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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Time Capsule: Metal Slug X (PSX)

No coins needed. Enjoy it as much as you want.



I remember watching people play Metal Slug X on the coin-operated arcade machines when I was a kid. But I didn’t actually go to play the game as the Metal Slug X arcade machines were famed for being coin devourers. One coin was never enough as you would probably die several times in the game – not surprising given the game’s insane number of on-screen enemies and bosses that fill up almost the entire screen. As of the time of this writing, the arcade operator hasn’t pulled the plug on the Metal Slug X machines (though my favourite Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is gone), but why make a trip to the arcade when Metal Slug X goodness can be available right in your home?

Reviewing retro titles like this could be a little difficult for me as I missed the PSX, N64 and Dreamcast era – totally. I only owned my first console, the original Xbox, in 2004 and my first console game was Halo. Yes, I started playing video games before 2004, but my knowledge (or rather, awareness) of video games then was only limited to the PC. By the time I landed my hands on my first console game, games were already rendered in full 3D, with polygonal count far exceeding that of games from preceeding consoles. And so in 2008, Metal Slug X became the first ever retro game I could get my hands on.

However, even for its time, the genre that Metal Slug defined – the side-scrolling shooter, was already deemed archaic. 3D games were fast becoming popular and 2D games were on the way out, so Metal Slug X definitely needed something to keep players engaged – and it succeeded; it showed why gamers should still reserve their judgments until they have completed a game.

While the backgrounds in Metal Slug X are essentially static 2D images, they are rendered in one of the most desirable fashions possible such that the game looks really gorgeous. The fantastic backgrounds are complemented by the on-screen animations, which are in every way top-notch. Each of the 4 selectable characters has different animations, all of which are really interesting. Perhaps more noteworthy is the amount of personality that has been injected into the enemies. Soldiers turn on their bellies and laugh when you die. Or they may grip their bellies and emit a hysterical laugh, even making faces sometimes. And when you reappear after you hit the continue button, they stretch their arms into the sky and shriek (observe the distortion on their small faces as well). In one instance, after you defeat a mid-boss, he falls into a canal and gets chewed by a killer whale. The former, coupled with the aforementioned, makes for a pretty humorous presentation, so this game’s isn’t just about all-out shooting, but also about the appreciation of such subtle, but thoughtful, details.

Speaking of action, this game scores. There are a total of 6 main missions, each occurring in a varying world and each of these worlds has a very discernible theme to it. For example, some worlds have mummies as enemies, while some have aliens and UFOs, though soldiers are present in every world. As mentioned, each mission is populated by quite an impressive number of enemies and bosses that takes advantage of the screen size, resulting in them being almost hundred times bigger than you. To counter these enemies, there are a number of weapons that can be equipped via power-ups, including shotgun, heavy machine gun, rocket launcher, laser gun and a handful of others that are more specific and unique. However, like the grenades, the ammo for these power-up-attained weapons is limited, and after the ammo has been used up, you would revert back to your default pistol. Each of the weapons has a sound effect to it, and I must say that they are equally, if not more, stunning than the animations. The music suits the action very well too.

The only complain I have with Metal Slug X is that it is simply too short. You can romp through all the 6 missions in 1 hour if you are fast, and in 1.5 hours at the slowest (at least on the default difficulty, normal mode, that is). Adjusting the difficulty would only increase the lifebar of enemy slugs, helicopters, bosses and what not, so there still isn’t much of a proper challenge, perhaps even cheap, if you will. After completing all the 6 missions, some bonus missions would be unlocked, but those are merely mini-missions that require you to accomplish very specific objectives. One of them includes throwing rocks from your train carriage to the enemy’s carriage. Hit them with the rocks and they fall to the tracks. Each of these mini-missions would only last a couple of minutes, and while there are quite a number of them, I wouldn’t put a bet on them extending the total playtime of the game by more than 30 minutes. Well, there are still bonus illustrations, but that isn’t saying much.

Final Comments
Arcade goodness right from your couch. What more could you ask for? Frantic action, a distinctively unique presentation of humor, great sound effects and amazing 2D backgrounds and animations. This is Metal Slug X – a side-scrolling shooter that any self-professed shooting fan should play. It is a pity that it’s over almost too quickly.


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