Metal Slug Anthology PS2 Review

Marking the tenth anniversary of the SNK series, this PS2 disc collects together seven different entries in the long-running franchise. This review could be over in just ten words – “Run. Jump. Shoot. Throw. Repeat until dead. Buy it now.” – but that would not tell the whole story.

The original Metal Slug was a breath of fresh air, the beautiful hand-drawn graphics setting a new benchmark. It established so many of the key elements – bonus objects like cards and food, the prisoners to be rescued, and the fabulous little tank (which is what the series takes its name from). It also set the difficulty level at a high mark, where it stayed throughout the games. The structure was firmly in place – five missions, each ending with a tough boss.

Metal Slug 2 brought new weapons, new vehicles and a surprise twist on the last mission – aliens. The mummies also put in their first appearance. Metal Slug X is more of a remix of the second title than a new game, with subtle alterations to backgrounds, a couple of new weapons and a different end sequence. One of the most effective sections is the underground tunnel, with the player having to destroy a subway train.

Metal Slug 3 at first glance appears to be very similar to what has gone before, with many re-used graphics and ideas. However, variety is added with the underwater section and the tough final battle in the alien spaceship. Metal Slug 4 adds more choice of routes and more interactions with the other characters (following on from 3’s plotline with an abducted character turning up later in the game).

Metal Slug 5 starts with a nice jungle/Aztec level and a funny little cutscene that sets up the new bad guy. The final confrontation is also cleverly done and would not look out of place in a Nintendo game. The “running slide” move (down and X) was also new for this game. The collection contains the most recent game in the series, Metal Slug 6, which is appearing on console for the first time. Once again, aliens play a key part in the plot, with Ikari Warriors heroes Ralf and Clark joining the line-up. Each character has a different characteristic, a different alternative fire (R1 and X) and they now sport the ability to hold two weapons (changing between them with Triangle). Another change is in the graphics – at key points the screen will zoom in and out to show more of the action.

In terms of the actual emulation, there is good and bad. The graphics are excellent throughout and the music is spot on. The major drawback is the loading – for most of the games, each mission (and on later games, different parts of the levels) needs a separate load. This does break up the flow, even if it is a very short pause and an opportunity to rest weary fingers. There is also some noticeable slowdown when the screen gets busy, but that is also a flaw of the original games. Regular players will already know the other major design flaw, requiring a player to survive to the end of the level without losing a life to earn big bonus points for the prisoners that have been rescued. That, coupled with the character running off-screen at certain points before bonuses can be collected, leads to frustration.

The bonus material does not add a lot to the collection, but it is nice to have access to it. The music player lets you play the tunes from all the games, but it is a simple menu screen without any features. The art galleries are unlocked by completing each game and contain over a hundred images of concept and character art. Seeing a menu item labelled “Interview” raises hopes, but it is a simple scrolling text. There are some interesting questions asked, but when put alongside something like the Sega Megadrive Collection it is disappointing. Game options are quite limited, but the “free play” (infinite continues) mode is appreciated. Buttons can be redefined and the analogue stick used, but control feels much firmer with the digital pad. Indeed, the PS2 version is much more fun to play because of its controls than the Wii.

Compared to similar collections, there is not a huge amount of gameplay hours and variety here. Go in expecting something innovative and you will be disappointed. So, why the relatively high score at the end? The devil is in the detail and the superb cartoon graphics, backed up with some impressive and punchy soundtracks. With the recently announced budget price and some ultra-tough retro action, this is worth a look.