Metal Slug 4 impressions

We take a hands-on look at the latest game to come out for SNK's ancient NeoGeo system.

Though the original developer of the Metal Slug arcade series and the arcade hardware is no longer around, publisher Playmore has succeeded SNK as the publisher and distributor of all new games on the classic NeoGeo arcade hardware. This includes Metal Slug 4, the latest game in SNK's side-scrolling shooter not unlike Konami's Contra, whose unique combination of cartoonlike characters, highly detailed animation, and intense, sometimes gritty firefights have made it an arcade favorite.

Metal Slug 4 is developed by newcomer Mega Enterprise and has much of the same look and the same exact control scheme that the previous games have in the series--button A fires your normal weapon, B jumps, C tosses a grenade, and D isn't used. As in the previous games, you can't aim your weapon diagonally while running--you can fire only up, down, back, or forward, though just like in previous games, several vehicles can fire in all directions. However, Metal Slug 4 has a different cast of characters. Although the original headband-wearing hero Marco Rossi and the bespectacled Metal Slug 2 heroine Fio Germi both return as playable characters, their comrades Tarma Roving and Eri Kasamoto do not. However, Tarma and Eri are still on active duty, and they'll appear at the end of each mission (and sometimes in the middle of some missions) to wave you on to the next area or congratulate you for a job well done. In the active roster, Tarma and Eri are replaced by two fresh-faced youngsters, the white-haired Trevor and the bubble-gum-blowing Nadia.

Metal Slug 4 seems like something of a return to the original Metal Slug game, before the series went, as some fans put it, "all crazy." Metal Slug 2, Metal Slug X, and Metal Slug 3 all had completely bizarre enemies, including aliens, mummies, and zombies. Metal Slug 4 doesn't seem to have any of these strange enemies to fight. Instead, much like in the original Metal Slug, you'll fight only enemy soldiers and a wide variety of enemy vehicles. It's not hard to tell that Metal Slug 4 reuses a lot of the graphics, characters, effects, and animations from the previous game, but at least the developers seem to have tried to put in every possible enemy and vehicle. All the soldiers who appeared in previous games, including the riot-shield-bearing soldiers, the riflemen, the knife grunts, and the ones who like to stand around and laugh at you when you die, are all back in the game. So are the attack choppers from Metal Slug 2, and most all of the tanks, jeeps, airplanes, and personnel carriers from all the previous games. Like in the previous games, there are several powerful vehicles you can hop into and pilot, but some of the sillier vehicles, like the Camel Slug (a camel with guns on its back) or the Elephant Slug (a large elephant that launched lightning bolts at its enemies) don't seem to be in the game. However, most of the other, more straightforward vehicles, including the Slugnoid mech and the original Metal Slug tank, are in the game, as well as several new ones, including a motorcycle with a sidecar that's driven by a POW. Metal Slug 4 also seems to have done away with some of the more bizarre weapons, like the stone (which was basically a large stone you'd throw at enemies instead of a grenade), but has kept most of the others intact--we've seen the heavy machine gun, shotgun, flame shot, rocket launcher, enemy chaser, and iron lizard. We've also been able to try the dual machine gun, an item that puts a submachine gun in each of your characters' hands and doubles their firing rate.

That's not to say that Metal Slug 4 has lost its trademark sense of humor. Like in previous games, you must still rescue hostages who, when freed, will present you with an oversized pair of underpants (a reference to the Adam Sandler film Happy Gilmore). And like in the previous games, you can recover various bonus items for additional points, including foods such as cabbages, watermelons, and roast turkeys. If you pick up too many food items, your character will, as in the previous games, become big and fat, move more slowly, and, when fighting enemies up close, will use a dinner fork rather than a bayonet. In addition, we've seen part of one level in which you're attacked by scientists armed with dart guns. If you get hit, your character will turn into a monkey. (And as several GameSpot editors will tell you, anything with a monkey in it is at least 10 to 15 percent more fun and/or funnier than the same thing without monkeys in it.) When you're turned into a monkey, you can jump much higher than usual and also climb on pipes. If you fire downward while you're a monkey, your character will actually hold the weapon in its toes.

While the game doesn't exactly seem to be revolutionary, none of the series' fans really expected it to be. Keep an eye out for our full review of Metal Slug 4, which is coming soon.

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