Fantastic! We've finally sold out, as this ancient update said we would! Now there's a callback joke worth the effort.
Also, much like the Tomoyo Fighter Perfect article, this one gets awfully beardy. By that we mean really in-depth.
Playing the first three Metal Slugs will probably be mandatory, repeat, mandatory.

Man, Metal Slug 4 never stood a chance.

Let's turn back the clock a bit- it's 2001, and the old SNK has just filed for bankruptcy. Until their proper resurrection as SNK Playmore in 2003, things were weird in the exciting world of the Neo-Geo. Just reading the history of SNK's death, revival and the messy bit in-between is giving me a headache, so let's home in on just one aspect- what happened to Metal Slug, as the beloved side-scrolling action series ended up in the hands of Mega Enterprise. A Korean company mostly known for distributing PC and arcade games for the Korean market (including Call of Duty, at one point!), they partnered up with Noise Factory (Gaia Crusaders, Matrimelee, Sengoku 3, etc., and judging from the credits they did most of the leg-work for this one) and together they had the unenviable task of following up Metal Slug 3. Now, we could argue on the merits of Metal Slug 3 all day (in fact, we will in parenthesis- personally I'm more inclined towards Metal Slug 1/2/X because they have a better balance between sci-fi weirdness and the military theme, and some bits of Slug 3 go on a bit too long but it's still a good Slug game) but you can't say that the game rested on the laurels of its predecessors. It added a lot of things including almost two games' worth of graphics work. Also, zombie blood barf. So, imagine now that the original team is gone and Mega/Noise Factory is left to make the next instalment...

It didn't turn out too great, obviously.

Metal Slug 4 sees series vets Marco Rossi and Fio Germi team up with newcomers Trevor Spacey and Nadia Cassel (Tarma and Eri get relegated to cameos in each level instead) in fighting against Amadeus, a cyber-terrorism group (no, really) who threaten the world with the White Baby computer virus (no, really) which seems to have old foe General Morden at the helm (although in truth, the leader of Amadeus is a modified version of Parker, that businessman from Slug 2- no, really). This serves as a good excuse as any to reuse Morden's footsoldiers and vehicles, natch. The basic mechanics are the standard for Metal Slug as it's been since 1996 (if you've made it this far, I don't think I've really got to explain them to you, but if you insist... Shoot everything and hop into vehicles for added power and health across six missions) and, well, after the previous team added a plethora of vehicles, multiple routes and dozens of new enemy types in the last game, as well as the stuff from the first two games, Mega and Noise Factory had plenty of sprites to reuse and re-purpose and not much to really add to the basic mechanics. What this translate to is the game, superficially, looks and feels very familiar. If nothing else, with its sci-fi/horror elements relegated to Mission 4 (a theme park with zombie and mummy routes), it's a little closer to the first Slug in feel, at least visually.

However, appearances aren't anything. While it looks familiar, there's a few additions here and there, and you'll know when Mega/Noise Factory added a new idea, because you'll notice it's, well, a bit broken. The two new characters have wonky close-range attacks- Trevor comes to a dead stop to use his kicking attack which makes the game more annoying to play, while Nadia's Taser doesn't award the correct amount of points, so she's useless for score runs (although, if you attack an enemy with it near a vehicle, it can hit damage them.. Not that useful, sadly). I'd like to say these quirks were 'added' to make them different from Marco and Fio, but sometimes they'll reuse their close-range animations anyway, so that strikes that out. The new vehicles, including two 'stolen' from enemies, aren't much fun to use (except for the Metal Crow which you get for 2 minutes, tops) and the M-51A Bradley vehicle has missing mercy invincibility so it won't last long at all. The Metallish (or Metal Rush) system- where picking up emblems starts a combo meter in the corner, and racking up points awards medals that get added to your score like the P.O.W.s after clearing a stage, as long as you don't die- is interesting, at least (interesting enough for SNK Playmore to use something faintly similar for Metal Slug 6 and 7/XX) but it never really feels clear when you're doing well (sometimes you'll pick one up and automatically get a load of medals!) and combos stop when you get into a vehicle which is vexing. The other two additions- Monkey Transformation and Dual Machine Guns- don't really add or detract much, although the Monkey form is pretty cobbled together in terms of animation.

As irritating as they are, none of those issues really kill the game, to be honest. They're annoying, but not game-breakingly so. The awkward juxtaposition between new-ish, reused and Frankensteined graphics doesn't quite do it either, even if it gives the game a really inconsistent look and no real identity of its own (but it makes for a fun game-within-a-game where you try and figure out where all the graphics come from). What really hurts the game is how it uses those recycled assets with the level construction. The previous Slug games- probably the very first in particular- had fairly short but tightly designed stages, usually packed with as much stuff as possible. Not just enemies, but things like craftily-hidden bonus items, little jokes and background details, interactive elements like rock traps and train signals, and the odd set-piece like the collapsing building and the gun-turret sequence in 1. Playing Slug 1 after marathoning 4 a few times, I got this sense that the Missions had enemies and vehicles created and placed with a lot of thought behind why they were being put there, and how they'd aid or hinder the player, along with some nice little visual touches. 4, on the other hand, had three (almost four) games' worth of assets to use, and sees fit to just slap them about without really putting any thought into why they were used like that in the original games- what this makes is a game that's basically competent, as some of the time it turns out OK, but it's really lacking in tight construction.

At times, it feels like some bits are just there because "Well, we might as well reuse 'em!". Examples that come to mind are the Yetis (in Slug 3, they were deadly enemies that had you feeling trapped as you tried to destroy the barrier in your way and get away from 'em- in Slug 4, they're just there and the tension's gone), the wall-gates (in Slug 1 you'd be assaulted by tanks and infantry from behind as you tried to destroy these- in Slug 4, there's no resistance at all), and the giant cannon on Mission 2's boss (in Slug 2, this was fought in an auto-scrolling arena, where it would constantly move so you had to constantly adjust your position, but here's it's rooted in place and feels less fun/challenging to dodge). Special mention goes to the mummy and zombie sections (the mummy section in particular is easily the worst in the game, containing one particular room where huge mummies respawn at least six times for no reason beyond padding). It's not impossible to reuse assets to interesting effect- most of the shoot-em-up sections in Slug 3 took sprites from previous games but changed how you approached them completely- but Slug 4 sees fit to just stick 'em anywhere and hope for the best, and this leads to levels that get by, but often feel way longer than they should be, because it's not really playing around with what it's got.

Of course, it might be series fatigue on my part- there's four games before this one- but to give it credit, there's a few bits that have the core of Metal Slug in them in 4. Parts like the runaway log in Mission 3, most of the final mission (including some clever reuse of the swimming sprites and some intense battles), and the battlefield section of Mission 2 (which has this guy) 'get' it, and other parts get by on the coattails of the core of Metal Slug being good in the first place. They're offset by all the other bits, examples including the boring auto-scrolling 'vehicle' parts of Missions 1 & 2, most of Mission 5 (especially the crap lift sequence and theship-deck part with clumsily-presented platforms you'll fall off) and the upward Slugnoid climb in Mission 3 (like the Mission 2 boss of Slug 2, but with enemies above you, and it's a bit crap). And those zombie/mummy sections (seriously, they're so badly cobbled together!). They're going through the motions, and lack the impact needed to make things exciting. The two elements that really falter compared to stage design in previous Slugs are the usage of vehicles and boss fights. The vehicles almost feel like an afterthought, thrown in for short sections where you'll be arbitrarily ejected, and while this happened a few times in Slug 3, it always felt like you got some use out of them. As for the bosses, you can only take a Slug to one of them, and they're all a far cry from the chuntering mechanical beasts of the previous games- they're passable, and all feel a bit lifeless, which is a huge shame for a Slug game (the worst offender is probably this ugly thing). It's just patched together, and it shows.

Lots of nit-picking there, then (it's my specialist subject, you know) for the black sheep of a beloved franchise. Like I said, Metal Slug 4 never stood a chance, following not only in Slug 3's footsteps, but all the other Slugs too. Divorcing the game from the series is too hard for me, though- try as I might, I know it's a Metal Slug game, and keep expecting tightly-designed stages, good use of vehicles, and love and care put into its construction. In the environment in which Slug 4 was made- just after SNK died and the futures of their franchises were in the air- I suppose it was impossible to expect anything beyond what we got, but with a little care and attention put into it- maybe a little time cutting bits thrown in 'just because'- it'd be decent enough, and perhaps live up to the idea of harking back to the first Slug like it seems it wants to do. In fact, if you've played very little Metal Slug, it'll probably seem like it's good enough! If that's the case though, you can safely skip 4. Go and play the other ones. While the core of Slug is in there, just about, it's just not put together well enough.

... On the plus side, the soundtrack is fantastic.

For being incredibly unfortunate, Metal Slug 4 is awarded...

In a sentence, Metal Slug 4 is...

And now, it's that time, folks!

Better do the ol' ports rigmarole then, eh? Plenty of 'em for this one, oddly!

For starters, there's the AES version which, as per Neo-Geo standards, limits each player to four credits and lets you switch on Vulcan Fix (allowing you to lock the Slug's cannon direction by repeatedly firing- standard for AES Slug games from 2 onwards) and allows you to pick a stage to continue from after beating it (as standard from 2 onwards) provided you've got a memory card to save with. The one curiosity with this version is the Gallery mode. Apparently this unlocks once you beat the game with any character, adding one (1) piece of artwork per character, but I've never been able to get it to unlock. I know you need a Neo-Geo memory card to get it to work, and you need to get the good ending, but no matter what I try- Japanese version, US version, European version, the Wi VC version that has memory card support- it just never unlocks. This is almost certainly down to relying on emulation rather than the real deal, but if you know how to do it, please email me and solve this mystery!

In 2004, the game was ported to the PS2 and Xbox, apparently by SNK themselves (I can't find any credits beyond that) in Japan, and made it to Europe in 2005, as a stand-alone title in both territories. Unlike the Metal Slug 3 port, which came with the charming Fat Island and Storming the UFO bonus games, 4 comes with no extras aside from being able to practice any stage at your leisure (once you've beaten it) and the Trophy of War and Soldier List menus, which keep track of the items you've found and the names of hostages rescued. In any case, they're both pretty decent ports (as far as I can tell they're identical to each other except the Xbox port supported score leaderboards back in the long distant past ha ha ha), with a few odd quirks here and there (the staff roll removes all the Mega Enterprise names, missiles fired by the Mission 1 boss look wrong when they launch, and the sound effects 'stack' which can make this one loud game) but, I dunno, you might feel ripped off if you buy Metal Slug 4 on its lonesome...

... Unless you're in the USA! In 2005 America received an exclusive two-disc package with Metal Slug 4 and 5 for both the Xbox and PS2, and as far as I'm aware, it's the same version as the separately-released one in Japan and Europe. Annoyingly, this release came at a time when Ignition Entertainment were just about halting all support for the Xbox in Europe, and this included the remaining SNK ports- Metal Slug 5, The King of Fighters Neowave and The King of Fighters: Maximum Impact: Maniax. I even sent a slightly pissy email to Ignition Entertainment asking about it, and they were like "What can we do, man?". Bless 'em. That story's not entirely relevant to Metal Slug 4, but I just wanted to share.

Not done yet, though. Oddly, it seems SNK were planning a Gamecube port of the game around the same time as the other ports, as these ancient message board posts show. Beyond this, though, there's not much info on this port, understandably. It would've been the only SNK game for the system, which is something, I guess!

Much later, Metal Slug Anthology lurched into existence in 2006 for the Wii, PS2 and PSP, developed by Terminal Reality. As I'm a terrible nerd, I'm not exactly fond of the quality of the emulation here (speaking specifically about the Wii version here), and 4 suffers from the same problems as the other games on the collection- removed slowdown and hit-flashes (inconsistently so- the Mission 4 and Mission 6 bosses still have hit-flash, just less of it), bad sound emulation (it messed up the ending song!) and shuddering load-times in the middle of stages (that's PS1-level stuff. Yikes!). Specific to Metal Slug 4 is the removal of Mega's logo from the intro and title screen... Although their name is still there and oh dear, that doesn't look right. In the interests of being fair, however, I will point out that these emulations are based on the MVS versions, which means you can choose between limited and unlimited continues. There's also some neat artwork to unlock, and Trevor and Nadia even get to appear on the game's cover (with art by SNK artist TONKO), bless 'em.

Even later than that, the game was re-released for the Wii Virtual Console in 2012 in Japan and 2013 everywhere else, and for 900 of your Wii Points, you get the AES version of the game, with hit-flashes removed (again). As a warning for our US readers, the one on the US Wii Shop is based on the English version of the game so it's got white blood! Additionally, European players get white blood and it's in 50hz, so seriously do not buy this it is a bad idea.

Finally, there's apparently a stand-alone PC version developed by Mega Enterprise themselves- their main job was porting SNK games to the PC for the Korean market before they got the Metal Slug 4 job. I say apparently because I, er, can't find a copy. Originally, all I had was other sites (including the Metal Slug Wikia) saying it exists, released only in Korea, and this IGN thread which suggests it was also part of a collection with the first three games in the series (minus X). The clue here is the mention of extra content for Metal Slug 4- the commercial and song, which are supposed to come with the real PC MS4. However, with a little nudging from @HokutoNoShock, we found Mega's old website which lists it on its PC section (and gives a release date of December 5th 2002), has a small page on it and a sadly empty official site. So, it does exist. But we don't have a copy. So we dunno what it's like.

What we do have, however- thanks to the efforts of helpful Twitter pal @_Kimimi who pointed us in the right direction- is Metal Slug Complete PC (also known as Metal Slug Collection PC), a Windows-based collection with the same game line-up as Anthology, released only in Korea and Europe in 2010. We're 90% certain our Korean copy is legitimate, and this is a very strange release, as it's 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. Also, in Slug 4's case, it's based on the AES version, but with no memory card emulation and the button assignment section of the options removed (which also means you can't use the Vulcan Fix). On the plus side, it has slightly better emulation than Anthology. Not an ideal way to play the game, honestly.

On the subject of different versions of the game, there's a bootleg 'Plus' version for the MVS- Metal Slug 4 Plus.

There's a handful of 'Plus' versions of Neo-Geo games, mostly later in the system's life (from what little info I could find, most of them have 2002-2005 copyright dates on them, and some of the KOF hacks use 10th Anniversary graphics putting them at 2004). While the majority of them are fighting game hacks (like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon 2003, or King of Gladiator with terrible nude Mai sprites) Metal Slug 3, 4 and 5 were given similar treatment.

Metal Slug 4 Plus is, well, almost exactly the same as the original game, but you start out each game with a Thunder Cloud weapon with infinite ammo (it just hovers over enemies and strikes them with lightning whenever you fire, but you'll lose it if you grab a special weapon- in the real game, it only appears once, as the third item dropped by Madoka Aikawa on the non-trap-door route of Mission 4), pressing Start lets you switch between normal, Fat, Mummy and Monkey forms, and once you have a weapon, pressing D will switch between most of them (the Flame Shot and Shotgun are not available, though). Unlike Metal Slug 5 Plus, the weapon switch won't account for different ammo types, so grab a Heavy Machine Gun and cycle through the weapons to get 200 Super Grenade rounds. You're welcome.

With all the ports and different versions out the way, let's have some scans of the EU Xbox version of the game. To give Ignition Entertainment some credit, their manuals for the Metal Slug ports were usually quite nice- nicely presented, in full colour, with a few illustrations thrown in for good measures. The cover art was usually well-chosen too if it wasn't just the Japanese version. Anyway, first the box:

Then, the manual:

Next, items. Although Metal Slug 4's hidden item locations lack the ingenuity of its predecessors (there's nothing like the genie's magic lamp from 2, or the old man from the first game) there's one item in particular that's very easily missed. I never found it either until a trip to Metal Slug - Missing in Action showed me the way. Those with the PS2 and Xbox version might want to listen, because this item is on your Trophy of War menu and you'll probably cry when you realise how easy it is to miss.

The item is the Human Monkey, and the only way to find it is to get close to a scientist enemy (only found in two areas- the lower route of Mission 1, and several rooms in Mission 6) and get them to try and attack you at close-range. You'll have a game trying to do this, because they'll often fire their rifle at point-blank range rather than try to stab you, or they'll run off-screen entirely. When they try to attack you with their syringe, get out of the way (it's a very quick attack) and they'll stab themselves in the leg, causing them to turn into a Human Monkey. Grab it for 2000 points.

I'm not sure this even counts as a 'new' item- it's an edited version of the White Monkey, present since the first game.

There was supposed to be an all-new points item added to the game, though- the Famous Photo. Advertised on the US flyer for the game, alongside unused green and red Metallish emblems, it never actually appears in the game itself, and isn't listed as one of the items in the Trophy of War menu on the PS2 and Xbox ports (the one gap on my Trophy of War menu that I thought was the Famous Photo was just the Human Monkey in the end). To make up for it, Metal Slug 5 added a lot more new bonus items, including those bloody birds that always fly-off screen before I can grab them and aggggh.

Next, one neat thing Metal Slug 4 does is, for the first time since MS1, the game has multiple endings.

After beating the final boss, there's an auto-scrolling chase sequence where you have to escape the exploding enemy base. If either player gets caught by the explosions on the left side of the screen, the stage will end, then you're shown the scene on the left, where your character wakes up in hospital (actually the first room in the killer plants section of Mission 4 in Metal Slug 3), greeted by Tarma, Eri and someone who seems to be Rumi Aikawa as a nurse (so that's why only her sister Madoka is a hostage in this one, maybe?). If you make it out in one piece without touching the explosions, you'll get the buffet scene on the right, where everyone pigs out in the street.

Finally... An unusual glitch.

In the Final Mission, just before you fight Sgt. Allen, you'll find three hostages to save- two P.O.W.s, and the C.E.O. that first appeared in Metal Slug 3. What's supposed to happen is the C.E.O. should be on that floating platform like in the screenshot on the left, so if you destroy the DANGER barrel, you'll miss your chance to rescue him. This only seems to happen, however, if you inch the section on-screen bit-by-bit or, it seems, if you're on-foot, as this is usually when it happens. If you go full-speed here or, apparently, still have your Metal Slug, you'll get the screenshot on the right, where he's on the DANGER barrel instead, rendering the floating platform pointless.

That's... Well, it's kind-of interesting, isn't it? No?

Now, here's a brain-bender for you.

Which game covered on this grotty little site is the most well-known- this, Castlevania 64 or either Splatterhouse game?

Answers on a postcard to the usual address, please.

That's a tricky question. I'll go for the comedy option and say CITY CONNECTION!