Looking at the differences between where videogames have been and where theyre going, youll often find some groups of people saying that they miss the good old days. "Old-school" gaming, as it were. For those of us with enough years under our belts to have been active players on more than one generation of consoles, its a mysterious and sometimes indefinable quality that some claim has disappeared from games crafted today, much to the loss of game players everywhere.
While its clear that older games featured very different types of challenges and styles than most commonly found today, those breeds of games evolved because of the types of hardware that they were running on. Technically limited in scope, clever developers had to make the most with what they had, and they were oftentimes wildly successful in their creativity. Now that newer machines are seemingly possible of performing just about any type of operation imaginable, its a little strange to think that enjoyable, older styles that were nearly perfected would be abandoned and left by the wayside in favor of embracing new technology and all-new types of experiences.
Im no Quaker. I dont always think the old things are the best things, and Im certainly not resistant to change. Id just like to see developers continue to acknowledge the merits of proven styles and keep producing certain types of games while also exploring new frontiers. Is it impossible for one school of thought to coexist with the other? I dont think so, and while I may be in the minority, Im certainly not alone. Metal Slug X is one of the ultimate examples of keeping the core of rapidly disappearing "old-school" gameplay, while making it attractive and current by taking advantage of newer technology to enhance its strengths.
The game is firmly rooted in the tradition of fast arcade action (its a modified port, in fact) and takes place on a 2-D plane. The plot (definitely not a major element of the game) revolves around a group of four soldiers who must mount an assault against an evil army in league with extraterrestrial forces. Players can take the Rambo route and go solo, or spray some lead while accompanied by a friend in a rousing co-op experience. You advance through the game from left to right, jumping platforms and using every weapon at your disposal to eradicate all opposition. The game also includes four different types of transportation in addition to the standard-issue combat boots your character wears. Featured are the eponymous Metal Slug tank, the "Slugnoid" (a jumping mecha-suit), the Slug Flyer (similar to a Hawker-Harrier jump jet) and my personal favorite, the Camel Slug (yes, it actually IS a camel). Before going on, Id just like to say that the Camel Slug is absolutely bad-ass, and any game that has the guts to name something a "Camel Slug" gets big bonus points from me.
Looking first at the games visuals, its absolutely incredible to see how many sprites and frames of animation the PlayStation can push without any visible flash or slowdown. Something this graphically intensive and detailed was previously thought impossible, even by me, but now Id have to say that the gurus at SNK have proved us all wrong.
Technical achievements on the hardware aside, the quality of the artwork is exceptional. Everything in the game is smooth and fluidly animated, from the death throes of the enemy soldiers to the noticeable look of joy on the faces of freed P.O.Ws. Its sheer pleasure to play through the different areas just to see what kind of crazy or comical animations the next enemy will have. Not only are the characters great examples of animation done right, the backgrounds have a staggering amount of activity and detail happening in them. I havent even mentioned anything about the huge bosses yet. One in particular, a huge battleship rumbling about on tank treads, simply has to be seen to be believed.
One potentially controversial aspect of Metal Slug X, (as well as other games featuring arcade-like action) is the decision to include unlimited continues during gameplay, as well as starting a respawned character in exactly the same place where he was defeated. Personally, I have no problem with it as long as the game is generally high-quality. In this case, Id even say it was a plus due to the ease with which players will find themselves shuffling off their virtual coil. With the infinite continues I basically look at it as a way to kick back and have fun by enjoying the ride, not getting stressed out trying to overcome the games significant difficulty. Taking it a step further, you could even make it a personal challenge to use the smallest number of continues possible. I needed about 25 the first time I played through, and the second time through took considerably less.
While the game itself can be beaten fairly quickly, the developers did exactly the right thing by adding additional elements to lengthen the games replay value. Once you bring down the insidious interstellar invaders, the option to undertake "Another Mission" opens up. Comprised of over 20 individual challenges, these minigames are incredibly grueling and heartless tests of sheer manual dexterity and (dare I say) old-school skills. Not since the dusty days of the NES have I been faced with such a challenging set of finger-busting objectives. I loved every minute of it.
Finally I just have to mention the art gallery. After finishing both the main game and the extra challenges, you can unlock up to 136 pieces of artwork altogether to view, which is a rather nice payoff, in my opinion. However, for those of you with enough fortitude to unlock the extra challenge pictures, I found No. 125 to be extremely disturbing—view it at your own risk.
Looking at flaws or problems with the game, there isnt anything above the level of "minor annoyance" to be seen. First off, those with fingers that tire quickly or develop calluses; please be warned that Metal Slug X doesnt have a rapid-fire option available. I generally prefer games with a lot of shooting to let me hold down a button instead of tapping like a madman, since Im assuming the goal of the game is not to give me tendonitis.
The other detail so minor I hesitated to even bring up was that the blood in the game is colored white instead of red. While its mildly amusing to see enemies collapse in a pool of "milk," or see buckets of "sweat" fly when they get shot, I really dont see much reason for not coloring the blood correctly. It doesnt detract from the gameplay in any way, and isnt a big deal—its just silly and illogical to think that shooting people who bleed red is bad, while shooting people who bleed white is fine. Has there ever been an evil army of people filled with Elmers Glue that I dont know about? SNK isnt the only culprit of this and I dont mean to single them out, but I still think its nonsensical for any game company to mess with the color palette this way. If youre so hesitant about showing the carnage of pretend warfare, then why include such an amazing level of graphic detail? Why even make a game focused on combat at all?
Dont let my tiny complaints fool you. Those two little nitpicks aside; Metal Slug X is exactly the RIGHT way to do old-school gaming with a new-age twist. Its got loads of gameplay, is accessible to nearly any gamer and has so much going for it in terms of style and craftsmanship that its a worthwhile purchase for anybody who is wise enough to see that not all good things come by way of the third dimension.
Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.
Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway