Review by K. Mroczko

Reviewed: 03/04/02 | Updated: 03/04/02

A destined classic...

Not many games in the Neo Geo's history have made as much as an impact as this one. Metal Slug returned the excitement and thumb-blistering action of classic games such as Contra, and refined it into an art form. SNK's decade-old game machine, designed to reign in the days of the Genesis and NES, was scoured for it's absolute abilities, resulting in a title with more character than practically anything you can find on the current super-consoles. What makes Metal Slug stand out even further is that its amazing animation and 2D art are not the lone foundations of the game. The gameplay is what has produced the hardcore cult following, and what has fueled the demand for three sequels (each amazingly more fantastic than the last).

The premise is simple; you're one of two elite commandos with the characteristic of being just bit bumbly. The mission is to raid the enemy territory of a dictator(dead-ringer for Saddam Hussein)'s rebel army (change the green uniforms to gray and you have yourself modified Nazis), rescue POWs, and bring down the regime. Your standard issue is a basic assault rifle and a small stash of hand grenades, though nary a few steps into your adventure will grant you access to even greater firearms. Flame-throwers, machine-guns, shotguns, and rocket launchers round out the handheld goods. On the other hand, you'll occasionally have the opportunity to hop into an advanced battle-tank, capable of jumping and lurching (hence the nick-name of ''Metal Slug'') out of the way of enemy fire, as if it were a living entity. The tank packs a massive turret, as well as a unique multi-directional machine-gun that sends the enemy retreating in fear.

Gameplay is classic old-school shoot-em-up. There is a high probability, if you've been weaned on 3D for the past couple of years, that you haven't played something of this caliber for a long time. Returning to the familiarity of an almost-forgotten genre is very satisfying. Play control is tight and dead-on; weapons fire with precision and rapidity, your character moves with a snap, and jumping and crawling are intuitive; you don't have to think in advance, you just do it, and are even offered mid-air direction control. What this allows for is an undeterred gameplay environment. There isn't a nagging fault in design that keeps you from enjoying the game and doing what you know you should be able to. Finally, the linearity of the 2D game environments keeps the action focused and intense, the way every great shooter should be.

Graphically speaking this is an absolutely beautiful game, no doubt about it. Everything is hand-drawn in a unique style; a sort of mix between Saturday morning cartoons and Japanese anime, allowing for a great deal of creative flexibility. The artists definitely had a sense of humor, and this shines through in every facet of the game. Despite the fact that you're tearing through a war-torn environment, cutting through enemies, spraying blood, and erupting explosion after explosion, you'll likely get a few chuckles here and there from some of the added comedy. With a generous helping of animation, various asides and idle consequences reveal a lot going on. Destroy a boat, and you'll see the enemy soldiers desperately trying to pump the water from the hopeless ship. Outgun some of rebels and they'll drop their weapons and run away, screaming in fear. It's this sort of acute attention that defines the game. The backgrounds and sprites are literally awesome. Everything is drawn in exquisite vibrancy; colors leap off the screen and finely drawn worlds burst with multi-dimensional detail that exhibit both realistic and fictional qualities. Reaching the end of a level reveals the boss characters, which are truly incredible; massive obstacles that are as mesmerizing as they are challenging to defeat. The adventure is filled with extra details that were not necessary for greatness, but their presence shows the developer's dedication to a quality product. It is all very attractive and extremely pleasing to the eyes.

In terms of audio, Metal Slug does the job. The music is a fitting orchestral mix, and the sound effects, while a bit low on the sampling rate, are accurate and plentiful. It won't take long before you're deep in a river of screams, grunts, and explosions.

Now for the specifics of the differences between the Neo Geo and Playstation versions. It's no secret that the Neo Geo game was a massive cartridge (somewhere in the vicinity of 30MB); that should give you an idea of the compromises that needed to be made for its brilliance to fit within the boundaries of the Playstation's limited RAM. Much of the extra animation that made the original version so buttery-smooth has been cut, plain and simple. Some visible notables are the waterfalls, death animations, and basic character movements. However, if you are learned in the architecture of the Playstation, you may be surprised at just how much has actually been retained. Almost all of the extra bits, such as fleeing pedestrians, destructible objects, footprints, sifting of snow, and swaying signs are there, complete. Slowdown is practically non-existent, and the actual detail is arcade-perfect. Basically, the only compromise was the overall smoothness of the animation, which luckily does not affect gameplay in the least. On the positive side, there are a few extras in this port, such as an art gallery, time attack mode, and bonus scenarios. My only major gripe is that the game pauses to load 2-3 times during mid-level, which is distracting and does tend to break up the flow of the game. Regardless, the Playstation version is a worthy representation of the original product. It will fill the void for anyone who can't get their hands on the Neo Geo version, and is still an interesting experience for those that have.

In the end, it's hard to find fault in this product. You can't go wrong with either version that you choose. The challenge is high, but so is the replayability. After completing the game once, you'll want to return again and again, and the addition of a two-player mode should not be overlooked. This is definitely a gamer's game, one that the hardcore will cherish, and that any gamer will appreciate immensely.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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