2D side scrolling shooters is a very interesting genre for videogames. They have their roots from the very beginning of time (i.e. late 1980s in videogame language) and they sure are plenty of fun to play, especially with alongside a friend on a couch. But in today’s modern age of gaming this is an almost forgotten genre. To the extent that not many side scrolling shooters are even remembered today, which is heart-breaking as these games ruled the arcades and home consoles during their heydays. But on the flipside how many contras and contra clones can we play before getting tired of them. The answer is none. There exists a hidden gem within this space, among the various contra clones, that oozes personality to this day. And that is the Metal Slug Series. Let’s take a trip down memory lane with Metal Slug.
The modern gaming scene has no shortage of diversity in its content ranging from thoughtful games like What remains of Edith Finch to the smart and whacky The Stanley Parable, all prevailing alongside other traditional genre-based games. Back in the early 90s though videogames were usually about killing something or someone, regardless of the genre the game places itself in. And stories and aesthetics were equally sombre to accommodate that premise. We save the world from destruction in a typical RPG. Fight powerful Ogres in fighting games like Tekken 3 and of course battle aliens in side-scrolling shooters like Contra.
Metal Slug was among the first games to infuse humour in a smart way in its alien infested war-torn universe, while also not berating the casualties of war. And to accomplish this while also being entertaining throughout the run time and make this possible within the technological limitations at the time is truly commendable.
The Metal slug series of games featured art that gelled well with its witty humour. The super energetic soundtrack that rocks throughout the game meshes well with all the chaos that transpire on screen when it is filled with multiple foes and projectiles. The four playable characters may not offer much variety gameplay wise and may play pretty much exactly the same way, but they make up for it with their own personality traits. One of the male characters wears glasses, and the other has a running nose. Move this guy to the very edge on a platform and you would find him balancing on one foot trying to avoid a fall while a huge drop of snot is flailing from his nose. This, in a war game featuring aliens.
The game is peppered with various quirks like these. Your glass wearing hero is hit by a mummy’s foul breath? Why he’ll turn in to a mummy himself, wearing glasses, with a gun, shooting other mummies. Ate too much of those fruits that you found lying around to improve your scores? Why you player is now blown up like a blowfish and is fighting not only aliens but also obesity. There was something new and quirky every few minutes in this game.
And that is what made it the gem that it is today. The developers clearly had fun making this game and were no doubt encouraged to come up with ridiculous ideas that ended up in the game. Seriously what is this toddler doing in a just exploded enemy army truck. And why is he doing flips. Truly, they don’t make games like this anymore. And that is sad.
The series was not just about its humour though. There was a challenging shooter under the skin which was super fun to play and highly satisfying to finish. The difficulty was on par with any side scrolling platformer/shooter at the time (which, putting mildly, was soul crushing), and the gameplay was fast and frantic whether you played the arcade or the home console version.
There are also elements in the game that make you think, which one would assume is uncharacteristic for this series, but once again, it was executed brilliantly. Like an end credit scene where one of the soldiers throws a paper plane and it flies throughout the maps in which you mowed down hundred of soldiers, with all the carnage still intact. This was some moving stuff for me even as a kid when I played it. There was brilliance oozing through and through. That’s Metal Slug in a nutshell for you. And it still works, in glorious fashion.
The good news is that this may have been a series from long ago and may have been dormant for a while now, but thanks to whoever it is that had this thought, the series is now available in platforms like Steam. I found all of the Metal Slug games, Metal Slug 1, 2, 3 and X on Steam complete with 1080p resolution and full controller support. Getting back to these games was pure unadulterated joy and I encourage anyone with a taste for old side scrolling games to give it a try. It will be well worth your time. Just steer clear from the awful 3D versions in the series.