Let’s get down to brass tacks: the Metal Slug series, most of all, was designed to eat quarters and tokens in the arcade. It’s a side-scrolling shooter with enemies that come at you in waves. Those enemies enjoy firing weapons at you, and sooner or later, you will get hit. You can play one player or two player, from the first game onward. The three games are short, but if you have a home arcade, or perhaps have an arcade controller, these games aren’t a bad investment.
With the original Metal Slug no specific time period is given for the game, but it looks like World War II. You have a health bar, and early in the game, you find a tank which acts as a buffer for you and your health, as well as a much more powerful means of attacking enemies. Outside of a tank, the available weapons are a pistol, a heavy machine gun, a rocket launcher, and a shotgun. Between waves of enemies, you rescue hostages, who give you guns, and occasionally odd things like a chicken dinner.
You will die a lot. Unless you’ve got the game figured out the way a speed-runner would, this is a hard game. It’s hard to track every single bullet or projectile coming at you. You can jump around like an idiot, but chances are you will still get hit. It’s really depressing how many quarters and tokens it might take to beat the game. In the PC version, on the other hand, you have unlimited continues at your disposal.
There are six total levels – actually in all three games. A nice touch is that every hostage has a name (presumably on a dog tag), and completing a level shows you what his name is. Six levels isn’t so bad. It might take ten quarters or tokens to get to the end of Metal Slug in an arcade.
Moving on to Metal Slug 3, the first thing to notice is you aren’t fighting soldiers. You’re fighting hermit crabs, jellyfish, and eels, as the fight goes underwater. You move on to fighting zombies later, and eventually the enemies take a turn for the supernatural. Enemy variety adds to the game’s appeal, though enemies are still occasionally unfair.
You still have the pistol, heavy machine gun, rocket launcher and shotgun. But new to your arsenal are a laser gun and a flamethrower. The sixth level is rather long. When you feel like you’re close to the end, there’s something more to do. It becomes a shmup for a while (think Galaga or R-Type – space shooters where your ship at the bottom shoots enemies from the top), which adds to the fun factor. Ultimately, it’s a better game than the first, but lest we forget it’s an hour and a half long game.
Metal Slug X is the final part of the Steam package. Wouldn’t you know it, we are back to shooting soldiers and saving hostages, but the aliens from 3 make a return. Too many boss fights are from previous games: the giant tank, helicopters, the sub-machine gun guy, and a giant spaceship. The other bosses are new.
Seeing that this is a one-hour game, I trust these things aren’t spoilers. The biggest distinction for the X game is location. You start in an Arab city, move on to Aztec temples, start a level on top of a moving train, later arriving in an Asian city, and ending the game in the Arctic. In the end, you’re celebrating the death of a Hitler look-alike with some soldiers, further confirming that the first game was inspired by World War II.
The Metal Slug series feels like a technical showpiece, but the Neo Geo hardware it’s running on was six years old upon release of the first game. Still, Capcom’s competing CPS-2 board, which was relevant at the time, couldn’t handle nearly as much on-screen action. The player(s) and the enemies, firing bullets and projectiles and causing (sometimes massive) explosions, all on screen at once, is impressive to look at.
The people who ported the series to PC, DotEmu, did an excellent job, with customizable controls and screen resolutions. Still, it doesn’t let you have an insert coin button, a problem for home arcade builders. I’m sure a hacker could just extract the ROM file.
The Metal Slug games are classics… at least in SNK’s portfolio. Purchased at a discount, these three games weren’t exactly fair to arcade-goers, but on the PC it’s an interesting collection of history from a publishing house that’s long been underappreciated.