Oh, blimey, another nail in the coffin that is Gaming Hell's credibility, as this ancient update should verify! Really getting some mileage out of this one!
Anyway, much like the Metal Slug 4 article- which is probably required reading- this one gets awfully beardy.
Playing the first four Metal Slugs will probably be mandatory, repeat, mandatory.
From 'cobbled-together' to 'rushed out the door'... Post-SNK death, Metal Slug just couldn't catch a break!
Just like Metal Slug 4, it's necessary to go over the situation SNK was in when Metal Slug 5 got made- at the very least, it's a little better than last time. By July 2003, SNK was back as SNK Playmore (with Playmore being a company staffed by ex-SNK members anyway) and was snapping up companies like Brezzasoft (also ex-SNK hands), ADK and Sun Amusement to get back in the game, so to speak. Most importantly, Eoilith and Mega had their mitts wrenched away from the King of Fighters and Metal Slug franchises, so SNK got to work on making new instalments for them. Well, almost. While The King of Fighters 2003 was very much an SNK Playmore affair, Metal Slug 5 ended up in Noise Factory's lap- again- and so they got a second crack at the series.
However, something went wrong. The game was very obviously rushed, and not finished before being released. This isn't supposition or speculation based on weird, unfinished-feeling stuff in the game itself (although there's plenty of that) but simply looking at the swathes of unused content hiding in the game code itself- including an entirely new hostage type, fully animated enemies, a dozen or so unused bonus items, two whole boss encounters- and even stuff on the flyers not matching up with stuff in the final game, most of which is documented on Metal Slug: Missing in Action (with sections for Unused Graphics, Early Footage and Missing Areas). To be fair, previous Metal Slug games had cut content like this, such as tied-up soldiers in Metal Slug 1 (later reused in 3) and a soldier being split in two in 2, but it was never to the extent of what was left behind in 5. Once you know about this, the game as a whole makes a lot more sense, much like 4 did when you realise it was thrown together from old parts...
We'd better start with what's present of the game, then. This time, Morden and his army have finally been written out (with this and 4's plot causing so many timeline problems that the following sequels take place after 3 but before 4) and the enemy forces are the Ptolemaic Army. A terrorist group specialising in raiding sites of archaeological interest, they steal a data disc from the Regular Army containing info on the Metal Slug and vehicles from Morden's forces, using it to create their own Slugs. After tracking them down to the Corridor of Fire, a mysterious set of ruins, the elite of the PF Squadron and S.P.A.R.R.O.W.S. units go into battle for the final time on Neo-Geo hardware! And by that I mean 'See ya, Trevor and Nadia from Metal Slug 4, and welcome back Tarma and Eri'. As it should be, really.
In many ways, 5 is a much leaner game than both its immediate predecessor Slug 4 and even Slug 3, with weapons scaled back (the Flame Shot is gone for good, as are all satellite weapons and different grenade types), all transformations beyond Big tossed out, and the enemy roster cut down considerably, excising almost all the sci-fi-style enemies of previous games and creating several new more military and robotic-style foes to fight (with the second half of Mission 1 being a strange, out-of-place exception). It's also easily the shortest Metal Slug since the first one! More on the enemies later, but in terms of game mechanics, one huge change finally gives the Metal Slug crew a new move, the first since the original game's short hop technique that was ripped out of subsequent versions. Pressing Jump while crouching will make your character slide, allowing them to move quickly while crouching and fire their weapon at the same time. At first brush, the slide seems like a needless addition, with several situations- walls in the ruins, enemies with machineguns that fire at crouchable height, Mission 3 Boss's missile that are on the flyer explaining this move- added specifically for this game to necessitate its use. After playing through several times, I actually found it to be quite handy in certain situations, and began to miss it from older titles a little... Except that it should've been assigned to the D Button instead of Down + B. The way it is, it's far too easy to accidentally perform the slide when you just want to jump from a crouch (or jump and shoot down, in particular) and slam into an enemy projectile, and this is almost certainly the reason it was never seen in the series again. An interesting idea, just fluffed up execution-wise.
Putting the slide aside for a second, while still not on par with the original trilogy, Metal Slug 5 is definitely a notch above 4 in many areas. The levels feel tighter, with far less of that strange 'throw every sprite we've got in storage' attitude that 4 had (no gates where they're not needed, no zombies/mummies/yetis thrown in simply for the sake of it). While the pared-down enemy roster might sound like a criticism, it gave the designers more of a focus, and from Mission 2 onwards it's on its new vehicle and robot enemies with gusto. While not perfectly implemented (enemies with vulcan cannons are hilariously easy to dupe) it certainly has more of its own identity, even if there's still a lot of reused and reworked sprites (many of the vehicles are modified from Morden's garage, several backgrounds come back from previous games, and the Slug Gunner is a heavily-modified Rebel Armor, as are the new robot enemies). The robots in particular are neat to fight as they have far more manoeuvrability than standard soldiers, but they only start using advanced moves much later in the game. Additionally, the game adds two new vehicles that are very fun to use for as long as you get them (the Slug Gunner, the walker-mecha-slash-tank-thingy that became the game's emblem, and the Spider Slug used in a tight subway section) and generally vehicle usage feels much more sensible/worthwhile than in 4 (perhaps the exception is the Car Slug which might be a bit superfluous, but it's still better vehicle usage than the truck and motorcycle from 4). However, the levels aren't quite as jam=packed as the original trilogy's stages, and some bits feel weaker than others. Mission 4 is easily my least favourite, as the Slug Mariner's inclusion seems the most 'eh, we might as well use it' part of the game, and there's that boss we'll get to in a second...
Even with help from vehicles, though, 5 is a bit of an uptick in difficulty, not necessarily for the right reasons. Although most enemies beyond robots now fit the one-shot-one-kill model (as opposed to the sci-fi enemies of previous games that took more punishment), the standard scarf-wearing enemies are also accompanied by gas-mask troopers. Appearing from Mission 2 onwards, these guys are generally faster and throw their grenades absurd distances (they can reach across the entire screen!). Additionally, the rejigged Morden vehicles have been animated and coded in such a way that they telegraph their attacks way less (the new triple-shot stout tank, for instance, gives no warning when it's going to fire). Perhaps these changes were put in to mess with veterans who had all the enemy animations and behaviour hard-coded into their brains (that'd be me, then), but they do lean towards being frustrating rather than challenging, giving the player very little choice sometimes in dying. Additionally, while about half of the bosses are relatively OK to deal with, the ones for Mission 2 (a gigantic warplane fought in a shoot-em-up section) and 4 (the now-infamous Desert Submarine) are far, far harder than you'd expect, mostly down to the fact that they both have somewhat random attack patterns which can easily catch you in a situation where there's no escape. The Desert Sub is definitely worst for this, as its most used attack sees it submerge as it launches giant bullets in the air- they have almost no pattern, and their hitboxes are particularly cruel, so if you're going to sink a few credits against any boss, it's this one. It's single-handedly responsible for ruining several low-credit-usage runs for me because it's so randomised, a rarity for a Metal Slug boss.
Weirdly, the thing I want to bring up more than anything is the tone of the game. This is something that's changed almost on a game-by-game basis with Metal Slug, but 5 is almost certainly the most 'serious' of them. Compared with the later games in the series, it might be easy to point at Metal Slug 1 for being the most serious, as it sticks almost completely with its military theme. However, the first Slug, as serious as it may seem, is more like dark comedy- the game has moments like the entire 'bad' ending and the gory ways of finishing enemy soldiers, but amongst that is stuff like the soldier who flushes himself down the loo in Mission 3, the terrified old woman with her cat in Mission 5, and the idle animations of Morden's grunts. They're small, but they're little details that make the game feel alive, in a way. 5 plays it almost completely straight-faced though, and for 4/5 of the game it does so to a damaging degree, as it's lacking in charm, with nothing like the little flourishes mentioned from MS1 appearing at all. The enemy soldiers barely even laugh at you anymore! Beyond the opening stage, the environments feel sterile and lifeless, and while some of the background reusage gets away with it, stuff like Mission 3's factory- which still has Rebel Armor suits in it- are poor choices. Mission 5, on the other hand, takes the darker tone and runs with it, presented a ruined, burning city that, coupled with the music, has a very doomed, slightly eerie atmosphere to it. It's easily the best area in the game aesthetically, and really made a lasting impression on me- when I think of Metal Slug 5, that's the stage I think of.
(Kinda weird how even low-tier Slug games like 4 and 5 manage to pull things back by the final level, eh?)
... Bur speaking of the game's tone, there's a slight slip-up near the end.
You see, there's also this guy.
Bit out of nowhere, this one.
In the final moments of Mission 5, after fighting a robotic elephant tower that launches maggots at you- yes, this game is a bit weird at times- you suddenly encounter this giant demon enemy with absolutely no build-up or fanfare beyond him flying in as lightning strikes in the background. This was probably supposed to be built up first, as early on the game has what I suppose counts as a plot in a Metal Slug game (one of the enemies from the first stage picks up a stone mask, gets struck by lightning, then keep showing up as some sort of cult leader in later stages) and several of the cut elements of the game (notably the Stone Tortoise and the cult leader on some sort of pedestal) point to this boss being the last of a few bosses. In the final game, we just get this demon out of nowhere. It does feel glaringly out-of-place, but then again, Metal Slug 2 never built up the Mars People in Mission 6 beyond a UFO you see in the enemy base just before they appear.
The thing is, I actually kinda like this boss! It certainly stands out amongst all other Metal Slug bosses, the animation for when it's using its scythe attack is very impressive and intimidating, and it's a boss that actually utilises the slide technique sorta well- it drops flaming orbs locked on to your current position, and sliding can help you avoid them, although you'll probably have to jump over at least one at some point. Still, it's an interesting boss if nothing else! Just a shame there's, uh, nothing leading into it whatsoever.
That's probably the most significant cut content of the game, but even if that's the biggest of it, the game still feels generally unfinished. There's weird stuff like missing screen transitions, missing respawn animations in underwater sections, a mysterious fade to black at the end of Mission 2's elevator shaft for no reason, but I think what really makes the game feel like it was rushed is there's some neat ideas that just go nowhere. For instance, some point items that spawn have neat little properties that make them harder to get... But there's only two of them, a rat that runs away and a bird that flies in the opposite direction which is only seen once. In one route in Mission 1, a Slug appears that the enemies can push into a pit, but this only happens once, and maybe having enemies sabotage Slugs before you get to them on other levels would've been interesting. There was clearly more planned for the robot enemies as several different versions of them missing from the game appear in flyers, and one in Mission 3 has a transforming hand that fires a missile which simply cannot hit you. Probably the biggest missed opportunity is the Black Hound enemy, a modified Metal Slug that seemed really important in early promo materials, which even called it Super Vehicle 001/III... But in the final game, the one time you fight it is in an optional route in Mission 1 that you can completely miss. Using the game's test menu reveals you were supposed to fight the Black Hound again in Mission 3, and this would've been really cool as a semi-recurring boss, but it wasn't to be. The Black Hound went on to appear in Metal Slug Advance, and nothing else.
In summary, 5 does what it does relatively well in spite of it all. Unlike 4, where the flicker of what made Metal Slug great is just barely there but is buried under poorly-constructed stages and sloppy reuse of assets, 5 has a better grasp on when to use old assets and when to leave them be for the benefit of its level design, but the lifelessness of a lot of its environments, the at-times unfair feel of its difficulty, the nice-idea-shame-about-the-execution slide, and the unpolished, unfinished nature of the game stops it short of getting above 3-star status. I don't think anyone could really expect the series to truly get back to the quality of the Nazca/Old SNK games, especially so soon after 4 at that point, but 5 at least has a better grasp of what made those games work design-wise, if not a perfect grasp. Of all the post-3 Slug games, honestly this is the one I've come back to the most for some reason. I think at least part of it is due to how trimmed-back it is. If 4 was a superficial attempt at going back-to-basics, presenting its more military theme on the surface but actually reusing as much 2/X/3 content as possible, 5 is a slightly more legitimate attempt to get back to the crux of Metal Slug, with you just fighting (mostly) soldiers and vehicles, kinda. With that pesky slide in the way too. The fact that it's quite short helps too, so it doesn't feel too stretched-out. I think, approached from that angle, it's a minor success, but as long as you're fully aware it's not a complete return to form... It's OK?
... On the plus side, Noise Factory brought the beats for the soundtrack, damn this is good.
For being sent out undercooked, Metal Slug 5 is awarded...
In a sentence, Metal Slug 5...
Is what it is.
And now, it's that time, folks!
Slightly less home ports of this one than Metal Slug 4, but there's still a few.
Before we get on to the real ports, probably best to mention there's actually two versions of the arcade game. Alongside the MVS cartridge, SNK Playmore released a stand-alone PCB for Metal Slug 5, a distinction the game shares with SVC Chaos: SNK Vs. Capcom and The King of Fighters 2003. From what I can tell, it's just the game on a standard JAMMA PCB with no real differences beyond using the Asia / S3 version of the MVS bios.
Anyway, getting to actual ports now, better start with the AES version, which surprisingly seems to have been released in 2004 rather than 2003 (probably owing to the game's late release in 2003). As per Neo-Geo standards, each player's limited to four credits and, as with the other Metal Slug games on the AES, there's support for the Memory Card to let you return to previously-beaten stages, and an option for Vulcan Fix (allowing you to lock the Slug's cannon direction by repeatedly firing)/ That's... Pretty much all there is to this one. No mysterious 'gallery mode to figure out this time.
In 2005, the game was ported to the PS2 and Xbox in Japan, made it to America as part of the Metal Slug 4 & 5 double-pack in the same year for both systems, and was released in Europe in 2006... Except, as noted last time when I shared this slightly irate email to Ignition Entertainment sent at the time, Europe only got the PS2 version for reasons best explained as 'we'd probably only sell five copies'- this is the version we played. Nothing fancy with this one, but the game tracks your best times for individual levels and full runs, and has the now-obligatory prisoner record and item collection sections (with the latter being presented quite nicely as above). However, unlike the Metal Slug 4 port which mostly seems to be fine, Metal Slug 5 on PS2 has some very odd 'stuttering' at certain points, where the game straight-up stops for a split-second- in particular the Mission 3 skyscraper boss after it destroys the floor you're on and the section after the subway in Mission 5. I've tested two copies on my PS2, so unless it's the console at fault (and it never does this with any other game), I guess that's a bug (or a feature). Also, in all versions, the ending is too fast so you barely hear the ending song at all. Boooo. Finally, according to this set of speedruns, the Xbox port gives the incorrect amount of ammo for the Dual Machine Guns- 200 instead of 300.
The next release of the game was Metal Slug Anthology in 2006 for the Wii, PS2 and PSP, developed by Terminal Reality. It's nice to have them all in one place, but I'm not super-fond of the emulation work here (based on the Wii and PSP versions) and 5 has similar problems to other games on the set- removed slowdown and hit-flashes (inconsistently so- most of it is gone save for the block of ruins in Mission 1 which is actually worse as it flashes white! However, the hit-flashes are only gone from the Wii version), bad sound emulation (song fade-outs are totally missing) and shuddering load-times in the middle of stages (even worse in the PSP port). Specific to Metal Slug 5 is the rather embarrassing fact that the PSP version of the game uses a bootleg ROM. WHOOPS. Again, these are based on the MVS versions, so infinite credits for all. Sadly, there's not as much unlockable art specifically from Metal Slug 5 here, which is a shame as I quite like the more cartoony look given to the official art. Alas.
Finally- thanks to the efforts of helpful Twitter pal @_Kimimi who pointed us in the right direction- 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, released only 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... But Metal Slug 5 is on its lonesome here, as while all the others are based on the AES versions, 5 is the MVS version, so you've got infinite credits. I don't know why that's the case either. On the plus side, it's only now you've realised this text is recycled from the Metal Slug 4 page, right?
... Well, we're not quite finished. There's another PC version we don't own- the stand-alone Korean PC version. Unlike the original PC port of Metal Slug 4, it's actually possible to find this one. Or, at least, find at least one legit version. Mostly because you can find it on Play-Asia with relative ease. If you squint, you can just about see the Mega logo in the corner, so they definitely published this one. It came out in 2005, has a nice box that has an extra flap, and... Uh... That's all we know. Probably just the MVS version.
Just like Metal Slug 4 had a bootleg 'plus' version, so too is there a Metal Slug 5 Plus.
Metal Slug 5 Plus is the same as the standard game, but with almost all the same features as Metal Slug 4 Plus- pressing Start lets you switch between normal and Big forms at will, and once you have a weapon, pressing D will switch between most of them. While there are limitations- the normal-sized Heavy Machine Gun, Shotgun, Rocket Launcher and Laser are unavailable, and so are the Iron Lizard or Drop Shot- you can select the Big versions of all weapons with that size available, including the Big Heavy Machine Gun (not in the normal game) and the Big Flame Shot (not in the normal game at all, normal, Big or otherwise). Also, the game will 'trade' weapon ammo, so switching from the Heavy Machine Gun to the Shotgun nets you about 12 Shotgun shells, unlike Metal Slug 4 Plus which kept the number as it was regardless of weapon type. The main point of interest here is that the Big Flame Shot allows you to see the burning enemy sprites that are mostly unused.
And one final note, a little oddity about the game's gore setting.
All Metal Slug games have had a setting to alter the splashes of gore that appear in-game. In almost every other game, the blood spurts are altered from red to white (so I guess it's sweat/water?) when this setting is switched to off, but the enemy sprites themselves are otherwise unaffected. In Metal Slug 5, however, because the Ptolemaic Army soldiers have red scarves, when this setting is switched to off, their scarves change to blue instead! Additionally, while their blood spurts are white, when knifing an enemy they explode into a darker blue mess, like they're full of oil or something. Finally, the enemy snipers that appear briefly in Mission 2 are actually completely unaffected by the blood setting- they bleed red no matter what. This was probably missed out because, well, there's about 3 or 4 of these enemies in the entire game.
Can you tell that Metal Slug is the kind of series I can basically talk about forever?
Is that getting through to you yet, huh?
Sorry, we didn't have enough development time to write a clever ending line for this article.