If SNK Playmore has an iconic game franchise it has to be Metal Slug. Appearing in the mid 90s, by which time most arcades in the West has disappeared, Metal Slug stood out for two reasons: it was a run-and-gun game at a time when coin-op games could be placed into the categories of fighting, puzzle and racing (with the very occasional vertically-scrolling shooter) and it had an unprecedented level of detail.
It was the latter that earned the franchise a following which has seen it through five sequels (with a sixth due shortly for release on the DS as of this writing) and made it one of the most-recognised franchises in video games. Player and enemy characters have a variety of animations and there is fantastic attention to detail in the designs of the vehicles and bosses as well as the multi-layered backgrounds. The effect is very much like participating in an animated film; the enemies and allies seem to have a life of their own. It’s an appealing package and was an unexpected surprise when first released.
Home consoles have moved on since the Neo-Geo home and arcade system and Metal Slug Anthologies have appeared in various forms on many home consoles. It was a natural to also release one for the Wii as a launch title in 2006; the best selling point being the inclusion of another all-new entry in the franchise: Metal Slug 6.
As a fan of the series I was interested of course, but I was put off due to some negative press regarding the controls. Control issues in Wii games are almost cliched, but in this case there is a definite problem: there are many control schemes supporting the Wii remote in this collection, but every single one of them needlessly uses motion control. For a series of games that had basic controls even at the time they were first released (one digital joystick and three buttons), it seems almost sacrilegious. I won’t go into much detail, but none of the default control schemes is terribly satisfying despite their variety. The best you can do is use the wiimote on its side which uses a shake to throw a grenade. Tragic.
Thankfully the Gamecube controller is also supported (though oddly this isn’t indicated anywhere on the game box) and allows for controls to be remapped as well. Presumably the Classic Controller wasn’t supported because it wasn’t available to code for that early in the Wii’s lifecycle; thankfully in subsequent disc-based Neo-Geo game collections published by Ignition Entertainment (and individual Virtual Console releases of these games) this is not the case.
The game menus can be navigated with either the Gamecube controller or the wiimote and whilst the content is good, the presentation feels like it was a bit rushed and lacks some polish. The main interface consists of a Metal Slug tank facing you and a small, badly compressed display next to it which shows some video of the game. Pressing left-right on the d-pad toggles between games and options with a corresponding rotation of the mini-gun facing you. Choosing a selection with A fires the gun and launches the option (cute).
You can choose one of seven Metal Slug games (including Metal Slug X, an alternate version of Metal Slug 2), setting Options and viewing bonus content. The games themselves have been well-translated and play just like the Neo-Geo equivalents other than some loading times which are a bit unexpected in their placement, but don’t detract too much from the experience. Options can be set globally or on a per-game basis (a nice touch) and extras consist of concept and promotional art and music files as well as a text-based interview with the creators.
Games can be saved mid-stream (barring Metal Slug 6) and have unlimited continues. Finishing a game earns credits which are used to unlock the art and music files. The number of continues used to complete a game are recorded as well as your scores to give you some incentive to better your game.
If you like Metal Slug — especially if you want to play Metal Slug 6 (which is the best Metal Slug game since MS3) — then you’d do well to get this. I would like to have seen a little more polish in the menus and the interface (and especially Classic Controller support or optional gestures at least), but I’m hopeful that we’ll see another release in the future correcting these aspects. Surely we’ll want to have Metal Slug 7 on the Wii as well, won’t we?