Guns. Grenades. Armored vehicles. You. And enemies. Lots of enemies. Sounds fun if you're the sort that enjoys blowing crap up. In fact, you would think that any old-school Contra fan would be in guns-blazing bliss. Unfortunately, Metal Slug 4/5 does not live up to its promise.
Metal Slug is a series that has not seen many releases here in the United States, apart from several incarnations on the Neo Geo front. And while fans might be grateful that they don't have to spend several hundred dollars to play this release, they may also be somewhat upset at this lackluster offering. SNK opted to include both Metal Slug 4 and Metal Slug 5 in a single release, and this review will touch on them as a whole and individually.
Both games do indeed have a storyline, though you would have to read the instruction booklet to find that out. Needless to say, the story is mere drapery to allow for as much violence as possible in as many locales as possible. All of the major team members return for action, though Metal Slug 4 introduces two new characters.
Gameplay is exceedingly simple: shoot everything in sight. Players begin by choosing a character, though this is merely a cosmetic choice as all characters handle identically. Characters can jump, shoot, or lob grenades, and they must use these skills to defeat a seemingly endless wave of enemies. Metal Slug 5 also introduces a new move: sliding, which allows for quick but vulnerable movement.
Of course, no shoot-em-up would be complete without a large variety of weapon upgrades. The normal weak gun has unlimited ammo, but each of the special weapons is limited to a certain number of shots. Expect to find anything from shotguns to lasers, rocket launchers to machine guns. Characters also have a short range knife attack that is used automatically if an enemy is close enough.
And all these weapons are quite needful. Metal Slug falls into the one shot = player death category, and enemies will keep up a steady barrage of bullets, bombs, and puke - all of which are equally deadly. The trademark difficulty is present, some sections impossible to navigate through without loss of life. However, this is mitigated by unlimited continues; in the end, it's not skill but tenacity that makes it through the game.
A few other Metal Slug trademarks also show themselves. Characters can undergo a variety of transformations, becoming zombies, monkeys, obese warriors, etc. Most of these transformations have their own special attacks but carry limitations not present in the normal form. The series namesake slugs are armored vehicles that can be used by the player in order to inflict much more damage than could be accomplished alone. Both games present slugs, but Metal Slug 5 has a much richer variety.
Metal Slug 4 is clearly the weaker of the two games. Level designs seem uninspired, and much of it is recycled from previous Metal Slug incarnations. Slugs are few and far between, and the game lacks the variety of environments that its successor shows. The game does deliver a new combo system, rewarding players who pick up a certain item and then kill as many enemies as possible within a short timeframe. Metal Slug 5 offers up more multi-level, branching levels, allowing for a variety on subsequent playthroughs. Slugs are often available, particularly at the start of differing environments, such as a water or air level.
Both games display the same level of graphical capability. Originally designed for the Neo Geo system, neither pushes the PS2 in terms of hardware capability. The colorful sprite animations are a trademark of the series, and they are in full force. A number of jokes or simply funny animations are built in for the keen-eyed player. Aurally, both games exhibit the same types of sounds. Nothing is especially remarkable, good or bad, and the sounds do a decent job of rendering a variety of violent motions.
As a package for the PS2, Metal Slug 4/5 is somewhat skimpy and has the look of a hasty release. The only extras are a few stats based on game performance. Translations approach Engrish, and the announcer probably saw a few too many Terminator movies. Both games can be finished in under an hour for novices, and advanced players can finish in half that. Taken as an aggregate, the result is that Metal Slug 4/5 feels short and meager, especially for a fully priced PS2 release.
Die hard fans of the genre and the series will no doubt pick this up and enjoy it, but most gamers will want to pass on Metal Slug 4/5.
(** out of *****)