Metal Slug Anthology PSP Review - 06/02/07

Metal Slug has always been known as the ultimate in side-scrolling, 2D shoot ‘em ups. So many games have borrowed and coined various aspects of the series, and the games are still as loved today as they were in 1996, over ten years ago.

This anthology features the original Metal Slug, Metal Slug 2, X, 3, 4, 5 and 6, with about five stages in each game. If you’ve never experienced the addictive nature of Metal Slug, the game revolves around four characters, who, from Metal Slug 2 onwards, you can choose to play as and fight through a series of themed stages to the final level, and ultimately, the main boss of the game.

SNK, who have been responsible for the entirety of the Metal Slug series so far, have ensured that the PSP versions remain as faithful to the original as possible. The graphics still look brilliant today, and there’s heaps going on in the background and the surroundings as you rampage through the levels. There is the option to convert the image to widescreen, which is very welcome, as it gives purists the choice to see it in standard 4:3 format, but allows everyone else the pleasure of seeing the beautiful hand-drawn animations in full screen.

The controls have been replicated pretty well. While it is difficult to aim and fire without moving your character, this is what makes Metal Slug what it is – the fast-paced firing, last second ducks and dives, and the whole frantic nature of the thing. Being able to stop and aim would ruin the system, the fact is that when you run through the enemy, dispatching them with single shots before unleashing a hail of grenades, a huge rush of blood gives you a buzz like no other in videogaming.

That all the Metal Slug versions are included, especially the new Metal Slug X, means these aren’t just great individual episodes in the Metal Slug series, they’re great value for money, and a must own in the PSP’s catalogue. There may only be six or seven hours of gameplay if you play through the games one after the other, but there is absolutely huge replay value, as there is with almost all arcade games. Through each level you rescue prisoners along the way, freeing them with a knife or a gun shot. If you run past them, they’ll thank you and add to your score if you survive to the end of the level without dying. High scores are a great motivation to replay, but there’s also a large amount of unlockable extras to earn with the tokens you can pick up along the way, varying depending on the difficulty level.

The stages are remarkably diverse, ranging from snowy mountains with an Ice Climber style theme, to military bases and levels on top of boats - meaning you can play for a long time without getting bored. However, the run and gun action can get tiresome after a while, and I feel a limit to the amount of continues could have helped this. Unlimited continues leads to you being a bit reckless and often not thinking about each boss or enemy as much as you would otherwise have to, as well as making each game considerably shorter than the months it took to complete in the arcade with average pocket money.

The core gameplay is pretty basic. Shoot stuff to pieces. However, numerous vehicles, called Metal Slugs by the game’s lead designer, hence the name, add a lot of life to the levels. Many vehicles are only accessible by taking certain routes (high or low) through parts of the level, and even more can be captured by luckily taking out the driver. There’s plenty of weapons to pick up along the way too, ranging from heavy-machine guns to rocket launchers and lasers. Once you die, you lose them, but get your stash of bombs replenished, ten in total. This also makes dieing a good tactic for the boss battles disappointingly, once again, because there’s no limit on the amount of deaths, you can just respawn and use the ten seconds of invulnerability to pelt the enemy with bomb after bomb after bomb.

These boss battles are otherwise epic and have clearly inspired many modern shooters. Huge mechanical robots prowl around the background before leaping in front of you on screen. Generally, you can shoot them anywhere, and this applies to other enemies as well. Metal Slug 4 is a bit tricky as the bosses tend to trap you, and this means you will almost certainly die. In fact, after the first three games, the difficulty is much greater, mainly because the enemies get a lot wackier, and harder to predict.

The games do a great service in helping you along, and lots of actions are performed automatically – there are literally only three buttons and the D-pad that you’ll need. When close up, your character automatically uses a knife or punches, rather than firing. All the simple enemies are also very forgiving, with just one or two shots required from your quick firing guns to destroy them. The bosses all follow patterned attacks, and while my personal favourite was the original Metal Slug, and Metal Slug 3, the rest are all superb and very welcome to pass the time.

The addictive nature of the games make for perfect handheld gaming, and while the loading times are a little disappointing for decade old games, and the amount of slowdown which has also not been fixed since the arcades (except in Metal Slug X, the remixed version of Metal Slug 2, which set out to do that originally anyway) at times detracts from the fast-paced action.

With that said, the co-operative mode over wireless is superb fun, and is available for every single iteration of the game, and that alone adds a lot of value. I have to recommend Metal Slug Anthology for providing the quick fix, a ten minute burst of fun that you’ll want to come back to again and again. Well worth it for Slug fans as the unreleased Metal Slug 6 is also present, as well as Metal Slug 1 and 2 which haven’t been playable on a home console since their original release.



PSP - Wii