Review: Metal Slug 4 & 5 (PS2)

Metal Slug 4 & 5
Platform: PS2
Genre: Side-scrolling Shooter
Publisher: SNK Playmore
Developer: SNK Playmore
Rating: Teen
Release Date: 5/21/05

Let me be blunt. There are two types of people in this world: raving fanboys, and everybody else. If you fall into the first category, chances are you’re in love with Metal Slug. Anything anyone says regarding the series, short of “OMG BEST GAME EVAR,” is going to incite scorn. So let me go ahead and get this out of the way. I played a Metal Slug game all of one time before I had my hands on this compilation. I came to it from a near-complete noob perspective.

That being said, I’ve played through both of these titles repeatedly, and the Metal Slug craze just isn’t my cup of tea. Does this mean I’m a moron who can’t appreciate anything that isn’t HAAAYLOOOOW or GTA? I guess you’ll make that decision on your own. I can honestly say that the appeal of arcade-style gaming isn’t completely lost on me; I found Ikaruga enjoyable, since it employed a genuinely innovative mechanic, and Yoshi’s Touch ‘n’ Go is easily my favorite game on the DS. But I simply didn’t find much of interest in Metal Slug. Now that I’ve spurred angry emails, and will probably be dragged out and beaten by at least half of the IP staff, let’s get to it.


Story/Modes:

As with any self-respecting side-scroller, there is a story here, but without reading the manual or checking the website, you’ll only have the vaguest idea what it is. It doesn’t matter in the slightest, from a gameplay standpoint, as you never do anything besides shoot, and no attempt to explain the story in-game is ever made. In terms of what actually applies to gameplay, there’s the ever-present Naziesque enemy army. There’s a sizable number of hostages to be saved. There’s an endboss. And then there’s whichever ragtag, gun-totin’ adventurer you choose to be. If you’re genuinely interested in the story, you can check online and in the manual to find things about computer viruses, plans for a devastating new Metal Gear Slug being stolen, and other tidbits to file under “interesting trivia that has no effect on what you do in the game.” What you see in the actual game basically boils down to “kill the evil dictator and run into some supernatural creatures along the way” (MS4) and “simultaneously fight the army and an angry Egyptian voodoo cult” (MS5).

There’s no functional story here. No one expects there to be; it’s not necessary to enjoy the game. So what sort of various modes do you get to keep you interested? None. You can change the difficulty and number of lives you get for each continue, and you can replay a mission after you’ve beaten it and saved your data. That’s all. While this might have been perfectly fine back in the NES era, most people expect a good bit more from their games.

Story Rating/Modes: 2/10


Graphics:

As with all the Metal Slug games, you’re getting two-dimensional 16-bit era graphics. The artwork and animation is good if viewed in this context. Animation is decent, with enough little touches, like your character reloading when running between encounters and enemies screaming in terror when you approach, to make the graphics somewhat interesting. More of these would be great, but the fact that you’ve seen all the animation the enemies have to offer after killing 3 of them makes it more of a considerate touch than a selling point. Backgrounds are somewhat detailed without feeling crowded, ranging from colorful, interesting environments like city streets and . The number of enemy models is small, especially when considering how many recycled, recolored sprites are present, but it’s not a big deal, considering how fast you’re cutting them down.

The game’s main graphical strength is that you don’t run into hardware slowdown, no matter how much action is onscreen. SNK knows what it can ask of its hardware, and keeps the game from collapsing into a smoldering heap. This isn’t so much a selling point as it is a standard, however; a shooter that runs into slowdown at critical points in the game is less “shooter” and more “expensive frisbee.” If the game had slowdown on Neo Geo, it would be horrible. If it retained said slowdown in transition onto the PS2, it would be downright inexcusable. Aside from the bland warehouses, most levels have decent artwork, although some seem to be lifted straight from MS3. Weapon effects aren’t anything special; explosions are fairly elaborate for this genre of game, although there’s the occasional moment of frustration when you can’t tell which explosions are simply for pretties and which are actually dangerous.

Graphics Rating: 6/10


Sound:

Again, it’s 16-bit era all the way here. Explosions, gunshots, and death grunts are constant, and there’s a very small library of them. “Thank you!” and “Mission Complete!” are about the only actual voice clips you get, aside from the occasional announcement of a weapon power-up. “Rocket Laownshur” is a personal favorite, but most of them are varying degrees of unintelligible. There’s no option to change sound balance, so your constant stream of fire and explosions drowns out the background music. When you move between areas, you get a brief chance to hear the music. And for the most part, it’s not particularly impressive. If you want synthesizer-rock with more wailing guitars than you can shake a hair band at, you’ll find yourself pleased here. It’s a genre standard, and the actual sound quality is good, but most of the tracks run together. Aside from a few notable standouts like the zombie/mummy level in MS4, which punctuates the beat with kitschy screams, it’s pretty standard.

Sound Rating: 4.5/10


Gameplay and Control:

The formula is simple. Shoot everything on the screen while avoiding enemy fire until you’re prompted to move on. Pick up power-ups from rescued hostages to kill things faster. Occasionally you’ll find a mech or tank that you can hop into to destroy things even faster. When there’s nowhere else to go, you’ll be attacked by a huge boss. Repeat for 45 minutes. Get shot once, you’re dead. Only exception is when you hop into a Metal Slug, which is the catchall term for the vehicles in the game. Tank-like vehicles and mech walkers are pretty much the order of the day, though there are a few occasions where you’ll find other things to pilot, such as a submarine or a plane.

For all intents and purposes, this is a three-button game: jump, shoot, and bomb. Controls are tight and responsive, as they have to be for this genre. The only hiccup is in the sliding, which feels clunky. Luckily, there’s no part of the game where it’s actually a necessary skill; it’s just a last-ditch attempt to dodge enemy fire, but the tiny delay between when you hit the Jump button while holding Down on the pad makes it hard to use. It’ll take newcomers a little while to get used to shooting from Metal Slugs, as the cannons have to be manually rotated in a rather unintuitive manner, which makes it particularly difficult to switch between firing forward and backward quickly. Also, MS5 added the amazing new ability to SLIDE! It only took three years for Mega Man to learn this.

Metal Slug 4 doesn’t do much of anything to make this formula interesting. In one of the later levels, you’ll get turned into a zombie or a mummy (depending on which path you choose) when you’re shot, the only effect of which is to make you move and shoot more slowly. Other than this, and a level where you progress downward on a rope, Mission: Impossible-style, there’s almost nothing here of any redeeming value. Metal Slug 5 is a good bit more fun, as it features more interesting levels, such as a submarine ride and an interesting spider-like mech with two guns that takes up most of a corridor. The
main selling point, however, is a speeding Mini equipped with an energy cannon that makes improbable jumps on a broken highway. The only problem is that while the level design might be more varied and imaginative, it’s still the same core experience.

The only wrinkle in the formula is in MS4, where a new system is introduced to the series, and promptly thrown overboard in MS5. The “Metallish” system gives combo bonuses for killing things quickly after picking up medals. So, instead of trying to kill everything that moves, you’re supposed to kill everything that moves… and do it very quickly. It really doesn’t have any effect on the gameplay whatsoever, and it operates on a timer (i.e. kill everything you can in 30 seconds) rather than just asking you to rack up kills without dying. It’s a pointless system that you can complete the game without giving a second thought to, and it really doesn’t add anything at all.

You still have a choice between 4 heroes (two male, two female), and there is still no difference whatsoever between them, unless you count the guy in MS4 who sometimes kicks enemies rather than stabbing them. You still rescue long-haired, half-naked hippies (except in small portions of MS5, when youÃÆ’¢??re saving Japanese businessmen). It’s the same Metal Slug, just with a few different environments.
There are a few surprises, like a hostage that hangs around and gets some Hadouken-style revenge instead of saluting and running off-screen, but these moments are pretty rare. If you loved the earlier versions, you’ll probably enjoy this. If you haven’t tried it, but like side-scrolling shooters, it’s not bad. It’s just… unremarkable.

Gameplay and Control: 5.5/10


Balance:

The games are almost moderately well-balanced. They’re modestly forgiving at the start, but get rather dangerous quickly. Go ahead and resign yourself to it: you’re going to die. A lot. There are going to be cheap deaths that you couldn’t possibly avoid, and there are going to be cheap deaths that you should’ve seen coming a mile away. None of this matters, because unlike MS3, you have infinite continues. For some, this seems to be a huge flaw in the games. All things considered, MS3’s restart-level-on-continue system would be a good bit more appropriate. Then it would at least have SOME meaning when you die, and you’d be forced to strategize more carefully. Each game has four difficulty levels (Easy, Normal, Arcade, and Hard), but the only real difference between them seems to be how many shots it takes to destroy things. Enemy AI is basically nonexistent. Overall, the balance is decent, but there’s still a noticeable learning curve. If you actually self-impose a limited-continue system, the curve is significantly steeper.

Balance Rating: 6/10


Replayability:

There are alternate paths through missions to find, and they usually do differ enough to justify their existence, but it’s a small thing. The game is basically identical on subsequent play-throughs. If you’re truly insane, you can try to save all of the hostages and survive to the end of the level, so that you can see all of their ranks and names, but it’s incredibly, unreasonably difficult to get that far without being killed once. (A single death robs you of hostage data, so you only see the names of those you’ve saved since your last death. Since every level has a boss fight, the average player won’t get a chance to see many names.)

If there was some sort of mechanism in the game to keep track of which hostages you’ve saved, this might be a good reason to replay, but the game keeps no record. MS5 actually keeps track of the items you acquire in a trophy room, giving the player an incentive to replay. Only problem is that there are only 29 trophies, and a mediocre player like myself can find a good 20 of them without looking too hard. It comes down to playing for high scores and bragging rights, which become less valued
commodities by the day, particularly with no Xbox-Live-esque ranking system.

Replayability Rating: 3/10


Originality:

For the sake of argument, ignore the fact that these are ports with no extras. The package’s originality still falls apart when considering the actual gameplay. The 2D, side- (and on one or two occasions, vertically-) scrolling shooter genre has been around almost as long as gaming has. Sometimes it’s done on foot, and sometimes it’s done in planes or other vehicles, and sometimes you can do both, but it wasn’t a new concept in 1995 when Metal Slug 1 came out. And it hasn’t changed in the years since. Even if you don’t want to consider strictly-vehicular shooting, which goes back to 1985 and encompasses everything from Defender and Galaga to Radiant Silvergun, this is still old hat. (Ikari Warriors is the first I can recall where you could actually jack enemy tanks and decimate the enemies.) The long-running Contra series is obviously the best-known display of this particular formula, but who could forget the Wild-West-themed glory that is Sunset Riders? (“Bury me with my money!”)

Regardless of where you stand on how good the game is, Metal Slug was never about originality. It wasn’t a new concept in any way back with the original Metal Slug, and the gameplay hasn’t changed over the course of the series. This package sees the addition of one new weapon and one new Slug. The Double Machine Guns are handy but rather underwhelming in terms of actual innovation. The new Slug, a walking Mech that sits down on tank treads when you hold Down, is rather handy, particularly since its Melee attack is slower than simply crushing enemies. While these are nice little additions, it’s still the same gameplay it was 10 years ago. The minor stabs at switching up the gameplay are appreciated, but don’t really expand the experience. The series already played the submarine-fighting card before this compilation, and the short time you have in the plane against one boss is over rather quickly as a result of that boss’s cheap attacks. Either way, both of these vehicles are just like the other Slugs, aside from the ability to freely move up and down. It’s just a switch from Contra-style gameplay to Gradius-style gameplay, except with a rotating cannon rather than a stationary one.

Some people will think this is the best possible thing, and wish they had a new Metal Slug every 6 months. For the rest of us, this is something to play in an arcade, or as a quick way to kill a few minutes or do something mindless while on the phone. MS3 for Xbox had a couple new additions, these do not. No love for Sony, apparently. It’ll be interesting in a few months when these come out for Xbox to see if any extras magically turn up.

Originality Rating: 2/10


Appeal:

Unless you eat, sleep, and breathe Metal Slug, you’re probably not going to be too interested in these. As with everything SNK-related, however, this isn’t ABOUT you. These are for people who defer to the Neo Geo as the pinnacle of gaming. These games, like all of the Metal Slugs before them, are fun for a few minutes, and a handy time-waster if you’re on the phone and will go berserk if you play through one more game of Solitaire. For the most part, however, this won’t create many new Metal Slug fans. Picking up this game either says “I appreciate the FINER games in life; my tastes cannot be comprehended by the shallow peasants who buy things such as Leisure Suit Larry.” or “I wish to be viewed as one of those people, so I will emulate them.”

Honestly, these are straight ports, and there’s no real reason to jump on this when it’s almost guaranteed that there will be a complete anthology when this series bites the dust. The overwhelming majority of people who’ll buy this game have been anticipating it since it was announced. These are the people who will angrily email me. Fun? In small doses. Will many people “get” it? No. Is the MS fan base solid enough to sell a lot of games? Yes. And if this genre is your thing, youÃÆ’¢??re going to be ecstatic that someone is still making them. Given the general gaming public, however, you wonÃÆ’¢??t see it on any hardcore Madden fanÃÆ’¢??s coffee table.

Appeal Rating: 3.5/10


Addictiveness:

This is purely a matter of taste. Each game takes about 45 minutes to complete, which only begins to make it feel drawn-out. If you sit down to play it, you’re going to be there for the whole ride. And while I can complain all day about the shallow mindlessness of the whole thing, there’s an undeniable sort of satisfaction that comes from hopping into a tank and annihilating everything in your path. Adding a second player automatically makes the game more fun, but it’s not really a different experience. The difficulty would make the game irritating under some circumstances, but with the much-debated infinite continue system, it tends to drag the addictiveness down a bit; when you’ve used two or three continues to bring down a single boss, it just feels a bit pointless.

Addictiveness Rating: 6.5/10


Miscellaneous:

A wise man once said “Two games on a disc is cheap. Two discs in one package is a Deluxe Edition.” That seems to be the mentality here. SNK could fit both of these games, along with the previous 4, onto a single disc without much trouble. They probably will, eventually. If you scratch one of these, or by some oddity play it until it wears out, at least you’ll still have access to one Metal Slug game.

Aside from the trophy collection in Metal Slug 5, there’s nothing in the way of extras or bonuses here. Once you’ve created a save file, you can play any mission on its own without having to play through the entire game, if you’re completely obsessed with a single section. No extras whatsoever. Either SNK likes Microsoft more than Sony, or they just didn’t feel the need to add anything to these games.

Miscellaneous Rating: 2.5/10


Final Scores:

Story: 2/10
Graphics: 6/10
Sound: 4.5/10
Gameplay and Control: 5.5/10
Balance: 6/10
Replayability: 3/10
Originality: 2/10
Appeal: 3.5/10
Addictiveness: 6.5/10
Misc: 2.5/10

Overall Score: 41.5/100
Final Score: 4.0/10