I hope you still have those GameCube controllers.
The original Metal Slug first appeared on the arcade scene in 1996. Fans of 2-D run'n'gunners were immediately impressed by its crazy weapons, over-the-top bosses, and wild two-player cooperative gameplay. To celebrate the series' 10-year anniversary, SNK Playmore gives us Metal Slug Anthology, a collection of the seven Metal Slug arcade games released thus far.
As far as bang for your buck goes, Metal Slug Anthology is quite a value. Its lineup consists of Metal Slug 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and Metal Slug X (a remix of Metal Slug 2 that uses the Metal Slug 3 game engine). Each game is an arcade-perfect, pixel-for-pixel, sound-for-sound transalation of the original. You can play on free play with unlimited lives, or you can play arcade-style with limited lives for a real challenge. Even on free play, beating any game in this compilation is a tall order. If you really suck it up and want to win using limited lives, prepare to put some time in.
These games aren't called Metal Slug for nothing. Bullets fly everywhere, and there are new ways to die around every corner. Each game features an obligatory back story involving stuff like rebels, evil generals, and even alien invaders, but all you need to know is that you (and a buddy, preferably) select a character and then destroy everything in sight.
Of course, the destruction wouldn't be any fun without a wide range of weaponry at your disposal. Similar to Konami's Contra, you start off with a generic pistol and upgrade to cool stuff like flamethrowers and rocket launchers by picking up weapon icons dropped by enemies. You can also throw grenades, very helpful when dealing with large groups of enemies or bigger baddies like cannons, mortars, and tanks.
You have your own tanks, too. The franchise's main gimmick is its wide variety of Metal Slug tanks, "super-vehicles" that allow you to run roughshod over enemy forces for a limited time. In Metal Slug 1 only one tank is available, and it's relatively tame (it only has a cannon and a machine gun), but in later games the tank designs get pretty far-out. Later Slugs include a submarine and helicopter, and even an ostrich, camel, and elephant. One of the most entertaining aspects of the series is seeing what kind of tank is going to pop up next.
Graphically, the Metal Slug series contains some of the best hand-drawn artwork that 2-D gaming has to offer. Environments range from war-torn villages to underwater canyons, and character sprites are drawn in a humorous, cartoony style. If you aren't careful, an enemy will turn your character into an alternate form like a mummy or a fat guy to make warfare a little more difficult. Some games feature pseudo-3-D effects, with sprite objects (such as vehicles, enemies, and missles) moving from the background into the foreground. Sound is great as well, with hilarious voice samples, heroic music, and satisfying explosions throughout. It's very well done, and was often well ahead of its time.
The game's presentation, however, is a different story. While some compilation packages feature slick menus and loads of cool extras, Metal Slug Anthology is as bare-bones as you can get. The title selection screen is a series of static pictures from each game, and all menus are presented in a generic font. The extras consist of game art galleries, and a text - yes, text - interview with the developers. It's pretty obvious that adding extra material was an afterthought, which is very disappointing considering the popularity and pedigree of this franchise.
Menu navigation is also lackluster. Moving up and down in the menus is always mapped to the default Wii Remote settings (i.e. when it's held like a TV remote), even when your game controls are set to hold the Wii Remote on its side like an NES pad. It's unintuitive, and indicative of the overall lack of effort put into the game's front-end.
What's worse is that the game's control schemes are unintuitive as well. For some baffling reason, Metal Slug Anthology features no support whatsoever for the Wii Classic Controller. Instead, you must use a GameCube controller or choose one of five different Wii-specific control schemes. The Wii controls range from absolutely unplayable (holding the Wii Remote upright in your left hand to simulate a joystick, while holding the nunchuck in your right and using its buttons), to tolerable but goofy (holding the Wii Remote like an NES pad, with grenade-throwing mapped to flicking the remote). After experimenting with the Wii control schemes, switching to the GameCube controller makes you say, "Oh, so THAT'S how these games are supposed to play." The decision to exclude usage of the Classic Controller makes the Wii version of Metal Slug Anthology inferior to every other platform, which is a damn shame because the games themselves are top-notch.
On the one hand, the games included in Metal Slug Anthology are a blast, they're translated perfectly from the arcade, and they're just as fun, over-the-top, and well-designed as they were ten years ago. On the other hand, this is a stripped-down package with no meaningful extras to speak of, its Wii-specific control options are an almost complete bust, and the lack of Classic Controller support is puzzling to say the least. Even when playing with the GameCube controller, you can't help but wonder what could have been. If Wii is the only console you own and you're a die-hard Metal Slug fan, Anthology is a serviceable way to satisfy your Metal Slug jones. If you own any other console or portable, pick up that version instead.