Review by Kane

"You haven't lived if you haven't played Metal Slug X"

There was a time not so long ago when you wanted to become a soldier. You know it. With the Metal Slug series, phoenix-like developer SNK gives you a chance to finally prove you’ve got what it takes to fight for your country, minus the physical risks and the petty officers. Yes indeed, it presents war as a joke but it’s ten times more exciting than the real thing.

Much like its predecessors, Metal Slug X is a frantic 2d side-scroller whose intensity still remains unmatched to this day. But it’s definitely not your usual action game.

Creativity. Insanity. Fun. That’s what this game is all about.

Thank you SNK.

Creativity

Unlike first experiences with many important things in real life, the first contact with Metal Slug X is always a pleasurable one. In fact, it’s quite hard to understand why it doesn’t get the respect it undoubtedly deserves.

Metal Slug X’s storyline is very thin and uninspired. After choosing your favorite between the four angry protagonists (a male duo and its female counterpart, all equally charismatic), the player is directly thrown into a battle against an evil empire run by a power-hungry dictator highly reminiscent of Adolf H. Of course, this is only a pretext for including first-rate weapons and a bunch of fools in the game.

Your mission, if you accept it, is very simple: through five stages of long duration (that seemingly depict Egypt, Hong-Kong and New York), you have to blow up literally everything on your path. That’s right, everything.

Furthermore, the gameplay is particularly homogeneous: aside from the jump button, only two kinds of weapons are available. Let’s focus on the main shot since the grenades are self-explanatory: each time you deliver a prisoner of war, he’ll reward you with a new weapon: machine guns, rail gun, shotguns, flamethrowers… They’re all in there.

If you manage to survive, it becomes possible to ride numerous vehicles: you only get a vulgar camel at the beginning of the game, but are later rewarded with a wondrous bi-pedal robot during the last chapters. This incredibly high level of variety is at the core of the game --making Metal Slug X a more than enjoyable ride.

On the other hand, it’s important to keep in mind that this game, as impressive as it may be, is a mere update of the Metal Slug 2 engine. The differences between the two games are extremely minor and do not by any means justify the purchase of both cartridges! There are only a limited number of new enemies, and neither the new vehicles nor the new weapons turn out to be particularly interesting, excluding the brilliant rail gun projectiles. Yet, the reason for the upgrade appears more evident when you take into consideration the plethora of new animations and graphical details in the backgrounds.

Insanity

Just when you think it’s over, it’s not.

The developers always find a way to surprise you, and it works surprisingly well, mainly because Metal Slug X never takes itself seriously. The backgrounds greatly evolve as you progress through the levels, breaking a redundancy that could otherwise have tainted such a remarkable picture. And right when you think you’re taking control of the situation by defeating the opposing army, aliens come out of nowhere and take over the place, turning what was already an impetuous all-out war into a crazy blasting frenzy! Explosive.

Visually, the game is not necessarily appealing to everyone. Despite the detailed backgrounds and flawless animation, inexperienced players may not appreciate the technological feat that Metal Slug X is to its right value, turned off by the lack of fancy special effects: they would be wrong. Its beauty lies somewhere else. Where? In the genius character design, in the furious and incessant action, in the subtle feel of satire conveyed by some scenes. Almost everywhere, in fact.

The animation, for instance, is simply insane! The number of frames is so great that you truly have the impression you’re watching an anime, and this cartoonish feel provides MSX with a lot of extra personality. Seeing the enemies gasp as they witness your arrival sure is a treat, but wait until the mummies turn you into a zombie in the desert-based level, or until your character becomes enormous after collecting too many fruit bonuses! Is the Neo Geo really doing this? It sure is. But it’s really hard to believe that a ten-year-old piece of hardware can run this game without slowdown.

Similarly vibrant and charming are the graphics: as a matter of fact, only the recent Garou: Mark of the Wolves can pretend to offer better visuals. Perfect choice of colors + true artistic sense = Metal Slug X

However, that’s not the most attractive aspect of the game.

Fun

The constant confusion on the screen shows that the main purpose of the game is to offer immediate, accessible fun. Even the most dangerous jumps are easily dealt with after some practice, while the cooperation mode forces you and your buddy to use strategy in order to annihilate the oversized bosses standing in your way. Featuring top-notch controls and a variety of situations, Metal Slug X hypnotizes the poor player, only to leave him exhausted at the game over screen.

Nevertheless, Metal Slug X is at its best when two players join the fun. Hilarious disputes for the power-ups and refusals to cooperate are common and only add to the general fun, as the overall number of enemies –and therefore, the difficulty- is doubled.

Alas, as many Neo Geo titles Metal Slug X suffers greatly from the infinite credits option. It’s probably too incredibly difficult to be played with honor, but otherwise you’ll surely meet the disappointing last boss after less than one hour. Add certain linearity to the mix and you’ll end up with a short-lived thrill! Still, it remains a unique experience that keeps you coming back for more all the time, if only for its peculiar atmosphere.

Also, its impressive audio may very well be a good reason to play the game again. The themes range from epic to comical, while their dynamism never ceases to match the intense pace of the action. Most of them are fine jazzy tunes that perfectly fit the cool attitude of the game. Rare but refreshing voice samples contrast with the frequency of explosions that sound just as demonic as in real life.

Without being revolutionary, Metal Slug X displays more attitude than any other game out there. Almost everything in the game screams perfection, so one would be foolish not to give it a try because it’s better than sex with Halle Berry (yes, contrary to Ethereal, I’m one of the relatively large number of people who have tried both). And that says it all, really.

Blowing up stuff in Metal Slug X brings back fundamental joys that are often considered things of the past. Without shame, this game laughs at all those austere and mind-numbingly boring ‘old-school’ shooters. Baha!


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/08/02, Updated 02/02/03


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