Metal Slug 4/5

Metal Slug 4/5

Written by Cyril Lachel on 9/22/2005 for Xbox  

In its four years of life the Xbox has managed to release solid games in just about every category you could want, from first person shooters to racing games to sports titles.  But when it comes to 2D shooters the Xbox comes up lacking with only a handful of these games.  If you’re the type of Xbox gamer who loves games like Contra and Gunstar Heroes, then chances are you’ve felt a little left out this generation.  Thankfully SNK has stepped in and ported one of their biggest franchises, Metal Slug.

If this sounds familiar it might be because it hasn’t been that long since I reviewed SNK’s port of Metal Slug 3.  This time we’re given the opportunity to relive 2002’s Metal Slug 4 as well as last year’s edition, Metal Slug 5.  For the most part the games are exactly like the other Metal Slug games, the only thing that sets these apart is the fact that neither of them had been released on a console outside of the Neo*Geo.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Metal Slug series, it’s a very traditional 2D shooter in the same vein as Contra, Midnight Resistance, Alien Hominid, and other games of their ilk.  You control a soldier of your choosing who runs from the left side of the screen to the right shooting at soldiers, zombies, and anything else that gets in the way.  The game doesn’t stray too far from the tried and true game play of the 2D shooter, you can shoot left, right, up, and down (no diagonals), throw grenades, and pick up all kinds of weapons that will help you take down everybody from the smallest attacker all the way up to the biggest boss.

More so than anything else, Metal Slug is best known for its highly detailed graphics and animation.  With thing generation’s heavy tilt towards 3D polygons, it’s a welcome change when you see how detailed the graphics in Metal Slug 4 and 5 really are.  It’s as if every inch of the Metal Slug world has been hand drawn, often with small details that you have to pay close attention to catch.  Each of the worlds – which include cities, underwater, ice-covered mountains, the desert, etc. –  offer their own cool touches, often leading to more than a few chuckles as you play through what could be the funniest 2D shooter not named Earthworm Jim.

The animation is equally good, often to the point where it’s more fun to watch what your enemies are doing.  Unlike a lot of these types of games, Metal Slug has always had a personality, making it feel more like watching a cartoon than anything.  The game is never content with just letting the enemies stand around; they are constantly doing something which adds a lot of life to this 2D experience.  The brilliant animation only gets better as you progress through each title; both find a way of adding new characters with all kinds of funny animations. As cool as the animation is in the 3D games we’re so used to playing these days, there’s something about the style and look of the animation in these 2D games that just brings a smile to my face.

As you would expect from a 2D shooter, Metal Slug 4 and 5 come equipped with all kinds of cool weapons.  Although you start with nothing more than a standard pistol, you will quickly find new weapons, such as rocket launchers, lasers, and other punishing weapons.  Metal Slug 4 and 5 do manage to offer a couple new weapons, but ultimately they are really just more of the same.  There’s a nice variety to these two Metal Slug games, but it’s hard not to want something new and revolutionary after five attempts.

Between the two games you are looking at around 90 minutes worth of arcade action, with only 11 levels between them, Metal Slug 4 and 5 can be considered on the short side.  You can easily beat any one of these games in less than an hour (often closer to thirty minutes), which probably won’t keep you occupied for long.  Considering this package is retailing for $40 it’s hard to get past the idea that you’re buying something with no more than 90 minutes worth of game play.

Another problem is that the games are just too similar.  Metal Slug 5 does try a few new things – sliding attack, new hostages, and a new cult-like group of villains – but even with these few changes it’s hard to tell the difference between it and any other Metal Slug game.  The levels are all new and highly detailed, but there’s this overwhelming feeling that we’ve been here and done that already.  It’s nice that SNK has updated some of the moves, but after five games isn’t it about time your character looks to shoot diagonally?

Of course, these problems are not the fault of the port so much as the source material.  These games were built for the arcade, they never meant to be extremely long, and the limited gameplay (which involves nothing more than button mashing for much of the game) is just the type of thing you would expect from an arcade game.  At home these games are entirely too easy and just a little too shallow for today’s generation of gamers.  Even with the addition of vehicles, the game just ends up being too repetitive for its own good, making it only fun in short doses.

In this day and age there are companies packaging dozens of games together for a $20 compilation, so getting only two games for twice the price feels uncalled for.  Had this been a collection of all of the Metal Slug games then this set would make more sense, but as it is we’re looking at two games that are entirely too similar and too short packaged for nearly full price.  They are teeny tiny games that fit comfortably on one single CD, yet for some odd reason SNK has decided to package them on two different Xbox DVDs.  With nothing more than a stage select, chances are you’ll forget about these games the moment you finish watching the second-long ending.  Unfortunately you’ll be angry about spending that much money for months to come.

It easy to get into Metal Slug 4 and 5, they are extremely likeable games with plenty of personality.  But it’s a short experience that will feel hallow when you’ve shot through the final boss.  It features great graphics and a nice variety of levels, but it’s hard not to be concerned by the lack of value.  It’s nice to finally see these Metal Slug games come home, but it might be wise to wait until SNK decides to release them all in one complete collection.

Metal Slug 4 and 5 offers non-stop 2D arcade action … for about 90 minutes. In this faithful port, SNK has decided that they don’t need to put any effort into their newest overpriced collection of old-looking games. Maybe they should have!

Rating: 6 Flawed

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.

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About Author

It's questionable how accurate this is, but this is all that's known about Cyril Lachel: A struggling writer by trade, Cyril has been living off a diet of bad games, and a highly suspect amount of propaganda. Highly cynical, Cyril has taken to question what companies say and do, falling ever further into a form of delusional madness. With the help of quality games, and some greener pastures on the horizon, this back-to-basics newsman has returned to provide news so early in the morning that only insomniacs are awake.
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