Friday, September 28, 2012

Metal Slug For Neo Geo CD

The best parodies not only mimic their inspirations, they improve on them. Young Frankenstein may be the best monster movie Universal never made, while Evil Dead 2's expert mix of slapstick comedy and legitimate horror practically reinvented both genres as it parodied them. Both movies showed a true passion and admiration for their subjects of ridicule, and so does Nazca's Metal Slug. It's a spot-on parody of run & gun shooters that manages to be one of the best in the genre.

Metal Slug's game play should be pretty familiar to anyone who's played Contra or the like. It's a side-scrolling run & gun shooter that pits your lone character (or your lone character with another lone character in 2-player mode) against an army of easily dispatched enemies. You begin the game with a lowly pistol, but soon gain access to more powerful weapons, like heavy machine guns, rocket launchers, flamethrowers and shotguns. You're also armed with a number of grenades useful for taking out enemy bunkers and vehicles. However, one hit from enemy fire is fatal, causing you to respawn with only your pistol and a handful of those grenades, Periodically throughout the game, you will run across the titular Metal Slugs: personal-sized tanks sporting gatling guns and comically short-ranged cannons. These tanks pack more firepower and can soak up a lot more hits than your character can; they really help even the odds in boss fights if you can hang onto them long enough. Both on foot and in the Metal Slug, you can aim up, down, jump, duck and low-crawl, all while spraying white-hot pixel-y death from your weapon of choice.

OK, so far Metal Slug sounds like pretty a standard shooter fare; what sets it apart? The run & gun genre is an inherently absurd one, and Metal Slug fully embraces that absurdity. It packs every inch of the screen with gorgeous, colorful graphics drawn in an over-the-top cartoony style; warfare as imagined by Tex Avery. Ol' Tex would be proud of the animation too, as the amount of detail that went into each character, vehicle and landscape is astounding. Bullet casings eject from your pistol as you fire it. Tanks rock back on their treads from the recoil of their cannons. Powerups are delivered by scruffy POWs who salute before fleeing in terror. Enemies chit-chat with each other over a campfire, sunbathe, or laugh at your misfortune when you die. Background characters go about their daily business, oblivious to the carnage happening around them--until someone drops a building on them. When left to his own devices, your own character yaks on a walkie-talkie, takes swigs from a flask and drags from a cigarette. All of these subtle moment add a whole lot of character to the game, and demonstrate the amazing amount of creativity that went into it.

Of course, those little moments can be easily missed in all the frenetic action. From the moment you first parachute in, you face bullets and missiles and bombs and bottle rockets flying at you from all directions. You'll be mowing through wave after wave of hapless minions who often demonstrate less than complete devotion to their cause as they duck for cover, try to sneak past you, hold their nose & dive off sinking ships, or just flail around while engulfed in flames. The sheer amount of carnage happening all around you means you'll probably die a whole lot before finishing the game. Yet, it's all such an absurd and stimulating experience that frustration never really seems to set in, even after continuing umpteen times.

Perhaps Metal Slug's only failing is its rather short length. Its six intense levels fly by, culminating in an epic showdown with the lead bad guy and a surprisingly poignant credit sequence. Then again, as the quintessential arcade quarter-sucker, Metal Slug lasts just as long as it should. It delivers a quick, intese and immensely enjoyable arcade experience, and it leaves you begging for more. Though it's an entirely linear game, Metal Slug is worth playing through more than once just to catch all of the brilliant animations packed into the game. The Neo Geo CD version includes multiple difficulties, from easy to MVS (arcade), as well as a time attack mode to add a little replay value. One last nifty bonus, that I believe is unique to the NGCD release, is a gallery of terrific concept drawings and original artwork from the MS universe, including a few characters and vehicles that turn up in later MS games.

Thanks for reading my review! Next up, I kick off a month-long Halloween horror-fest with the TG16's Splatterhouse!

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