Goodness. This is it. The ultimate sign that Gaming Hell has lost its way.
What's next? Ghosts n' Goblins? Sonic the Hedgehog? Mega Man?
Unlike the other Metal Slug articles on this site, you don't need prior knowledge of the series. You should probably read this one first, actually.
Also, a special thanks go to Kimimi and HokutoNoShock who checked over this for us before we put it up~... Ah! Did I just use a tilde? Must be going soft in my old age.
Metal Slug: Super Vehicle-001 is a very important and special game to me.
Before we get started, though, we'd better set the scene. The build-up to the debut of the strongest tank in the world.
Veteran readers of our site (you poor, poor people) may remember one of our more research-heavy articles in Let's Gaming Tat, Nazca Staff. As that page spells out in detail for you (and we offer credit once more to Youloute for a lot of help with Nazca's history) Nazca Corporation was formed after Irem's arcade division closed in 1994, consisting of ex-Irem staff with many games collectively under their belt- critical for our discussion today are the two titles pictured above, Gunforce II /Geostorm and In the Hunt / Kaitei Daisensou (although we can't pin down specific names for Gunforce II, it has been confirmed staff from it went on to Nazca). Just a cursory glance at these two games shows they would be a starting point for what would become Metal Slug's graphical style, but as we'll see later, there's a few other bits and pieces from these games that would work their way into Metal Slug, so you can see it as a culmination of Nazca's work up to that very point, their own magnum opus. In fact, the very original concept for Metal Slug was, in its own way, another play on In the Hunt's idea of a purely vehicle-based game, just with a tank instead of a submarine. This was indeed the version location-tested at Osaka arcades in August 1995, but due to its mixed reception, the game was retooled to have playable human characters instead. In any case, Nazca had worked their way up to this project, and their trademark level of sprite detail was allowed to flourish on the Neo Geo hardware, creating a landmark title for the system, and establishing a series that would soon become synonymous with SNK.
With our historical context out the way, let us begin. Setting a trend for the series, Metal Slug actually has a lot of plot going on, but you'd only ever know this by studying ancillary materials like the manual, so this may be all new to you! 1st Lieutenant Marchirus Dennis Rossi and 2nd Lieutenant Tarmicle Roving III- better known to you and me as Marco (P1) and Tarma (P2)- are part of the Perigine Falcons special forces unit, waging a desperate counter-attack in 2028 against the force of General Donald Morden. His Rebellion Army have taken various cities over the world and, more critically, gotten their hands on the Regular Army's cache of a new kind of battle tank- the Super Vehicle-001, nicknamed Metal Slug. Marco and Tarma must recapture those Slugs, either using them to fight Morden's troops or ensure they're destroyed, rescue any P.O.W.s they find along the way, and ultimately put a stop to the Rebellion Army and "Devil Reborn" Morden's reign of terror across six treacherous missions! In other words, shoot everything that moves and don't get shot.
As this is the very first Metal Slug, it may be a bit prudent to go over the very basics, as while on the surface you may wish to compare it to the likes of Contra or Sunset Riders, it is in fact quite a different kind of run-and-gun. For a start, while the controls are mostly as you'd expect- fire, jump (tap briefly to short-hop) and limited-use grenades thrown in an arc- the game famously has no diagonal aiming for weapons. According to an interview with Kazuma Kujo in Retro Gamer Issue 98, this was an intentional design decision to make the game feel closer to a shoot-em-up, which of course many Irem staffers would be intimately familiar with, rather than other games in this genre. It's also a departure from Gunforce II's double-guns approach that gave you full diagonal control, and I understand why Nazca moved from that- although a neat way of allowing diagonal shooting, it also feels a little clumsy and imprecise, especially since special weapons are only given to one of your two guns. In any case, I've often seen Metal Slug's lack of diagonal aiming singled out as a bone of contention, but as well as contributing to that odd shoot-em-up feeling of the game, I feel the game is designed in such a way that you won't really miss it, and in fact it encourages players to approach things a little differently and experiment with the mechanics available to them. For instance, the grenades can be used to hit enemies behind barricades or above you, you can spray-fire the Heavy Machine Gun if you have the ammo to waste, and the special weapons (which there are plenty of around the stages) increase your range, power and, in the case of the Rocket Launcher, actually do fire diagonally if you need it (kind-of- they'll veer towards the general direction of enemies). Even if you're missing special weapons, you can usually position yourself to hit targets you'd normal hit with diagonal shots, and you can do so without having to move forward. In short, I like diagonal shooting in other games of this nature, but Metal Slug was made without it in mind, giving it a feel of its own.
To get a little more general about the basic game mechanics, rather than add any particularly advanced abilities to the run-and-gun genre, Metal Slug keeps things simple, and its easy-to-grasp controls are just one of a few things the game does to be as inviting as possible. One of the more interesting choices here is that walking into enemies, unlike games like Contra or Midnight Resistance, will not kill you instantly. The only enemies that can do this are vehicles, and that's only when they actually move into you to run you over, so players won't be penalised immediately upon starting the game if they run in guns blazing. Some other concessions made include very generous jumping physics that let you move fluidly and freely while rising and landing, an increase in weapon drops in two player mode, slowdown that like in other shmups helps you react in time when the screen is exceptionally busy, and movement speed that feels just right for avoiding things. Combined, these make a game that, while a solid challenge, at least equips you well enough to handle the battle ahead, and something that's easy to grasp controls-wise, but with levels you'll have to fight to get through. About the only arguably unfriendly thing about the game is that there's no rapid-fire as was the case in the console Contra sequels, so you will have to tap the fire button a lot, but you're given plenty of special weapons that reduce the amount of shooting you'll need to do, and there's the tank we'll get to later that's armed with a vulcan cannon for streams of bullets, so this is mitigated somewhat.
On the subject of weapons and items, the P.O.W.s you save in each stage that offer you goodies is an iteration of an idea from Gunforce II, which had hostages you could save, but they would disappear immediately with no prizes, serving only as an end-of-stage bonus. Here, Nazca increased their importance by having them whip out items (from their knickers, lovely) upon being rescued, and keeping a count of how many you've saved at the bottom of the screen. For a start, these guys are the primary source of the four special weapons in the game- the rapid-fire Heavy Machine Gun, the strong but short-range Shotgun, the long-range Rocket Launcher and the insta-BBQ Flame Shot- and also grenade restocks and point items (including, yes, a turd at one point). These also appear in boxes and certain enemy vehicles, but from the off, you're encouraged to rescue them and reap rewards... And also explore the surroundings and shoot anything suspicious like clouds or bushes, as P.O.W.s are hidden everywhere! They also encourage the player to improve, because dying resets your P.O.W. count. They're counted in a tally at the end of each mission and you're given a huge points bonus for having over 10 of them (or, in co-op, more than your partner), and so from the end of the very first level, the game delivers a clear message- get to the end without dying and you'll be rewarded (not just with points, but with the names of the people you've saved from a pool of hundreds!).
The final defining wrinkle is of course, the eponymous Super Vehicle-001 itself, the Metal Slug. Both tankless and tank play have their advantages and disadvantages, which means changing from tank-only to both playstyles was probably a smart move on Nazca's part. The main benefits the Slug has over Marco and Tarma are being able to take three hits before exploding and full eight-way shooting with its vulcan cannon, but these come at a cost. The Slug takes a bit more finesse to control, seeing as you can't lock your firing direction and while it can jump, it can't go very far. It's a lumbering, imprecise piece of equipment, something enemies in later stages will even try and take advantage of by swarming you and trying to throw a grenade inside it! The trade-off, then is ease of control and special weapons versus greater aiming, rapid fire and more durability. The Slug, however, comes into its own when you master the art of jumping out of it to get temporary invincibility, an essential skill in the second half of the game. The game does its best to teach you how to operate the tank in the first mission, as you fight a bomb-dropping helicopter twice in it- first on-foot, then later immediately after you get the tank, helping to highlight the different approaches each mode takes. However, players who lose the tank are never impossibly stuck, I'd say- losing it early on enough in Missions 4 and 5 will spawn an extra tank later on, and almost every boss will drop in P.O.W.s with grenades and special weapons for players who don't have the tank, The Slug even serves a special purpose in co-op, in evening the odds- there can only ever be one tank, so an experienced player can hand the tank over to a less-experienced player so they get a few hits before dying (as long as they don't press Shoot and Fire at exactly the same time, which is a suicide attack- a control decision I'm half-convinced was made to give the impression the tank is a delicate piece of equipment that is very easy to accidentally blow up. Maybe.)
The P.O.W.s and the Metal Slug are the two elements that encouraged me to play the game the way I feel it's at its best: as a game of survival. There are no one-ups, no score extends, so on the default settings you have three lives per credit and no more. With the way the game rewards you for surviving until the end of the stage with your rescued P.O.W.s and the tank intact, you're egged on to learn the best way to survive each area, but crucially, it feels doable. The missions themselves are densely packed, yes- with a design philosophy of cramming as much unique stuff into each as possible, such as the rock-traps in Mission 1, the platforming of Mission 3 or the trenches and looming tanks of Mission 4, and unlike later iterations of the series these elements and obstacles are placed with care, never haphazardly- but while in your first run you will die a lot, you will start to see where you can improve, especially as you practice with the tank and learn to jump out of it for invincibility and how to get it to the end of a mission unscathed. The core mechanics are refined enough to the point where you can have an exciting time even when dying, and so learning to play well becomes even more exciting as you scrape past death by a hair's breadth! Crucially, you may learn that actually going in guns blazing isn't the best strategy- you may wish to take things a little slower, as you have plenty of time. The opening segment of Mission 5, for instance, is easier if you slow down and throw some well-timed grenades to get rid of bazooka soldiers just across from an APC blockade. This knowledge will come to you, and feels satisfying to put into practice for the survival run. You can, after all, do it!
But it's difficult, isn't it? While the series as a whole has a reputation for being very, very hard, I'm willing to attribute this more on the later games, particularly from 3 onwards, which encroach upon being much more daunting, less feasibly beaten on one credit. You can't rely solely on pure reactions, but a little observation goes a long way in this game, so it's tough, but fair. To take the example of a few boss encounters from this first game, the only one that I'd say does a poor job of telegraphing its attacks is the double tank fight in Mission 4, as there's no obvious sign when it's going to fire its main cannon. Most of the others do, though- Mission 1's boss charges up its laser, Mission 5 has readable missile patterns and its flamethrower charges up before it fires, and while the final boss has a repertoire of attacks used seemingly haphazardly, Morden will usually slowly line himself up before firing his rocket launcher, and only carpet-bombs at the very top of the screen. This can even be seen in smaller vehicles- the bulky tanks have a rearing-up animation before firing their shots, and smaller tanks always stop before firing, often taking time to aim at you. Even the soldiers, when they try and stab you, take their sweet time! Once you start to recognise these things, you can see that the game is challenging, yes, but fair, and it starts to feel less insurmountable. It just takes a little time, and I'd say the effort is worth putting in if you enjoy the game.
Far more than any other game in the series, I would argue the original is the fairest (especially as later games speed up or remove the telegraph animations for reused enemy vehicles and increase the amount of bullets even the most standard enemies take to kill), with the one genuinely aggravating won't-see-it-coming enemy being the jumping knife soldiers right before the final boss, who have ruined at least one 1CC attempt for me. With just a little practise- far less than it'd take for later games in the series that are longer and with much harder-to-kill enemies- it becomes immensely satisfying to conquer on just the starting set of lives. Critically, it remains challenging, as all the knowledge in the world won't matter if you mistime a jump or get careless, but playing with survival in mind is the best way to approach the game, and the way you'll get the most enjoyment out of it. However, please don't take this as me being holier-than-thou- I may be slightly decent at this game, but put me in front of Contra: Hard Corps or something like that and watch me crumble and grovel for mercy. What I'd like you you to take away from this is that yes, you too can conquer Metal Slug if you learn a little about it, and that it's fun to do!
... Which leads me on to the other way to play the game, for score, which is perhaps less fun. At an intermediate level, the scoring is very simple- be sure to attack enemies close-range rather than shoot them, find the hidden P.O.W.s and items, stay alive for the entire stage to get the P.O.W. and Slug bonuses, etc. At an advanced level, however, playing for score becomes a lot more tedious and frustrating. For a start, a lot of it is based on chance- more than any other game in the series, certain point items and their point values are randomised from a small pool. The most extreme example is an item that appears under Mission 2's electric fences. It can either be a teddy bear or doll worth either 5,000 or 50,000 (!) points, or an old man worth nothing. That's a large chunk of score you're going to miss out, entirely at the whim of the game.
As for things you can choose to do, some areas allow you to milk soldiers for points as long as the timer lasts, which I've really never been a fan of. Mission 1 has such an area, where you can position yourself in the tank to shell soldiers in such a way you get 1000 points per shot, and this does make a difference- your ending score for that stage can be 180,000 or well over 200,000 if you choose to milk here. Most infamously, however, an APC in Mission 5 is bugged so that if you just barely scroll it on-screen, you can shoot it constantly and it'll never explode, a very unfortunate oversight. This is how the very best scores are above 3,000,000, and while I've tried to play it this way, and I'm sure it appeals to players more familiar with this kind of tactic from shmups, I just don't find it fun. The staff perhaps felt this way too, as Metal Slug 3 gives no points for milked soldiers. As such, I'm far more inclined to play for survival with intermediate bits of scoring here and there (close-range knives forever), but hey, maybe it appeals to you, and that's fine too.
OK, that's the game mechanics themselves, then- yes, it really took us that long- so we now have to look at the most direct line you can draw from Nazca's Irem-era work and Metal Slug- the artwork on display. In particular, both human characters and the vehicles themselves exhibit tons of charm and character, and while the vehicles mostly take their highly-detailed style from Gunforce II and In the Hunt, they feel more alive here. Tanks trundle and rattle as they move forward, planes explode into animated pieces of scrap metal, the bosses shudder and shake, like they're exerting all their energy... The most personality-filled is of course the Metal Slug itself, which you can feel strain under its own weight to jump and trundle up-hill, and takes enemy shots in a highly-exaggerated animation, but one that gives you time to register what happened to your poor tank. Outside the vehicles, detail is scattered everywhere- point items are never static and some even rot over time, there's easily-missed moments like a school of dolphins or a far-away UFO... This detail can even impact the game itself, as you can interact with all kinds of stuff to raise your score or make things easier like railway switches, cliffs you can destroy to send tanks falling to their doom, or fully-destructible houses hiding goodies and bad guys. The staff put their hearts and souls into these pixels, and that effort paid off tremendously, as Metal Slug still looks stunning today, but fortunately they also put as much thought into the game design, and so the two compliment each other. About the only criticism here is that it focuses entirely on the military theme for its backgrounds, and so some of the wilder, more vibrant backdrops wouldn't show up until later games.
Where the game shines, though, is the detail given to the human characters, which is really surprising given that the original location-test version omitted the player characters entirely. Marco and Tarma have several amusing idle animations that they'll often do when you're just walking, like reloading or shouting into a walkie-talkie, and Morden's soldiers themselves are perhaps the most sympathetic enemy cannon fodder in any game like this. They're a very expressive bunch, and are often found laughing amongst themselves before screaming in terror at your arrival, lounging around on folding chairs having a drink, cooking a meal in front of a little campfire... Even some of their weapons and attacks, particularly the fireworks, giant snowballs, and grabbing a stone to hack off a Slug's machine gun, seem improvised and give them charm, They have just as many goofing-off animations as they have violent deaths, and this gives the game a strong sense of wicked humour, almost like a dark comedy in run-and-gun form (something that goes all the way into dark for the bad ending, twisting the knife a little for you offing them so casually). This is something tempered by the more serious boss characters, specifically Sgt. Allen who challenges you mano-a-mano, and Morden himself, who actually comes across as much more threatening than later games, antagonising you early on and even blowing up the bridge you're on in Mission 6. Later games in the series would go for a more all-out goofy tone, and I don't begrudge them for that (Morden constantly being reduced to his skidders is pretty amusing, after all) but going through the series backwards can make the original seem more serious, when really it's not- this is a game where a soldier would rather flush himself down the toilet than face you, after all.
That's how, in 1996, Nazca crafted one of my favourite arcade games of all time, and one of two games credited solely to them. After the release of Neo Turf Masters, Nazca would be absorbed into SNK and soon after start work on Metal Slug 2, thus canonizing Metal Slug as an SNK series through and through, one that would maintain a presence throughout SNK's history, from their financial troubles in the 2000s and beyond, to the present day. Even more than 20 years later, and after it's been ported so many times you might think "Oh, blimey, they're trotting out the first Metal Slug again", the original Metal Slug is still one of the highlights of the Neo Geo library, an excellent run-and-gun with a shoot-em-up feel, satisfying mechanics, some of the best pixel work of its era, an excellent soundtrack by HIYA!, and a dark sense of humour. I'm not saying that some of the sequels didn't improve on it in any way- the formula was iterated upon in meaningful ways throughout its history- but look past the slightly less vibrant military setting compared to later entries, and you still have a cornerstone game in SNK's history, an enormously playable and enjoyable game no matter how you play it, one that's maybe a little too close to my heart... But that's OK, isn't it, when it's a game this good?
For showing war has never been this much fun since Cannon Fodder, Metal Slug: Super Vehicle-001 is awarded...
In a sentence, Metal Slug: Super Vehicle-001 is...
A landmark run-and-gun.
And now, it's that time, folks!
Before we go on, if you have even the slightest interest in Metal Slug, go and visit Metal Slug: Missing In Action now!
Run by friend of the site Ragey, this has an unbelievable amount of cut content and early footage of all the Metal Slug games. The Metal Slug section in particular is a very important read, as it has a page dedicated to early footage from when it was a tank-only game. There's a lot to take in there, but some of the critical things discussed include the different control schemes considered (including one where A, B, C and D all shot in different directions!), how the game used recoloured Morden soldiers as helpers you can rescue, and the wildly different backgrounds for the game. Many of the concept art pages also have translations of the notes on the side that are super-insightful! So, go and read up if you're hungry for moer Metal Slug.
First up, the two different endings of the game. There's confusion on how you get them.
The ending you'll most likely see, often referred to as the 'bad' ending, is awarded after beating the game as a solo player. That is to say, you can beat the game on either the 1P or 2P side, but as long as you do it alone, you'll get this far more downbeat ending, with a lone soldier throwing a paper plane that travels across a few different scenes of the game, but strewn with dead soldiers, destroyed tanks, and even a grieving woman (who actually has a name- Satiko Suzuki) praying at a makeshift grave. At the end, the paper plane turns away from the camera and flies into the night sky... All this is accompanied by a downbeat remix of the music from Mission 1, Main Theme from Metal Slug (a remix that would be reused with slightly different instrumentation for Metal Slug 3's credits). Quite a tonal shift from the rest of the game, isn't it?
The alternate ending, usually called the 'good' ending, is shown after beating the game with two players. You don't need to one-credit the game or anything else, and you don't even need to have started the game with two players- as long as both 1P and 2P are present before defeating the final boss, you'll get this ending. It starts out with the paper plane, but now everyone's celebrating that the battle's over! Among other things you'll see the laundry getting done in Mission 5's streets, Rebel soldiers dancing (and sliding off vines, an animation reused in Mission 1 of Metal Slug 3) and even Morden himself, battered and propping himself up with a stick, at the very end, getting knocked over by the paper plane. This is all to a completely new and cheerier song, Hold You Still!, which would later get a vocal version used in the Playstation and Saturn versions of this ending. A happy ending is OK once in a while, I suppose.
For more on all those pseudonyms that appear in the staff credits, have a look at our page on Nazca staff!
Now, to ports of the game!
Counting the AES ver and each version of collections it's appeared on (i.e. Wii, PS2 and PSP for SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1)...
The original Metal Slug has 22 home ports.
We might be here a while.
Obviously, we have the AES release first, with its standard four credits per player (more than enough! Well, probably), but this one's missing a few options that would later become standard for later instalments of the franchise on the AES. You can't select any mission to start from once you clear the game if you've got a Memory Card inserted- you can only continue from the last mission reached, so if you beat the game you can continue from the final mission, but that's your lot. There's also no Vulcan Fix option either. The only other options are the number of lives and difficulty, but hey, you get the arcade experience at home, right? Of course, the main thing about the AES version of the game is it is expensive. I know that normally goes without saying because it's on the Neo Geo AES and if you own one you know you're in for a steep bill, but this one wasn't produced in very high numbers, and demand begets ma-hoo-sive pricetags.
Let's move on to the Neo Geo CD version, also released in 1996, and there's several additions here that would crop up in later ports. For a start, this is the first Metal Slug port to let you switch Vulcan Fix on (where tapping the firing button continuously keeps the Metal Slug's vulcan cannon locked in place even when you move) and change the Metal Slug Attack to something other than Shoot + Jump, which would eventually become standard for the AES ports. Next, you can select any mission you've reached from the start of a normal game via a neat minimap, which a step above the AES version. Also, there's a Combat School mode where you can register a soldier, get talked down to by Sophia, and play either Pin-Point (beat each mission as fast as you can- all weapons have infinite ammo, but Slugs go down in one shot) or Survival (get as far as you can on one life) to raise your rank in the army. Finally, inside the Options menu you'll find an art gallery with loads of neat concept art (including Young Morden, stats for Marco and some toilet humour). Given the reputation the Neo Geo CD had for wretched loading times, this doesn't fare too badly, so if you have the system, this is probably the best CD-based version of the game.
In 1997, the game was ported to the Sega Saturn, and as well as being consigned to Japan, it was one of those arcade ports that required the 1MB RAM cartridge (you could either buy the game as a bundle with the cart or on its own). Additionally, according to Wikipedia and Assembler Forums (the post which had details on this has disappeared, alas), there were two revisions released (1.002 and 1.005) which was mostly for bug-fixing reasons. Anyway, this is a solid port, with the Combat School, art gallery and mission select screens present and correct. There's some missing animation frames, mind (mostly subtle stuff you'll miss, especially on items) but overall it's not too bad on that front, and with only short loading times between missions, this is a pretty good port. You may notice one tiny change in the in-game screenshot above, though- for lives, the game says 1P = X rather than 1UP = X. A tiny change, but one I noticed right away because my God do you know how much time I've lost to Metal Slug? Is this page not a testament to that fact? Well then. However, a very important point to mention is that this port requires the 1MB RAM cart. I specify the 1MB one because the 4MB cart (or the Action Replay 4-in-1 cart, a common import solution) will cause the game to slow down far more than intended, as explained by this blog post.
In the same year, the game made it to the Playstation. I can hear it already, you know, the chattering of "Saturn will do what Playstashan't" and you're right, this one's compromised. Let's start with the positives- this port comes with Combat School, the art gallery and mission select (and displays the map between levels, giving the game a true minimap) but the main draw here is the exclusive Another Story mode, unlocked after beating the game once. It's a series of mini-games presented as one of the P.O.W.'s diaries as they try to escape from enemy territory- the first has you identifying a spy amongst your group (click them when they're saluting otherwise you'll get shot), the second has you getting a makeshift tank out of the danger zone, the third is Four-card Monte with prisoners, and the final one (only playable on your second run of Another Story) is the Game & Watch game Helmet with grenades (and dolls/teddies that destroy all grenades when grabbed). After your second run, you're given a code (hold R1 and L2 then press Circle on the Another Story option) to play Another Story 2, where the diary is written by a woman instead- as TheOpponent pointed out, the splash screen says it's written by Rumi-chan, meaning this may be a very early design for Rumi Aikawa, the wandering hostage from Slug 2 onwards! You get to see her if you beat this mode. It's little more than a curious diversion, but it does have sprites you won't seen elsewhere (and sprites unused from the arcade game- specifically the tied-up rebel soldier). If you need help with this mode, there's a guide here.
To the bad, lots and lots of the animation has been cut (Marco / Tarma's pistol firing animation? Three frames) which is par for the course for Neo conversions on the PS1, but there's also mid-mission loading, and it loads whenever it damn likes- Mission 1, for example, stops for Now Data Loading! after you destroy the first chopper and just before the waterfall. Annoyingly, this also makes the music start again, so unless you hang around you'll never hear the songs all the way through. We'd recommend this one only to the really curious, as beyond the Another Story mode, you can get better versions elsewhere. In particular, this version of the game's available on the Japanese PSN as a PS1 Classic- if you absolutely have to have the PS1 version, this may actually be a good way to do it, as on Vita these come with scans of the original manual. Otherwise, it's only for the very curious.
Weirdly, the Neo Geo CD (seen above), Saturn and Playstation versions have two points items not seen in the Neo Geo original- in Mission 5, the destroyable balconies are now dotted with plant pots (grab them in mid-air for 100 points, but if they hit the ground and smash it's 10 points) and a lone pair of boxer shorts (grab them for 1000 points, but destroy the balcony and they'll blow off in the wind unless you catch them).
Then, silence. The next port of the first Metal Slug wouldn't occur until 2006, when Metal Slug Anthology happened for the Wii, PS2 and PSP (and later, the PS2 version would appear on PSN twice, for PS3 and PS4). I know it's convenient to have all the Neo Geo Slug games in one place, but I spent most of my time with the Wii version and the emulation's not great. At the very least, Slug 1 doesn't have missing/incorrect music, but it does have missing hit-flashes (applied inconsistently, but done due to stronger Nintendo policies about flashing lights and colours to reduce epileptic seizures- although useful for determining hits on bosses, I can understand their removal), no Classic Controller support, and with anything other than Gamecube controller mode you have to shake the Wii remote for bombs/grenades. The PSP version has more normal controls but very bad loading times (sometimes in the middle of the game!), and the PS2 version is supposed to be better, but is still a bit ropey so I've heard. On the plus side- for we must find one- it has loads of unlockable artwork (including some from the Neo Geo CD version) and one of the songs in the unlockable music packs is the vocal version of Hold You Still!, which most players probably haven't heard. So that's nice. We highly recommend avoiding the PS4 version however- a port of the PS2 version, it has severe input delay on everything except Metal Slug 6, making all the Neo Geo games almost unplayable, and as a special kick to the knackers, the PAL version is in 50hz, making all the games slower!
Next, the game was included alongside other Neo Geo favourites (and Burning Fight- oh, sick burn!) in SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 for the Wii, PS2 and PSP. This version mostly eliminates the problems from the MSA version- there's now Classic Controller support, no Wii Remote shaking, and the game's memory card functionality is simulated. There's also unlockable artwork (although obviously not as much as in MSA) but interestingly, completing certain tasks in Metal Slug itself unlocks a series of videos showing how to find the hidden P.O.W.s, which is really handy for anyone playing the game for the first time.
Then there was the Wii Virtual Console version, released worldwide in 2008- it's a straight emulation of the AES version, with the same options and features. However, Western players be warned- the US and EU versions have white blood. Additionally, the EU version runs at 50hz so it's slower. If you absolutely have to play Metal Slug on your Wii, get SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 instead.
Shuffle along a few years and we have Metal Slug Complete PC (also known as Metal Slug Collection PC), a Windows-based collection with the same game line-up as Anthology- thanks to the efforts of helpful Twitter pal @_Kimimi who pointed us in the right direction and this was only released in Korea and Europe in 2010. We're 90% certain our Korean copy is legitimate, but in any case this is a very strange release, and is completely different from Anthology- it was developed by G1M2 instead, better known for SNK Arcade Classics 0, Data East Arcade Classics and a few of the PS2 SNK rereleases like Fatal Fury Battle Archives. Beyond a poorly-implemented music test there's no extras like Anthology, no video options at all, save/load state options that only work in a single game session (if you close and try to load, it crashes) and control settings that don't recognise joypads (get Joy2Key on standby for this one) and make setting controls for two players impossible without Joy2Key, it seems. On the plus side, it has slightly better emulation than Anthology and in the case of Slug 1, it's based on the AES version, but with no memory card emulation.
Next, 2010 was the year M2 began their Neo Geo Station series, a set of individual high-quality Neo Geo emulations (based on the AES versions) for the PS3 and PSP (and playable on Vita too) and Vol. 5 was Metal Slug. As this is M2 we're dealing with, this is a great version (based on the AES game which means 5 credits to play with) and it comes with a full digital manual (which sounds like an odd thing to point out, but sometimes you don't even get that!), a Sound Player (which can be combined with other Neo Geo Station releases to include music from other games), replay recording and playback, save states, language options (set it to Japanese for blood), rapid-fire options, and Neo Geo memory card functionality. The lone quibbles are that some of the hit-flashes are the wrong colour for some reason, and there's minuscule load times between stages, but this is a very fine port, and the main menu music (remixed from Fatal Fury's bonus stage) is off the damn chain, composed by M2's sound miracle worker chibitech. Sadly, these ports have been delisted and are no longer available to purchase. Alas!
Next, we have the iOS version. Released in 2012 by DotEmu (whose raison d'etre seems to be 'You wanted to play 64th Street: A Detective Story on your phone, right? Whaddya mean, 'no'?!"- we'll be seeing them again in a second), this... Well, it's what you expect. The main problem is the virtual joystick, as it makes it difficult to aim up and move at the same time (and I have dainty hands, so I imagine people with bigger hands than mine would struggle even more), but at the very least it comes with a level select, scanlines and smoothing visual options, and even an extra button to make short hops instead of full jumps. It's OK, but if you want a portable version of Metal Slug... I'd love to say get the Neo Geo Station version for your PSP or Vita instead, but, y'know, that got delisted. You'll have to go for the Switch version instead, which we'll be seeing shortly.
Oh yeah, we're still not done. Next along is the Steam version, again by DotEmu, and if the words 'Steam' and 'DotEmu' together have you worried, then clearly you've read Sebmal's very informative look at their Steam ports. I will give DotEmu full credit for at least one thing- in their Neo Geo Humble Bundle, they literally gave out ROMs usable in MAME for a whole bunch of Neo Geo games, including the likes of Ironclad, Samurai Shodown V Special and yes, the first 4 Metal Slug games, so if their emulation solutions do not suffice, jam those suckers into MAME and enjoy them legally! Their Steam ports are, on the whole, not great. I'd call them serviceable for the purposes of legal online co-op, as many friends will attest that if they have any of these ports, I have at some point played with them solely to talk endlessly about Metal Slug at the same time. Ahem. Anyway, this is a basic port of the with the issues mentioned in Sebmal's post- glitchy music and sound effects, slight stuttering, no extras, etc.- so, you know, fairly warned ye be. What's strange is the iOS version didn't have these problems! At least the menus look nice, although oddly previous Steam ports of the Metal Slug games feel closer to the iOS versions in terms of menu style, but this one is completely new, and also omits the short-jump button.
Is this the last one? Oh God, please let this be the last one, I'm slowly going spare over here. Finally we have a set of ports for the Playstation 4, Xbox One, Switch and Windows 10, released by Hamster Corp as part of their Arcade Archives Neo Geo range (the notes that follow are based on the PS4 version). What it lacks in extras and features- this is the MVS version with no memory card stuff, no jukebox, no online multiplayer, but it does have a timed Caravan Mode and one-credit Hi-Score Mode with its own leaderboard- it more than makes up for in being a solid emulation. There's a few sound effects that sound a tiny bit questionable (mostly the plane sound effects) but the slowdown is all there, there's options for language, blood, scanlines and even screen-rolling if you really want it, and it's genuinely the best currently available version of the game. An easy recommendation, as long as you remember this comes with no real bells and whistles, and the Switch version comes with the advantage of being portable.
... Wait, we're in a new section but we're still not done with ports?!
Yep. Here's some cancelled ports.
First, in 2005 SNK announced a Game Boy Advance port of the first game in the series at E3, complete with this trailer which obviously isn't from this port (notice there's the Push Start prompt in the corner... But the missing frames of animation present indicate this might be footage of the Playstation 1 port, as Marco's standing animation with a special weapon is 2 frames, just like that version), and an early demo playable at the Game Developer's Convention of 2006. They even had a mockup of a boxcover, which we've stolen from IGN (and presumably GameSpy). Shortly afterwards, SNK announced ports of 2, X and 3 for the system too, which holy hell how did they think they were gonna pull that off but all four of the ports were quietly cancelled. Can't imagine why.
In 2020, a very early build of this game was found and released by Hidden Palace and it's a fascinating look at what could have been. This build only has Missions 1 and 2 implemented, with Mission 1 the most complete as it has actual enemies, the boss and features like the explosive barrel (but no Metal Slug), while Mission 2 is just a straight walk to the end with no hazards or even pitfalls implemented yet, and it comes to a stop at the boss room with no boss present. This is early work and it shows, with a lot of mechanics either not present at all or not correct (you toggle crouching by pressing down, you can't shoot down while jumping) and while there's far more animation present than I expected, some play at the wrong speeds and others use the wrong animations entirely. This does have two things not seen in any other port of the game, though- a new voice clip plays when you start a game, "Let's go!", and you can choose to play as Marco or Tarma (however Tarma is far less complete than Marco, and will change back into him for certain animations). Judging from the completion state of the game, it's possible this is the one seen at GDC 2006, although that's just speculation on my part. In any case, this isn't a bad start, but perhaps SNK didn't see pouring more time into a port of a then-nearly-decade-old arcade game worth it, especially as the Nintendo DS was already out, and so it was cancelled. Oh well!
There may also have been an Xbox Live Arcade port of the game planned at some point, although this could be a case of mistaken identity- SNK passed out leaflets at the Tokyo Game Show in 2006 advertising a Metal Slug game heading to Xbox Live Arcade, although which one isn't clear. in 2008, Metal Slug 3 was released on XBLA, so it's possible that 3 was the game being advertised. There's still an entry on GameFAQs for this phantom port of the game, but we know how unreliable they are!
There's some interesting foibles about the first Metal Slug that aren't present in later sequels. Here are a few:
* This is the only Metal Slug with the 'short hop' technique- if you tap the Jump button very lightly, your character will only jump half their normal jump height. This can be useful in certain situations, mostly hopping into the Metal Slug without jumping high enough to hit enemy fire.
* This is the only Metal Slug where the timer can go above 60 beyond altering the default timer in the Soft Dip menu- this happens in Missions 3 and 6.
* This is the only Metal Slug with a 'traditional' Sgt. Allen fight where he doesn't drop his Heavy Machine Gun for you to steal.
* This is the only Metal Slug where infantry will try to attack your tank by hurling themselves onto it- if you leave them be, they'll either open the hatch and lob a grenade inside (doing damage), grab a stone and hack your machine guns clean off (leaving you defenceless) or cover your cannon's business end (they'll take a few cannon shells to the gut before dying). They only do this in Missions 4, 5 and 6, and you can shake them off by moving the joystick rapidly.
* When inside the Metal Slug, your Arms count will show ammo remaining in any special weapons you have rather than the infinity symbol, and collecting any new ones won't get the announcer to say their name until you jump out of the tank. Both these were fixed in Metal Slug 2.
And, well, one final thing- haven't we seen the original Metal Slug on this site before...?
Long-time readers- again, you poor souls- may remember that at the start of the Pocket Gal article, I gabbed about a particular arcade in Prestatyn, Wales I used to visit with my family about once a year. Until the very last time we went there, there was indeed a Metal Slug cabinet there. A very beaten-up cabinet, yes- during my final visit, the problems it exhibited included a busted monitor that wouldn't display shades of green, speakers that were tinny and only played certain sound channels, sticky buttons and a very loose joystick- but it was there. We stopped going there after the Metal Slug cabinet left, but I think it says something that in spite of this cabinet's many, many failings and inadequacies... Whenever we went there, I made it a point to clear the game. Don't mind me, just exercising a tiny bit of nostalgia here. Not something I make a habit of (and while it may be tempting to write off my analysis of the game as rose-tinted, bear in mind it was Metal Slug 2 I saw first and have the fondest arcade memories of) but it's nice to do this once in a while, isn't it?
Shame I only got a shot of the high-score table after a three-credit clear, eh?
Now, just one last thing to make you all go 'Ehhhhhh?'.
You've seen the X mark on Morden's vehicles, right?
Isn't that the same one used for planes in the US/EU versions of Iron Tank?
So are Iron Tank and Metal Slug in the same continuity? Is Guerilla War included too? Aaahh!