Metal Slug Anthology Review
If you were pumping quarters into Neo Geo arcade machines back in the late 90s like I was, then you probably are plenty familiar with arguably one of the Neo Geo's greatest franchises. SNK's own Metal Slug brought 2D shooter gameplay to life with excellent hand-drawn graphics and tons of charm. After SNK closed down several years ago, Playmore picked them up and started funding new ports of the SNK classics to home consoles, and they even put together a couple of new Metal Slug games themselves. Now, SNK Playmore is using the Wii as their launch platform for the most complete collection in the series so far, Metal Slug Anthology, and it's got "six" control schemes for you to play it with.
Metal Slug Anthology includes all seven original games - 1 through 6, and "X" which came after #2. The first four games were developed by the original SNK team, and the rest were created by other development teams after Playmore revived the company. They all have similar gameplay in that you'll control a soldier who's shooting his or her way through massive stages with tons of action and explosions. Over the course of these games you'll be fighting rebel soldiers, the paranormal, and even aliens, and in some cases you'll even team up against them. The many crazy situations you'll get into, along with the highly inventive and difficult bosses, are what make the Metal Slug series worth the price of admission.
While every game comes in an arcade-perfect port here, you'll find that the menus framing the whole experience, along with the controls, are the toughest parts to swallow. SNK Playmore put together the most bare-bones version of a menu and interface system I've seen that wraps around the games, and while you can unlock galleries of concept art by beating them and even an interview with the developers, trust me - they're not worth it. The interview is actually just text; there's no audio or video. In the end, you'll need to love Metal Slug to love this series.
All that being said, the game really is a lot of fun, especially when two players team up. While your first play through will have you dying probably every five or ten seconds, you do get infinite continues. Eventually you can get through these games with ten continues or less, and if you really master them, you can get through them with zero or one. You do get free lives as you go so it's possible to play and still make mistakes without having to rack up your continue count. You'll get turned into fat people, zombies, and aliens, and will destroy huge screen-size bosses while they throw a ton of different attacks at you. Put simply, Metal Slug is a must-have if you're looking to wax nostalgic on 2D arcade games.
I want to mention that while this package includes every game in the series, not all of them are great. #3 is probably the best one in the package, as it was the final one made by SNK. It's the longest and has a ton of crazy, fun stuff to go through. Number 4 was an unfinished mess, spewed out in 2002 by a team new to the series that had a nasty deadline and not enough money to actually finish the game correctly. As a result, Metal Slug 4 actually has whole recycled chunks of graphics and gameplay from past games. SNK Playmore did get a new team for numbers five and six and they were much better, but they never lived up to the first few in the series.
Despite the jumps in quality, you'll see new features as you play through each one. In the first game, you play as a single character with some cool abilities; he can shoot, pick up new limited-ammo guns, jump into the Metal Slug super tank, and throw grenades. By Metal Slug 6, the seventh game in the series, you're choosing from six characters (all with their own special abilities) and can do some other neat stuff.
The controls kill me, though. This attempt at innovation really irks me, because it seems SNK Playmore put this in just to pad a feature list without actually testing to see if their new control schemes were actually fun. The main control scheme has you holding the Wiimote sideways, like an old NES controller. Buttons 1 and 2 allow you to shoot and jump, and you have to flick the controller around to get a grenade to come out. No, you can't press A to throw a grenade, nor can you press the B trigger on the underside. You have to flick it - for Metal Slug veterans, this is going to be a very unwelcome change that really kills off your ability to control your character when throwing grenades.
Other control schemes actually get worse. There's the Nunchuk-only controls that let you move with the analog stick and jump and fire with the Nunchuk, and you again must flick for grenades. It's mostly worthless. Another scheme lets you use the Wiimote and tilt it to move while pressing buttons for fire and jump. This feels so incredibly unnatural because you're using analog controls for a decidedly digital game. Then there's the most innovative and most useless one yet - you hook up the Nunchuk and use the Wiimote as an arcade joystick itself. Yes, you put it down on a vertical surface and angle it for what you want, and the Nunchuk allows you to fire and jump. This feels so incredibly bad, it's hard to believe they actually went ahead with this.
Finally, there's the GameCube controller scheme. I'm not sure, but this might be the only Wii game so far to use the GC controller - but be warned, you have to use the analog stick on the controller, not the D-pad, to control your character. Consider that if you decide to pick up this game and a GC arcade stick. Still, this control scheme is probably the safest one for fans of the series to use. Oh, and you might be asking if there's any support for the Wii Classic Controller: nope, there's not. I have no idea how that happened, but it did.
You might also be counting, and noticed that I only listed 4 of the 6 advertised control schemes. That's because the final two are just left-handed versions of ones I already listed. In the end I wound up going with the Wii-remote-as-NES-controller style of play, but I was never good enough with it because I had to take my hands off the controls just to throw a grenade. For the record, there is not a single way I know of to play with a D-pad and buttons for each of the three original arcade buttons. You can get a D-pad one way, but you only get two buttons, and you can get the buttons one way, but have to use the GC controller's analog stick. Seriously, did they not think this through?
Now, Metal Slug Anthology has been released for the Wii with a pretty decent $40 price tag. With seven games bundled in this package, you're paying about $6 each after sales tax is thrown in. This is a pretty good value, especially when you look at the weaker Wii Virtual Console games, all of which have similar price tags. Even past Xbox and PS2 ports of Metal Slug games were terrible values - the most laugable of these was a $40 package for the Xbox and PS2 that included #4 and #5 (arguably the worst games in the series) really insulted the intelligence of Metal Slug fans.
So as far as the value goes, this one is great as long as you can somehow find a control scheme that you don't mind. If you can handle the NES-style Wiimote config, go for it, but if not, your best bet after that is the GameCube controller (which does let you throw grenades with a button). Overall, the Metal Slug games are great, and Anthology's biggest plus is that all seven games are here. Beyond that, don't expect much.