Metal Slug is a 2D Run and Gun game originally released in 1996 for SNK’s Neo Geo MVS arcade cabinet and ported to countless systems since then. We take on the role of Marco Rossi, the iconic blonde protagonist of the series in his mission to defeat the evil General Morden. To accomplish this, we parachute into enemy territory with nothing but a pistol in hand to mow our way through his army, either alone or with a friend. Pretty much every second will be spent shooting and avoiding enemy projectiles in an over the top fashion that rivals any action film.
Both you and your foes die in a single shot, lending the game a quick paced all or nothing feel to it that will keep you on all throughout. Unlike many other games in this genre, merely touching an enemy will not hurt you. Instead whoever slashes the other with their knife first will be the victor which does a lot to help keep the game flowing perfectly as you dodge, shoot and stab frantically to fend off your foes. Some will have shields that will protect them from your firepower while others will show up in tanks, where is when your grenades come in handy. Simply lob one over an enemy with a shield to finish him off or shower a tank with whatever grenades you have left to cause massive damage.
It is not an easy game by any means. You will constantly be surrounded by enemies with little room for any errors. You start off with three lives, and you will be pumping in credits to continue when those more likely than not, quickly run out. At the start of the game, you can choose to have either 10, 20 or infinite credits if you just want to play the game without fear of losing. There are multiple difficulty modes to choose from though even Easy will test your skills in true arcade fashion. To even the odds of facing an overwhelming force you can find new weapons, given to you by rescuing POWs around the stage. These range from Rocket Launchers, Flamethrowers and one of the mightiest shotguns in all of gaming.
Rescuing those prisoners of war will also net you a substantial amount of points if you manage not to die after saving them, which is easier said than done as every stage ends with a boss battle. In them, you will be facing off against a massive vehicle of war that is unique to each stage and are the sections where you will most likely die. Often times there are POWs tied up near a boss fight, causing you to naturally release them only after you die to receive a new weapon and not have to take them on with your pea shooter pistol. The pistol is the only weapon with infinite ammo and is useful against non-armored soldiers though if you plan to face a boss with it, prepare to fire a ton of rounds. Using a continue will net you a machine gun so unless you are trying to clear it with no continues, you will always have access to the firepower needed.
From time to time, you too will be able to commandeer a tank known as the Metal Slug that you may come across. It will fire heavy blue projectiles, short-range missiles and is even able to jump. While inside of it, you can take up to three hits before you are forced to eject the totaled vehicle and continue the fight on foot. Finding a gas canister icon will fix it up slightly, keeping it in fighting shape that much longer. Even without a tank, much of the environment is destructible and explodes in glorious fashion once they take enough damage. With tons of explosions, blood and people being set ablaze it is easy to imagine this being a grim, serious title though in reality it a very cheeky game. From enemies just relaxing on a lawn chair to the silly expressions they make it is, packed with a ton of little touches that add humor and gives it a near-cartoonish vibe.
As you fight your way across the six stages, you will explore and destroy a variety of locations such as jungles, snowy arctic areas, and European cities. The sprite work is still as top notch as ever with tons of detail and objects on screen at once. Possibly the most iconic thing about the Metal Slug series besides its game-play is the excellent animations. Every action feels impactful and even standing idly by everything feels alive. It’s small touches such as your character’s icy breath in the snow level does a ton to give the game its distinct personality. After you finish the game, you will find that even the credits scene has not been neglected and offers an anti-war message as you view the destruction you left in your wake.
Metal Slug is just one of those games where the developers struck lightning and are what many people instantly think about when you mention the genre, such as World of Warcraft for MMOs and Doom for early to mid 90’s FPS games. It was one heck of a start to the series and while it has been surpassed by most of its sequels, it still more than holds its own and is worth a play. Completing it will only take about 40 or so minutes and it features two modes, Arcade, and Missions. Arcade starts you off at the beginning of the game while Missions lets you pick any level to practice on. Not a ton of content but is a game you will likely find yourself replaying from time to time, even after two decades since it originally released.