo Geo's Contra. There are four Metal Slug games on the Neo Geo: Metal Slug 1-3 and Metal Slug X. MSX is actually a remix of the second Metal Slug. It isn't the most coherent of chronological sequences, but the game still rocks.
Between MS2 and X, details have been altered, such as changing the time of day within a level and tweaking some errant slowdown. But now you won't have to sell your kidney or firstborn to get some of that Metal Slug - its been sweetly ported to the Playstation.
A small band of soldiers are pit against an evil Nazi-esque organization. Armed with a variety of weaponry and mobile devices, including the Metal Slug tank, these brave men and women must mow their way through enemy lines, leaving in their wake untold death and destruction…err, I mean peace, freedom, and democracy. Grooovy.
If you've never played Metal Slug in the arcades, what more can I say than...Contra! It's pure run and gun action, like Gunstar Heroes or the first 3 Contras (none of those horrible newer Contras). Control-wise, there is no diagonal shoot option. Instead, you get to strafe left and right while shooting 'up.'
Metal Slug X includes 4 mobile devices: the tank, a jet, a mechanical jumping device called the Slugnoid, and a camel. I think everyone needs a camel strapped full of artillery. Beats taking the bus.
The game is fun in the old school vein - a simple one or two player game where you blow lots of stuff up. Still, the whole thing runs somewhat short and unlimited continues make it a pretty easy affair. Replay is limited to building your skills through boosting your score and lowering the number of continues you need. And that's just not much of an incentive for replayability.
After you've beaten the game, another set of missions will open up. Actually, these "missions" are more like challenges, pitting you through 20 short courses with different goals. These tests of skills involve everything from hopping over missiles to protecting a baby from the perils of Alien gunfire. These missions do sweeten the deal, but why are they only for 1 player mode?
Another feature is the Combat School, where you can go back to the main mission and test out your skills. Survival mode records how far you can get on one life. Records of your skills and rankings are recorded. And thankfully, two players can enlist and play simultaneously.
There's also an Art gallery full of character designs and development art. It runs somewhat slow and it's pretty basic, but there's good art aplenty.
The bitmapped graphics hearken back to an age before the rise of the polygons, when the West was young and a character sprite was king. There are just so many things happening on screen at once. Missiles whizzing by, explosions left and right, and a nigh endless flow of enemy soldiers - with practically no slow down. As a port, the game has its act together.
Plus, there are little touches of humor. Collect too much bonus food and your character will become bloated. Get hit by a mummy's foul breath, and you'll turn into a mummified version of yourself, complete with a mummy swagger and speed.
The music is catchy and fun and the sound effects are right on. Enemy soldiers let out cries of pain. Muahahahahaha.
Personally, the fun in the original Contra came from grabbing a buddy and 'Up-Up-Downing' your way to the end. Metal Slug X has that same aura of twitch action fun. It's just refreshing to play to a game like this again, but how much you get out of it depends on how much you like this genre.
SNK, the company behind the Neo Geo, has declared bankruptcy, so there won't be many more Metal Slugs. And there are fewer and fewer good Playstation games, let alone a quality port. You could do much worse these days. Besides, it's a much more sensible purchase than spending upwards of $600 for the cartridge version and a Neo Geo system. So, until I strike oil, I'm happy with Metal Slug X. And bring on the Metal Slug 3 port!