The Metal Slug series has been a staple franchise for developer SNK and the Neo Geo platform, probably the closest piece of hardware available to bring arcade-like gaming to your homes. Unfortunately due to the high price point of the console, accessories and games themselves it was more of a dream then a reality for most gamers. With the games costing in excess of 200-500 dollars per cartridge it was no wonder the Neo Geo was a commercial failure. It’s games however, have been remembered fondly by arcade gamers and those lucky enough to own the elite arcade console. I was lucky enough as a kid to be able to rent the system for a small fee for a week and several games for a local gaming retailer that specialized in game rentals. I have had hands-on time with the Neo Geo itself and it’s larger-than-life carts, boasting 512 Megabits of raw, surging power and then some on individual game cartridges. Playing the system and it’s joypad were always a rare treat, like savoring a fine bottle of wine for a special occasion. Make no mistake, the Neo Geo and it’s counterparts- Neo Geo CD Add-On etc., were built for bring the arcade experience to your home. Neo Geo games were notorious for being mainly brawlers, fighting games, side-scrolling shooters etc. It was an arcade gamers dream, manifested in the living room.
One such stand-out title that has stood the test of time has been the retro, Contra-like 2D shooter Metal Slug series, with numerous spin off’s and ports to almost every conceivable console and handheld available today. The PSOne, PSP, Nintendo DS and PC all had their own variations of the arcade classic. For nostalgia’s sake and to experience a game where I could essentially turn my brain off and just enjoy some good ol-fashioned shoot-em-up gameplay, I turned to the PSOne title that I knew wouldn’t let me down. And it didn’t. Playing through this classic has renewed my appreciation for days of yore, when picking up weaopn power ups and upgrades were as simple as walking over them, without the need to switch to a menu and gain XP to justify a new advancement in weaponry. Yes, these elements add depth to the game but Metal Slug X has it’s own, if albeit, contrived way of adding stock to it’s replayability (which certainly isn’t a knock against the game, as it has no qualms about what type of game it is and operates within that threshold flawlessly).
Metal Slug X is actually an arcade port of Metal Slug 2 released in 1998 for the Neo Geo MVS arcade cabinets, rebranded Metal Slug X with added features to boost the longevity of the game and ported to home consoles, such as the NeoGeo CD, PlayStation etc etc. Metal Slug X takes everything that made the original great and adds more guns, more playable vehicles, more super-bosses and an even more crazy, off-the-wall funny ass story (to what little there actually is) into a single package. The story mode will see you through about 6 missions, where you must fight through waves of enemy soldiers, tanks, helicopters and other baddies uniting from various factions under General Morden, who was the protagonist in the first game. To make matters worse, Morden has allied himself with the space aliens known as the “Slugnoids” (if I’m wrong about the naming convention please feel free to correct me). Gameplay consists of a simple run-and-gun tactics, with each mission ending in a badass boss fight. Typically as the game progresses, the boss fights become more difficult, as they should. To help you along the way, you can free POW’s captured by Morden’s army who then gift you with various powerups, such as better weapons, food and other items to raise your score. Also, you can commandeer enemy vehicles giving you increased offensive and defensive capabilities. Don’t linger too long however, as if your outfitted vehicle is close to destruction you must abandon ship or risk going down and losing a life. The weapon’s vary from heavy machine guns, to enemy-seeking rocket launcher, a flamethrower and my favorite the shotgun, which does insurmountable damage especially on rows of approaching baddies! Your character can also overeat their way into a “fat mode” which while give you superior firepower, ultimately slows you down. If close enough to your enemy you can also perform melee attacks, but then leave yourself open to nearby baddies who can retaliate in kind on you. With four different characters to choose from (although their differences are merely superficial as they all play out the same, but the choice is welcome) and 6 varied missions, the game is not built for long playthru’s but rather a quick and fun way to kill an afternoon with a friend. Co-op in Metal Slug X is a blast, and harkens back to the days of 2D side scrolling shooters when you and a buddy could play through the entire campaign in one 3-4 hour sitting (depending on how good you are.
Besides the main story mode, Metal Slug X also features two additional modes. One mode allows you to play on new levels and gives you trials, with and without time limits, to see how far you can advance. You can pick between about 12-14 different maps and are offered with such trials as climbing a mountain in a certain map with waves of enemies coming at you and no extra lives to fall back to see if you can reach the top unscathed all the way to escorting a baby from Point A to Point B whilst protecting it from oncoming Slugnoid Aliens. There are many variables per trial per level. Then there’s the Combat School mode, which allows you to enroll and test your limits. You can choose between either “Survival” or “Pin Point” modes. After you enroll in the school, name your soldier and create a save file, you can openly choose between the two modes. Survival has you trying to complete arbitrary levels from the single player campaign with no respawns, although you do have unlimited ammo for all weapons and vehicles. Pinpoint mode tracks how far you can get on each map, the farther you go the more points you get. Like the former mode, Pinpoint imposes handicaps and variables to make it more challenging. For instance, you only get 3 respawns and game over. One direct shot to a vehicle incapacitates it. Essentially, Pinpoint mode is used to gauge how fast you can clear different stages. The faster you clear them, the more points you get. The more points, the better rank you achieve at the end of the mission. I didn’t keep count, but there were approximately 20 different ranks to achieve for both modes.
These additions to the original Metal Slug 2 are only found in the Metal Slug X port, so it’s a worthy addition to your PSOne, PSP or PC collection if you can find it. Still, with all the additions the true time-tested enjoyment comes from the story mode, it’s various difficulties and blasting aliens, soldiers and mummies away with a friend. Yes, there are mummies in this game and if you’re not careful, their rank mummy breath will transform you to a mummy-like state as well making you much slower and thus, an easier target for all the other mummies and baddies.
Metal Slug X is a great arcade port from the original Metal Slug 2, and a damn good sequel to the original. SNK has a knack for crafting unique, colorful, humorous and most importantly FUN shooters and brawlers. In that respect, Metal Slug X is the sequel and updated vision Slug fans have been tantalizing over since the Neo Geo became a far off dream thanks to not being affordable to the common gamer. It doesn’t deviate from the standard run-and-gun formula, but it shouldn’t have to. This is Metal Slug, after all. People who have grown up with the PS2, GameCube, XBOX 360 and PS3’s advanced, twitch-based first person shooters and open-world sandbox games with big set pieces may find Metal Slug’s gameplay dull and lacking, but for those of us who relish in the retro renaissance currently underway thanks to small and independent-based developers will love every moment of the MSX.
FINAL SCORE: 4 / 5
Want more Slug action? Check out the YouTube video I posted above of me fighting one of MSX’s big, bad bosses and also showcasing off the other game modes, with minimal droll commentary by me of course!