It’s sometimes difficult to appreciate or give a genuine review when you know that there’s something that’s the same yet better that’s just out of arm’s reach. If I was asked to give a review of the original Binding of Isaac, it would be extremely frustrating to not have to mention repetitively how the shortcomings and issues I encountered were almost all fixed and accounted for in the Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. Game companies rarely set fire and decimate their original visions, even in the face of a more improved and satisfying re-imagining, because preserving history is important, especially in gaming. Nevertheless, here we are, trying to ignore the X factor floating just out of sight as we delve into Metal Slug 2.
First, let’s get the story out of the way. You’re a member of the Peregrine Falcon squad, and you get sent around the world to deal with would be dictators and rising military forces that threaten the world. Metal Slug 2 is the start of the series getting a little more off beat, as your encounter with the run-of-the-mill insurgent forces quickly changes into multiple levels of oddities, including mummies, yetis and zombies, and finally culminates in aliens being the main bad guy throughout the whole thing. Some fans cite the strangeness Each of the four members of the PF squad has different combat styles, but the overall effect is still the same: you run, you gun, you destroy for fun. The objectives are simple, but it’s the execution that makes it great.
Metal Slug 2 follows a lot of the traditions of the first: it’s 2D, scrolls left to right and, on occasion, down to up, and you can fire in a wide arc to take out enemies on most sides. There’s a melee attack of some kind of merit should enemies get too close (it didn’t always feel that successful) and there are hostages all over the place that need to be freed. Its weird, but you apparently free the hostages by shooting their ropes, which, if I were a hostage, would be TERRIFYING. Once the hostages are free, touching them triggers either the drop of a weapons power up, some food or an otherwise interesting interaction that also gives you points. A couple of hostages actually come and join you in later boss battles, which was a hilarious surprise on the very first fight. Why does he get to throw hadoukens while I’m still left with my basic ass gun because I got hit by a stray bullet?
One thing that makes Metal Slug 2 still a pretty awesome classic is the silliness that crops up in a deadpan sort of way. Just in the first couple of levels, you encounter so much to make you scratch your head and wonder if it really happened. You get to hop on the back of a camel who happens to be mounted with a powerful laser rifle. You enter into a tomb filled with mummies who can turn you into a mummy with but a touch, and you have to shamble around to find an antidote before you get killed in the process. Later on in the game, you become obese if you pick up too many of the food items lying around and become this weird caricature of a fat soldier, complete with food type attacks that only disappear with enough diet powder or not picking up more food. It’s a fascinating snapshot into what was ok to get away with, as far as humor, back in the 90s, and I’m glad that we can all appreciate this bizarre game mechanic without hefting torches and screaming at SNK to stop being terrible people.
And, I mean, Metal Slug 2 does have a ton of replay value just for the way the entire operation is executed. The levels are the perfect length, allowing players to see a lot of the landscape (inside a savage jungle, deep in a barren desert) before getting bored with how much of said landscape they have to endure. The enemies have a good variety of shooters, exploders, strategists and warm bodies that just throw themselves at you. With two players, you have a genuinely great sense of mayhem moving forward as you can both work together to share weapons, take out air and land threats simultaneously, and clear a path for the other, who is looking for mummy antidote (seriously, that’s so goddamn annoying). The whole game can honestly be accomplished in under an hour, and I do wish that SNK had deviated slightly from the formula of their NEO GEO baking system to make it slightly different for Metal Slug 2. I would love to see a timer leader board for people busting through as quickly as possible. It would be great to have a unified, independently monitored list of who was finishing the game fastest, so that there could be no accusation of hacks or other modifications that could hold someone back from the speedrun record.
And the audio balance! Metal Slug 2 does what so few games even do today, and manages to make sure the soundtrack comes through clearly while not being overpowered by the sound effects, but still giving them validity. When you’re zipping down the tracks on a train, you have the clear clacking of the wheels, the shots being fired and returned and you still hear that beautiful 36 bit tune thrumming underneath, giving a dynamic portrayal of everything that’s happening before you. The music gets changed pretty significantly in future remakes, so I thought it would be good to call a bit of attention to it here so everyone could notice.
Sadly, the remakes also deal with the gamebreaker of Metal Slug 2: slowdown. I understand more about the technology and the draw cycles of the game now than I did when I was younger, and the flaws of how the NEO GEO handled a ton of sprites on screen at once has been carefully explained. If you own the Steam version, people have found ways to improve the situation, and I believe there are emulation tricks and modified roms to get around the slowdown as well. But, for the Nintendo Switch, there’s nothing that can be done. Within the first four minutes of gameplay, you will encounter incredible slowdown that makes everything seem like it’s in the Matrix. This isn’t as bad as Shock Troopers 2, the game is still playable, and I even saw some people argue the slowdown is essential for better scoring, since you can target and dodge much easier. But it throws you out of the whole game mentality. Metal Slug 2 wasn’t some kind of frantic, trigger happy game of reflexes, it was a great gunner that just required you to be a bit on your toes. Metal Slug X is proof that SNK acknowledged the flaws and wanted to make the game better in several ways. But there’s no magical patch here. You just have this beautiful game that will, several times over, turn to molasses, because it’s doing a straight emulation of the original, flaws and all.
I keep cycling back to this point, but a lot of the NEO GEO releases continue to just be important for historical purposes and to offer a very limited audience who have never owned a PC or thought of emulation as valid a chance to play classic games. I really enjoyed Metal Slug 2, and I can still enjoy it on the Switch. If you’re already aware of the flaws and still love the game, you have every incentive to get it in your Switch and enjoy some pretty awesome mobile moments. If you’ve never tried Metal Slug, however, this is still a great entry to come in on, and I would argue the best in the series, save for X. Just please be aware of the problems and know that, someday, there might be a better version available.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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