Fans of the 2D side-scrolling shooter have long known SNK's Metal Slug series as a last bastion for what has roughly become the video game equivalent of Latin. But in recent years, the tricky part has gone from having enough quarters to finish the game to simply finding it. With arcades regrettably scarce, fans would have to fork over the hundreds of dollars that the NeoGeo versions of the Metal Slug games command. Though SNK's new package of Metal Slug 4 & 5, the two most recent entries in the series, does not command the same cache of cool that owning a functional NeoGeo home system or, even better, a stand-up MVS arcade machine does, it makes these throwback titles much more accessible. At this point, though, it's likely that only those players who have already acquired a taste for Metal Slug's rich blend of crazy, manic violence and goofy humor will fully appreciate this package.
The name says it all. This package contains the fourth and fifth entries in the Metal Slug series in roughly arcade-perfect forms. No more, no less. This package was actually released on the PlayStation 2 earlier this year, and for what it's worth, the Xbox version is exactly the same, save for the addition of Xbox Live awareness. As one of four characters (all of whom handle identically), you'll use a ridiculous array of machine guns, rockets, lasers, and other high-powered weaponry against hordes of enemy soldiers, angry natives, pirates, tanks, planes, submarines, yetis--you name it. You'll regularly come across "slugs" in the game, which are tanklike vehicles that deal out more damage than you could on your own and that can also shield you from enemy attacks. They come in a variety of forms, including the standard tank slug, the jet slug, the sub slug, and some more-unusual variants.
Outside the safety of a slug, you can jump and duck as in past Metal Slugs, and in MS5, you're able to perform a forward slide, which is good for quickly moving through low passages. The controls are tight and responsive, though the need to fire your weapons rapidly will likely have you positioning your right hand over the face buttons, like a bear balancing on a big rubber ball.
As 2D games originally designed for the NeoGeo platform, these aren't technically impressive games by any means. Even if you focus your attention entirely on the game's playful and bizarre art style and designs, it's hard to ignore the extremely pixelated visuals, elements of which can actually be traced all the way back to the first Metal Slug, which is nearly 10 years old at this point. Metal Slug 4 is a more blatant perpetrator of this sort of recycling. You can expect to see many of the same environments, enemies, and slugs found in the previous Metal Slug offerings...to the point that it almost feels like a pale Metal Slug tribute. As a result, Metal Slug 4 is the less compelling of the two games in the package.
Metal Slug 5, on the other hand, benefits from an entirely new set of enemies, some fantastically strange new slugs for you to pilot, and some inventive new levels. One of the more striking new levels consists of careening an abandoned elevated highway in what appears to be a heavily armed Cooper Mini, all while taking out enemies and trying to clear massive gaps in the road. You can expect to face massive mechanical enemies at the end of each stage in both Metal Slugs, but the bosses in Metal Slug 5 are simply bigger and more original. Few of the boss fights in either game, though, ever reach the ridiculous heights of the final battle in Metal Slug 2/X, and even at their best, they seem to fall just a little short of delivering the same crazy thrills offered by past Metal Slug entries.
There's a handful of sounds that have been branded into the brains of any long-standing Metal Slug fan, including weapon reports, explosions, announcer sound bites, and theme songs, which both Metal Slug 4 and 5 make liberal use of. It's kind of a given that this stuff will get recycled in sequels of this nature. But it feels as though more effort went into the sound in Metal Slug 5, as opposed to Metal Slug 4, because it actually features some new sound effects, as well as a soundtrack that isn't completely synthesized. It wisely doesn't change the tone of the game's classically driving, militaristic themes, however; it simply ups the fidelity of them.
With a barrage of bullets and explosives flying directly at you at any given moment, you can expect to go through a healthy number of lives as you work your way through the games. Both are difficult, in theory, but that challenge is hamstrung by the fact that you have infinite continues right out of the gate, giving little incentive to try to hone your skills. It's definitely a difficult task bringing an arcade game to consoles and maintaining the same energy, and aside from this one specific--though significant--point, Metal Slug 4 & 5 is quite successful.
With the individual running time of each game clocking in at around 45 minutes, Metal Slug 4 & 5 are games that are meant to be played through over and over again. If you've already signed on for the Metal Slug ride, you know this going in, so you're looking forward to finding all the strange little secrets and alternate paths held within. But casual players will likely be deterred by this short play time and a price tag that, while several powers cheaper than buying the NeoGeo versions of Metal Slug 4 & 5, can still be a little difficult to justify.