Review: ACA NeoGeo: Metal Slug
Posted 17 Apr 2017 at 22:40 by Sam C Gittins
Here we are at the dawn of a new Nintendo console era, one which has brought a promise of new titles to get excited about from now until the end of the year and beyond which we are surely grateful for as the Nintendo Switch strives to prove its worth with a variety of new titles plus re-released offerings from previous digital storefronts alike.
But what of the consoles from past generations? While it's true that we've had Nintendo's Virtual Console service over three separate platforms, while this isn't the first time we've had a new machine launching without it, times have certainly changed from the original Wii VC where titles from past Nintendo, Sega, Hudson and NeoGeo platforms were all released under the same label.
Thanks to publisher Hamster we have an Arcade Archives label - in this case ACA NeoGeo - which contains plenty of classic NeoGeo titles emulated in their original arcade form (MVS) as opposed to the home console versions (AES) which we've seen before. These newly emulated versions of course come with a whole host of improvements including the ability to play regional variants, newly incorporated Interupt Save Data and all of the screen and control options you could possibly wish for, all presented in a crisp high resolution which retains that all-important aspect ratio.
So without further ado, on with the review!
Price: GB £6.29, EU €6.99
An undisputed classic of its time, this is where the now legendary Metal Slug series began; taking control of Marco Rossi you set about battling across enemy terrain running and gunning down a warship-load of weird enemies across a varied range of battle-strewn backdrops with an astounding arsenal of weaponry featuring flamethrowers, guns, grenades and more besides.
Your eventual goal is to take out General Morden so that you can reclaim the stolen weapon, which is of course the titular Metal Slug, but let's be realistic because as nice as having a plot is in a game like this, it's just an excuse to shoot lots of guns and blow stuff up in an exaggerated manner; this is more than fine, in fact it's a lot of fun.
Years ago it might have been questionable releasing this on the Virtual Console when you consider that the entire collection could be obtained by purchasing Metal Slug Anthology for the Wii for a mere twenty pounds. However due to some quite frankly odd control decisions made for the collection which supported just the remote on its own with standard control but with a “flick” necessary to throw grenades, GameCube controller support but with only analogue movement and a remote nunchuk combo with the problems of both, it suddenly becomes apparent why a VC release was required at the time.
Such beautiful attention to detail in every part of the screen at any time.
While full classic controller support was omitted from the Wii collection perhaps for the purpose of releasing all the games as standalone entities for the VC, it is present in this new version using the latest proper controller and is indeed the preferred, most established method of control. This is exactly the same fantastic game it always has been except now it's so much better with superior controls owing to Pro Controller support which is currently the best way to experience the game by far thanks to its proper D-pad.
Sadly I cannot advise using the split buttons on the Left Joy-Con as they do not afford anywhere near the required amount of accuracy required for this type of game or indeed any Neo Geo title, so here's hoping that Nintendo release legacy console Joy-Con controllers featuring a real D-Pad sooner rather than later to make portable play more of a realistic prospect for such games.
The difficulty is as punishing as it ever was featuring the one hit K-O system that was also employed by Konami's Contra, this is certainly not one for those who become easily frustrated but definitely for those who welcome a challenge. As well as the gunfights there are some nicely implemented vehicle sections where you get to jump into a tank, mowing down enemies and rescuing prisoners for points if you choose to do so; there's even an excellent part where you get on the turret atop a battleship as you blast away at low-flying aircraft and paratroopers dropping in at an alarming rate as you frantically attempt to mow them all down before you're besieged.
It's scenes like this which make Metal Slug such a memorable classic.
In addition to being able to choose from either the original Japanese or English arcade releases which are as perfect as you'd expect, you also get the option of choosing Hi-Score mode in which you must try to clear the game and get as high a score as possible under set conditions; or for more of a frantic challenge you can go for Caravan mode which gives you five minutes to get as far as you can while racking up a decent score which you can opt to post to the leaderboards when the timer reaches zero in addition to there being general leaderboard support for all modes of course.
You will have fun with this even if you blast through it on your own for the first time but on subsequent playthroughs I would definitely advise trying out the two-player co-op as this game was definitely made for it and with the nature of the Switch being a console you can play multiplayer games anywhere, this is surely the perfect candidate regardless of how you choose to play thought I would advise using the TV screen with two Pro Controllers if you're serious about it but even I can't deny the appeal of tabletop mode and the ease of just handing someone a Joy-Con controller for a quick blast.
Visually everything on screen moves with flawless fluidity thanks to the truly fantastic sprite-work which is easily one of the most exceptional examples of what can be truly be done in a 2D game and how to do it right. Levels of detail employed here are never short of jaw dropping from backdrops to baddies to even behemoth bosses, it all oozes charm and clarity and never looks sloppy for a second. Stage variety is a clear selling point with Metal Slug as you'll go from a jungle area with its dense foliage, to snowy mountains, across the sea, arid landscapes and even through war-torn settlements; all of it has a wonderful groundedness to it for something which is so ridiculously chaotic by the nature of its design.
You'll likely be needing all those extra credits for boss encounters like these.
Audio is excellent, always suiting each environmental situation very well, the music is constantly in keeping with the frantic pace of the on-screen action, while each of your on-screen actions is perfectly punctuated with every blast of weapon fire, explosion and of course the screaming sound of death be it from your character or the soldiers you're blasting away.
Because of the tone it sets being that it is a war game, the message behind how terrible war can be in reality isn't lost, of course on the face of it this is just a fun game which happens to thematically be about conflict, though as the credits roll you get to see a sombre montage of a paper airplane flying across all of the warzones you've just battled through which shows all the aftermath; it's pretty unique and while it probably won't leave you too conflicted on the morality of what is essentially a "Run 'n Gun" arcade game, it's certainly a memorable way to end a frenzied playthrough.
If you have never played this game then now is the perfect opportunity to do so more than ever before, it's one of the finest examples of its genre and is easily one of the best two dimensional titles money can buy,with more character than most 3D counterparts from the same genre put together, this is well worth the asking price, especially when you consider that an original hefty arcade cartridge would not be cheap today.
This is digital preservation at its finest, you get to experience the definitive version of a classic NeoGeo title for a mere fraction of the price and you get to choose whether you want to play it either on the big screen or on the go; judging by this fine example the work which is going into this ACA NeoGeo series of releases is nothing short of exceptional and will surely go on to be an integral part of the Nintendo Switch digital library.
N-Europe Final Verdict
The most masterful example of the Run 'n' Gun genre just got its definitive release on a Nintendo platform. Metal Slug is highly praised with good reason and if you own a Switch yet haven't experienced this Neo Geo classic for some strange reason then please do so immediately. That's a suggestion, not an order but a very strong one as this should appeal to most gamers.
Addictive arcade action
Gritty yet gorgeous visuals
Immensely enjoyable soundtrack
Perfect Co-Op mode
Some may find it too tough