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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Metal Slug 4 & 5 (Xbox)


By Michael Palisano

Those players familiar with the previous installments in the Metal Slug series, whether on the classic Saturn emulations, or those lucky enough to own the games on AES hardware will find few surprises when they load up either of these two titles. Players can select from one of four characters at the start of each mission, then it's off to battle against Morden's evil forces in a battle of wits and bullets. Metal Slug 4 & 5 both stay true to the series' successful formula, with a similar approach and level design. Of the two on this compilation, Metal Slug 5 seems to have a better overall design and feel with slightly more coherent level design, though it features fewer levels and a more straightforward approach. As you'd expect from these types of games, the controls are tight and responsive and work in classic fashion. Aiming your weapons and blasting foes is a simple task, while jumping out of the way of enemy fire is likewise simple. Players can keep track of ammo and their overall status using the onscreen indicator.

The enemy attacks you from all angles and fire at your soldier relentlessly with machine guns and missiles with the intensity of the game evident immediately. In order to beat them, you can use your standard weapons and a secondary fire such as a missile, to launch long range attacks. Your can also collect numerous power-ups such as heavy machine guns, missiles and other weapons to wipe out a level cleanly. Obviously, the key elements of the gameplay are the Metal Slugs themselves. For those unfamiliar with the series, Slugs are controllable vehicles that the player can jump into and use to cause even more mayhem. When you're inside one of these machines, you have added protection from enemy fire, but aren't completely impervious. The Slug will flash for several seconds before it explodes and kills your character, giving you time to jump out. The design and types of Slugs available in both games are impressive and range from tanks, to scooters, to helicopters and aire ships. Each of these can perform a different type of task, making them an integral part of each mission.

Both of these Metal Slug titles offer a mixture of the traditional side scrolling action along with some areas which are more complicated, such as a section where your soldier is falling through a cracks. This gives both titles a sense of variety that keeps the gameplay from becoming stale, while not diverging too much from the standard Metal Slug mechanics. Of the two games, MS4 was the title that was more experimental in this department, though these divergent approaches made for a somewhat disjointed feel at points. The games show an increased inventiveness in their level designs as well. On certain levels, players will also face other types of bad guys such as zombies and mummies who will transform your character into a weaker, altered state. This usually slows you down and eliminates your secondary fire weapon. This adds to the challenge and makes these sequences much harder to beat than you'd think. In addition to the standard gun upgrades, both games allow players to collect a variety of points by collecting objects onscreen. Your high scores can then be posted online using Xbox Live where players can compare their scores against other players' in the game's leaderboards.

From a visual standpoint, both Metal Slug 4 & 5 effectively recapture the look and feel of the classically styled arcade games nearly flawlessly, with no loss in graphical detail and little load time between levels to degrade the experience. The character animations are richly detailed, with multiple frames of animation, beautifully detailed explosions and evocative backdrops that create a great looking 2D platforming experience. Both titles remain defiantly old-school in appearance, and this is definitely a large part of their charm. Using hand-drawn sprites instead of polygonal renders gives Metal Slug its unique personality, allowing the characters in the game great sense of cartoon expression. For example, you'll see enemies flailing their arms right before they explode, or your soldiers' slumping and walking slower when they're captured. This is a violent game, but not without a sense of humor, with exaggerated characters and funky designs that bring the world to life vividly, with an almost old-fashioned flair many modern titles seem to lack these days. This approach is definitely almost archaic these days, but goes a long way giving the games a retro chic that's quite charming. While you can debate which of the games is better, they both offer non-stop action and challenging gameplay.

The games both offer a range of player controllable options and settings, with the ability to select levels (once completed), difficulty settings, and control parameters at the menus in each game. You can also choose to view your war trophies in the gallery mode and upload your high scores and completion times. While this might seem a bit threadbare in this department, the game's don't really require too much in the way of elaborate options, and these more than suffice. While the games offer solid action and tight gameplay, there are a few minor issues. Both games only feature a few levels, making them quite short. Since they also offer unlimited continues, those who abuse the system will find themselves able to blow through the game quickly, though holding yourself back and setting parameters along with harder difficulty levels helps to extend the challenge and longevity of both games. The good news is that despite their short length, the added difficulty levels and branching levels help to increase the game's longevity, and most players should find topping their previous bests and scores gives them a sense of accomplishment worth the time and effort. These are solidly entertaining, traditionally 2D shooting games made for hardcore gamers. Metal Slug 4 and 5 are definitely must-plays for any old-school gamer looking for some of that classic SNK magic, and younger gamers looking for a refreshing change of pace should have a blast with them, too. The somewhat high price tag might turn off some gamers but, it's still far cheaper than either of these games command individually on AES hardware. Since the conversions are so faithful, anyone interested in these game from a gameplay standpoint will definitely get their money's worth

Grade: B

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