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The Metal Slug series is something of a rare anomaly in gaming terms. Whilst most old-skool franchises have seen fit to acquire 3D facelifts and employ flashy effects in order to remain in vogue for the 21st century, Metal Slug has if anything broadened its cult following by doing the exact opposite steadfastly remaining the same. Whether you play the first or the fifth instalment, little has been discernibly altered in the mad-cap retro shooters blueprint. Fans will know what they are getting, but can number five still raise a smile or is the joke wearing a little thin?
Metal Slug 5 (MS5) is the third of its lineage to appear on the PlayStation2, having been given a suitably low-key release in 2005 by SNK Playmore a company formed in the wake of SNK's demise; retaining and maintaining their retro legacies (such as The King Of Fighters) though without the original development teams. For those (quite a few of you I would imagine) unfamiliar, Metal Slug is a 2D side-scrolling shoot 'em up with cartoon-style animated graphics and an emphasis on the mad and the random.
It's fair to say that, even by gaming's often-tenuous standards, MS5 doesn't contain much of a storyline though in this instance, it would have been more or less utterly irrelevant anyway. The premise is refreshingly simple select one of four characters, blast your way through five missions, kill a final boss and put your feet up as the end credits roll. The gameplay-charged spirit of late-eighties and early-nineties arcade games is very much championed here, and Metal Slug 5 features all the perks and problems that come with this train of thought.
As with its predecessors, the game is pleasantly easy to pick up and play. Regardless of whether you've played a previous Metal Slug game or not, the configuration is smartly laid-out and instantly accessible. Movement through the levels is highly simplistic there is no option to move towards or away from the screen, leaving the player to manoeuvre using the left, right and jump buttons. Though this sounds like it may stifle the developers creativity rather severely, it rarely manifests itself as a problem. The real test comes from dodging the onslaught of attacks from the army of enemies you'll face they lunge at you from all manner of awkward angles and avoiding one bad guy may often leave you vulnerable at the hands of another as you progress through the levels, surviving proves an increasingly tricky art form.
The action is destructive, fun and, while it lasts, there's rarely a dull moment. If it isn't foot-soldiers or gunmen taking pot shots at you, its tanks, armoured vehicles, helicopters, guys with voodoo masks or (just because it's Metal Slug) jellyfish. The range of weapons within is impressive as well as having the usual pistols, shotguns and machine-guns at your disposal, there are also welcome returns for the wacky rocket guns and the mighty Iron-Lizard launcher. The armoured 'Slug' vehicles that can be piloted by the player are ever present and useful for causing destruction the 'Slug Mariner' you get to control in an underwater section is a nifty new inclusion in particular, though fans may feel a tinge of disappointment in noting that the Camel with mounted-guns seemingly does not make an appearance in MS5. However, the brilliant 'Slug Mobile' (a car that looks like an armoured VW Beetle) goes some way to making up for it its very fast and, somewhat oddly for a car, can leap very high at the touch of a button.
Visually, it remains one of the most distinctive games on the system. Whilst on the surface, its 2D cartoon visuals appear rather old-hat, MS5 still has considerable charm. It is very well presented, and the levels are commendably varied in their appearance and often packed with activity there are dozens of well-animated sprites throwing themselves at you every few seconds and there are never any technical problems caused by this. The animation is very clever and you'll notice a lot of characters reacting differently to your movements; hiding, charging, ducking, or just screaming in pantomime horror; making each encounter truly individual.
The problem is, Metal Slug 5 borrows far too much from its predecessors and in a direct comparison to the ageing PSOne classic Metal Slug X, it comes up worryingly short. It could be forgiven that the graphics are no sharper and that it features the same characters, voicing-effects and weapons as in previous instalments, but virtually nothing new has been added to the formula. Indeed, the only element to distinguish it from any of its last three predecessors is the inclusion of a 'slide' move, which allows the player to slide under attacks whilst still shooting its implementation has been fine, though it is rarely ever required in the course of the game.
Signs of the series token humour are still in evidence; your character growing fat after eating lots of food power-ups, and a prisoner of war you free helping out near the end of the adventure with some Street Fighter-esque fireballs are two instances that amuse, but these are still not new to the series and, next to the bonkers Nazis 'n' aliens finale of Metal Slug X, it all seems slightly subdued.
The two-player mode remains a great laugh and still one of the better examples of co-operative gameplay on the PlayStation2, but longevity and value of the game as a whole are a real concern. I polished off the Arcade mode in 43 minutes on my own and blitzed through it in just 35 with a friend. But whilst in previous games there have been a wealth of mini-missions and other such distractions to tackle beyond the Arcade game, MS5 does not have any extra set-ups. The one thing that offers any replay value is the chance to rescue the thousand or so PoW's scattered about the game on all difficulty levels. The trouble is, this requires often traversing an entire mission and beating a boss without dying once, which even on the easiest of the four skill settings, is an eye-watering prospect. To accomplish such a mammoth feat requires an almost-photographic memory of enemy-attack patterns and this quickly leads to frustration and a loss of the lunatic-spontaneity that makes games of this ilk such fun in the first place.
The age-recommendation is 12+ - the violence featured within is literally of a cartoon nature and there is no gore. Due to its accessibility and the base-quality of MS5's gameplay, it has to warrant consideration for shoot 'em up fans. Whilst it may prove a little too tough for very young gamers, the unlimited continues eliminates a great deal of potential frustration as the last couple of levels in particular will see you dying with alarming frequency.
Ultimately, fans of the series will commend the fact that all of the elements that made Metal Slug so good in the first place are alive and well in here, but the flip side of this is that MS5 offers nothing that hasn't been seen before and dare I say it, done better. The two-player mode proves a fine distraction for a time but beyond this, there is little to entice gamers in the long-term. It's cheap 'n' cheerful and will undoubtedly appeal to retro fans who get misty-eyed at the mention of Gunstar Heroes, but with Metal Slug Anthology on the horizon, it may be wiser to hold on to your money and wait for something with a little more substance.
Despite the title that Dooyoo have set up with this game you actually get both version 4 and 5 of the Metal Slug series so thats two games in one which should make it excellent value and while this is undoubtedly a good game it is not the greatest shoot em up you will find on the market.
This is a two dimensional game where you battle you way through the various levels destroying he numbers of enemies. You can choose from any one of four characters to play as however as they all handle exactly the same there really is not that much choice to be had. The important thing with this game is to take advantage of the various tank like vehicles or slugs in the game that provide both protection and additional fire power and come in a number of different forms.
Visually this is one of those retro games which does not look that great, on the plus side there is enough of a difference between the two versions on offer with a whole new set of enemies to defeat that keeps the playing experience interesting however it still ultimately comes down to mashing the fire button in order to succeed and making use of the slugs.
This is not the most difficult of games to complete mainly because you have an unlimited supply of continues so while you will die frequently you hardly need worry about losing your life as there is a new soldier waiting in the wings. The replay value comes from finding different routes through the game and exploring the various secrets that the game hides.
Not the greatest game I have ever played but not a bad afternoons entertainment but because of the limited game play time Im not sure it is worth the £23.46 it will cost to buy it in the new and used section from Amazon unless you have serious withdrawal pains from the original arcade game and want a stroll down memory lane.