“I think what a lot of action movies lose these days, especially the ones that deal with fantasy, is you stop caring at some point because you’ve lost human scale.”
Metal Slug is a series of run and gun side-scrollers by SNK that I usually look for on occasion that I enter an arcade. That experience is becoming rarer and rarer, and so is finding an original Neo-Geo Metal Slug cabinet. But if it is there, guarantee I’ll drop a quarter in it, or four given today’s arcade prices.
You can probably imagine my delight when I found Metal Slug X on the PlayStation Network. Finally! I could play this arcade classic without wasting more of my college tuition and retirement funds!
Metal Slug X is a remake of Metal Slug 2, adding various new sound effects, music and graphics (changing the time of day in several stages), as well as more enemies, more weapons, and more vehicles. The result is a more difficult, intensely action-packed game overflowing with explosions. The series name “Metal Slug” refers to its trademark tank. You know a series named after a tank must be bombastic.
The PlayStation version of Metal Slug X features a training mode and a set of extra mini-games known as “Another Mission”. These vary in quality with the majority of the game’s appeal belonging to its Arcade Mission. Extra mini-games must be unlocked and there is also an Art Gallery.
Your mission is to stop General Morden who has formed an alliance with bug-eyed space aliens to overthrow Earth’s nations and take over the world. Morden employs an army of discount Nazis and insane, massive war machines that make all those Netflix documentaries about Hilter’s “super-weapons” look tame.
Players can choose one of four elite soldiers (who look like they’ve stepped out of a Tim Burton movie). Fio is everyone’s first choice, just so you know. Or at least mine. Must be the glasses.
In each of the game’s six missions you’re faced with hordes of enemy soldiers armed to the teeth. Each stage has a time limit. You’re also equipped with bombs you can lob at the enemy which do a great deal of damage. Run out of lives and you’re faced with a continue screen.
Additional weapons are procured on site, such as the game’s characteristic Heavy Machine Gun. You can also hop into a Metal Slug or some of the other weird vehicles, like the Camel Slug or the Slugnoid. The goal of each stage seems to be to cause as much collateral damage and kill as much of anything as possible. This does exclude P.O.W.s of course.
The game keeps track of how many P.O.W.s you’ve rescued but the tally resets if and when your character dies. It’s pretty tough to make it to the end of a stage and beat the boss without having your P.O.W. count revert to zero. Way to miss out on all those points!
When you free Prisoners of War, they’ll gladly offer you power-ups and additional weapons. You can only carry one special weapon at a time but since you lose special weapons when you die, you’ll need to pick them up constantly. That’s because you’ll die constantly. Whether it’s from gigantic missiles or runaway trains or any of the nightmarish boss war machines, you will die. Good thing there’s infinite continues (on the PSN version I played), which significantly drops the difficulty level but also ensures the game can be completed without dropping $20 on it like you would in the arcades.
Because of the infinite continues of the PlayStation version, the edge is taken off the action. It’s nothing to stress over if you get killed 10 times in 30 seconds since you can just keep pushing forward inch by inch with every “free” continue you get. That somehow lets a little of the air out of the enjoyment of the game. Metal Slug X in the arcades had more weight to it because of this.
Still, the game is a fun time. It’s no acquired taste to blow things away and that’s precisely what Metal Slug X is all about. There’s no sophistication or noble thoughts or philosophies about the tragedies of war here. This isn’t Platoon or Saving Private Ryan. It’s certainly not Grave of the Fireflies! But sometimes you just want to let off some steam, as if marching through hordes of nameless Nazi rip offs and gunning them all down were some kind of wish fulfillment.
Hey, Metal Slug X is here for you. Shhh. Shh. It’s okay. Shh. *strokes your hair*
The 8-Bit Review
With some of the most fluid sprites in 2D gaming, Metal Slug X is virtually the Disney of video game animations. Like 1950’s through the 80’s Disney. The detailed, hand-drawn stuff. ‘Cause “oo-delalee” look at some of these well-animated characters and vehicles.
There’s so much life breathed into them, it’s really only fair to see them in movement. The cartoonish, stretchy faces, the almost slapstick humor of animated deaths, and the wacky detail of these nonsensical war engines… it’s all distinctly Metal Slug. You recognize it right away if you’ve ever played the game before. So over-the-top it’s adorable.
If there’s one flaw, it’s that the PlayStation version isn’t as clear and sharp of an image as it could be. The sprites look slightly smoothed around the edges and blurred, but we are talking about the PS1, after all.
There’s nothing really too special about the music in Metal Slug X. It’s highly typical of its era and arcade action-game music in general. However, what keeps the score for Audio up above a 5 are the hilarious, over-eager voices of the “announcer”. Whenever you pick up a power-up or special weapon you’ll hear things like “Rocket Lawnchair!!”, “Armor Beerser!!” and “Okay!!”, or when you rescue a P.O.W. “Thankyoo!!” delivered with such enthusiasm. It’s impossible not to find it endearing.
My personal favorite? If you pick up too many food items, your character actually becomes obese. Rather than stopping your heart, becoming obese strengthens your weapons and offensive power. I wish that worked that way in real life. And when you first bloat up you’ll hear: “Oh, BIG!!” It’s in the sound effects video above.
With plenty of power-ups and weapons galore, gameplay is full and frenzied in Metal Slug X. You rarely need to employ strategy or tactics. This is a run and gun game, after all. No stopping, just go go go go go! Unfortunately, the pace of all that go go-ing is slowed slightly by the fact that there is no dashing or sliding ability for the playable characters. This would’ve made it easier to dodge incoming missiles, which are generally lobbed at you like an underhanded slow-pitch from a dad with a hook for a hand to his 2-year old son wearing a blindfold. They’re still impossible to dodge, even at that speed, because your character isn’t fleet-footed in the least. Good thing there’s a lot going on in every screen or Metal Slug X would truly feel like you were trudging through the mud.
If you’re going to play Metal Slug X, bring a buddy along. Make new friends only so you can invite them over for tea and cookies, and to play this game. It doubles the fun factor. Metal Slug X is one of the games I keep in rotation for when I have gaming guests in my home. It’s easily accessible as two player couch co-op.
The score reflects the difficulty of the arcade game and the neutered difficulty of the PlayStation version. With infinite continues on the PSX, the game is reduced to patient button mashing, rather than being too worried about avoiding damage or collecting vital power-ups. This is especially true of the final mission with its invading spacemen. Despite the threat to global civilization, there’s not much to worry about if you can just press start one more time for more lives.
Everything that makes the Metal Slug series so fun is in X, and it’s a game I find myself returning to often for the Arcade Missions more so than the mini-games. Those are too short and sometimes obtuse to really get into. Even though I’ve played the Arcade Missions over two dozen times, it seems it never really gets old. Now that is the kind of quality you’re looking for in an arcade port.
As mentioned, Metal Slug X is a revised update of Metal Slug 2. It added in a few features and new obtainables, but it’s essentially the same game. On a broader scope, the Metal Slug series has many games in it that essentially play out exactly the same. That’s no knock to it, considering you know what kind of enjoyment you’ll get, but it does mean X isn’t very original.
My Personal Grade: 8/10
One of my favorite go-to games. I like art and all but sometimes I want to just unwind by unloading silly guns into whimsical, cartoonish enemies and gigantic super-weapons. Metal Slug X is an arcade legend and though it doesn’t quite hold up as well in the home, it’s still a great excuse for a get-together on a Saturday afternoon. Even when I’ve played through its six missions a hundred times through, I will regret nothing.
Aggregated Score: 7.2