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Metal Slug Anthology (Wii)

The year is 2028. The Rebellion Army, under the control of General Morden, is seeking world domination through military might and has captured much of the Regular Army’s soldiers and equipment, including a newly designed tank, code named “Metal Slug.” Marco Rossi and Tarma Roving (with other characters appearing in later titles) must fight to stop General Morden’s ambitions, finding help from whatever soldiers they can rescue and any equipment they can commandeer. If it can’t be taken, destroy it!

…But let’s get serious now – plots in most action games just don’t matter. Who really remembers the whys and wherefores of Contra? Does it really matter what Dr. Wiley is up to in the NES Mega Man games? Likewise, the background story to the Metal Slug series doesn’t really matter. It’s just you against the world and your reflexes are your only friend.

Debuting in 1996 on SNK’s Neo-Geo MVS arcade hardware and AES home console, Metal Slug won instant praise for its incredible attention to detail, sheer volume of carnage and fluidly animated spritework. Similar to how Treasure pushes the limits of whatever equipment they are developing for, such as Gunstar Heroes for the SEGA Genesis, NASCA Corporation’s Metal Slug titles showed off what the Neo-Geo hardware was capable of. An instant hit, six more Neo-Geo Metal Slug titles were released over the following ten years.

The core gameplay is simple: run from one direction to the other, shooting whatever moves. One hit from a bullet or explosion will kill you, similar to Contra, Turrican and many other run-and-gun titles. Rescuing captured soldiers and destroying objects can reveal different weapons, such as the machine gun, the laser, and the rocket launcher. Along the way, you can commandeer various pieces of equipment, including the namesake Metal Slug. In later titles, you can ride camels, elephants, motorcycles and UFOs.

The action comes at you from all angles. General Morden’s soldiers will rush at you, parachute down out of the sky, lob grenades at you, and otherwise attempt to make your life difficult. Gigantic machines of destruction greet you at the end of each stage.

Neo-Geo AES games are rather pricey – as of this writing, the first Metal Slug alone would easily set you back $2000 to $2800 for a complete US AES cartridge with box and booklet ($1300-$1800 for the Japanese home cartridge) or $30-$70 for the bare arcade ROM if you have an MVS cabinet or a supergun. Released just after the launch of Nintendo’s Wii console, Metal Slug Anthology packages together the seven Neo-Geo MVS Metal Slug adventures into one shiny disc. Its $40 price tag for all seven MVS Metal Slug titles is a definite bargain. Included are several artwork galleries, music boxes and developer interviews, all accessible by earning enough “tokens” from completing each Metal Slug title. In addition, the comical, over-the-top blood and gore, typically disabled in US arcade systems, is present in this collection.

Unfortunately, figuring out the control scheme on the Wii takes a little extra work or a little extra pocket-money. SNK-Playmore experimented with the Wii’s motion sensing controller and added some new methods of controlling Marco. Using various combinations of the Remote and Nunchuk attachment, you can attempt to recreate the feel of an arcade joystick (unsuccessfully), “steer” Marco via tilting the Remote, control one-handed with just the Nunchuk, or use the Remote like a standard NES controller. This last control method is by far the best if you’re using the Wii controllers, though throwing grenades requires either flicking the Remote or reaching underneath to tap the B trigger. The easiest and most logical control scheme by far requires a GameCube controller. If you kept your GameCube instead of trading it in towards a Wii, you’re set. Otherwise, pick up a ‘Cube controller at the same time you pick up this Anthology.

The music and sound effects are spot-on, but the video is slightly off from the native AES/MVS experience. It appears that the video output has been scaled up to fit the screen horizontally, which has the side-effects of blurring, occasional pixel doubling and approximately 10-20 pixels along the bottom of the play area extending below the viewing area of the screen. While somewhat annoying to purists and perfectionists (like myself), it doesn’t detract too much from the gameplay.

All in all, the Metal Slug Anthology is a definite good buy. To collect the Neo-Geo AES Metal Slugs 1-5 would cost between $4000 and $6000 (Metal Slug 6 is not available for the Neo-Geo AES home system; it used a different architecture in the arcade). $40 for seven Metal Slug games just can’t be beat. The games provide an exhilarating rush that doesn’t get old. There’s no question that SNK’s Neo-Geo hardware was a sprite-pushing powerhouse. If you pick this up for the Wii I cannot stress enough that you should pick up a GameCube controller, preferably a WaveBird for cordless play, to truly enjoy the blink-and-you’re-dog-meat action. The Wii Remote/Nunchuk control options are just too difficult to work. If you don’t have a Wii, Metal Slug Anthology is also available for the PS2 and PSP.

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