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Metal Slug 2 (Arcade) artwork

Metal Slug 2 (Arcade) review

"For a lesson in genuine gaming rapture, see Metal Slug 2 -- the follow-up to the phenomenal Metal Slug, a marriage of gruesome warfare and peculiar, cartoon-like attitude and atmosphere. It was an ideal example of competent, silly animation -- a veritable caricature of the classic 2D shooter Contra, including the reflexive bullet dodging and mass-slaughtering with the added bonus of a true sense of tender charisma. Your heart would warm as the golden boy of an infantry -- bl..."

For a lesson in genuine gaming rapture, see Metal Slug 2 -- the follow-up to the phenomenal Metal Slug, a marriage of gruesome warfare and peculiar, cartoon-like attitude and atmosphere. It was an ideal example of competent, silly animation -- a veritable caricature of the classic 2D shooter Contra, including the reflexive bullet dodging and mass-slaughtering with the added bonus of a true sense of tender charisma. Your heart would warm as the golden boy of an infantry -- blond shaggy hair, ragtag bandana and youthful smile -- subtly crept about the environments as if involved in a childhood game of hide-and-seek with his comrades. Then, of course, an enemy solider would approach, and as a gaming impulse you’d thoughtlessly tap the ‘shoot’ button, just to see the bullet fly out of your hero’s pistol and bury itself into the poor sap’s chest, leaving him in a capsized heap of lifelessness after the blood had emptied out of him. The consequences of combat linked with goofy hilarity are an indescribable and enjoyable absurdity.

By analyzing the first, I’ve already covered its sequel’s shell, because the two play identically. Both are examples of pattern memorization in terms of enemy firing, massive boss battles with hulking machinery, and a seemingly endless reserve of enemy fighters. In the case of both, your character is expended in a single blow, be it a fray bullet fragment or a car-sized missile to the forehead. On a mechanical level, the second entry is simply no different from the first.

Both even consist of five “missions” that are then topped by a long, painful finale, bringing the total to an astoundingly inadequate six. Aside from these meaningless parallelisms, Metal Slug 2 is a more saturated, wholesome version of the first -- enough so that it’s still easily worth playing. It’s the superb play formula that makes MS2 what it is: incredibly addicting; startlingly violent considering its inviting style, yet playful; and surprisingly atmospheric.

The first change that veterans of the first will pick up on comes even before the first shootings occur. Formerly, Marco, the blond-haired one-man army was the default “Player 1”. Meanwhile, a second participant would be using Tarma, a bad-ass in his own right, with cool shades to boot. There are also two female gunners to choose from, but they are too irritating to tolerate. Their screams of death are ear-shattering, and they’re lacking the style of the other two. Despite my preferences, however, be aware: there are no differences between soldiers other than appearance. This particular expansion is merely a cosmetic, secondary one. It certainly doesn’t hurt anything, of course -- choices are nice, no matter how senseless they may be.

Each level, save the opening stretch of the first, is an all-out shoot-fest as enemy fire from multiple sides -- in front, behind, above, and sometimes even below -- peppers the screen. Sliding between barrages while returning fire is the only solution, so instinctive reflexes are practically required. Your standard weapon, the infinitely supplied pistol, is quite weak compared to the attainable upgrades, but many of the “regular” opposing forces are taken down, just as you are, in a single shot. The rumbling, emotionless machinery you’ll come across, however, is not taken down quite so easily; swarming choppers and crushing tanks will not yield with such weak retorts.

In that case, hopefully some sort of more sophisticated weaponry will always be in your possession. The most frequent of these is the admittedly useful heavy machine gun, which packs considerably more power than the handgun, and obviously fires at many times the rate. Limited ammo can be eaten up in a hurry with one of these, but the gun is suitable for any in-game situation.

All foes will certainly fear you with the stylish, torrid flame shot, which unleashes torching heat in bursts. It’s a much less common weapon than the machine gun, of course, because the most terrific, enticing firearms are always the hardest to seek out. Take advantage of this screen-swallowing murderer when you come across it.

There’s never a dull moment when you have a rocket launcher to share with any passers-by. You can fire two rockets at a time, and they’ll often seek their way to a suitable target automatically. They aren’t as powerful as you may envision, however; it can take multiple to destroy some enemy forces.

The high-tech laser rifle is a new addition to the collection of firearms. It spews continuous Technicolor streams of rainbow pain, and seems to be about as efficient as a machine gun. Much more intimidating of course, but not as menacing as you may have hoped!

Rounding out the guns is the classic shotgun, as steady, reliable, and demolishing as ever. Although limited in distance, it can crush close-range, multi-hit foes. Considering how clogged some areas may get with infesting armies, this may be the second-most effective tool at your eventual disposal.

Should you not be fortunate enough to stumble upon one of these, you’ll have to rely on the pistol and your hand grenades, which are granted to you in ten-packs with every life. You can find more as you go along, but you’ll probably be hurling them more frequently than you’re grabbing fresh ones. Finally, there is the new-edition firebomb, which explodes into a wall of deadly flame, wiping out the unfortunate goofballs in its path.

These treasures can be found within the destroyable landscape, but more often with Prisoners of War, who will more-than-willingly relinquish them should you free them from helplessness. There are a bunch of POWs scattered about the levels -- far more than in Metal Slug -- and uncovering and freeing each will result in huge point bonuses and a very likely weapon upgrade. Of course, there’s a catch: you only get credit for rescuing the prisoner if you finish the rest of the mission without dying. Should you perish, all the rescued POWs on your record are wiped out and forgotten. It’s quite fun shooting up the environs in hope of discovering a stashed-away hostage, freeing him from the ropes, receiving the thank you! and watching them scurry away after having dropped either ammunition or depressing point increasers.

Not to be left out are the uncommon appearances of the vehicles you can control. The series namesake, the Metal Slug, a speedy tank with rapid-fire machine guns attached is probably the most useful. On the other hand, the upward-hopping, downward-shooting froglike shooter is created specifically for one sole confrontation. More frequent use of some of these helpful rides would’ve been great. You assume a true sense of safety when saddled into a tank; the vehicles can take three shots before they are destroyed. If they’re about to explode, you can speed them into frontal enemies, escaping the wreckage at the last possible moment.

The first mission is a sun-soaked exploration of a Middle Eastern desert. Mustached Arabians seemingly straight from Aladdin approach you cautiously with swords. Blades do not match up well with firearms. Opening fire results in horrifying screams of death, bodily fluids spraying, and bodies collapsing! It’s early yet, though. At a fruit stand, more swordsmen approach -- and they are, of course, just as easily dispatched. The next, though…he’s on camel back! You send a spray of bullets his way, but you can’t topple the fool; as a last resort, you charge at him, jump, and as you cross him, pull out your jackknife and slit the poor sap’s throat. He plummets from his seat and his camel scurries off in fright. Shortly thereafter, a truck pulls up to you in reverse, the back covered with a canopy. Two more fools jump out, but before any more can, you’ve lobbed three bombs at it, sending it into spiraling, blinding flames. It’s just a pile of torched rubble, now. Before this operation sees an end you will have sent a temple -- turned multi-rocket launcher device of death -- into indistinguishable ruins, and downed a massive, hovering harrier under the command of the enemy. Oh, and you will have commandeered a laser-mounted camel of your own.

Keep in mind that this may even be considered one of the less eventful stages -- every mission hereafter is more exciting, more challenging and more action-packed. By the end of level two, you will have raided an Egyptian temple and conquered not only the monstrous, upward-lunging machinery of the opposition, but also the creeping, stalking mummies that continue to infest unexplored caverns! These are the types of enemies that make you appreciative of the more powerful weaponry, as the embalmed, wrapped walking-dead refuse to keel over with a mere shot from a handgun.

And so, the action keeps up at an even pace throughout, helped along by outstanding backgrounds, very interactive foregrounds and flamboyant animation. The speeding supply train, loaded with unwitting enemy companies, is the perfect place to strike with a surprise assault. As you slay the dimwitted troops as they go on about other business (some are prepared with riot shields and the like), you move forward from car to car. Hydrofoils fire on you from waters under the bridges. You’ll even get to pilot your own airplane, the Slug Flyer! It’s as maneuverable as the Metal Slug, and equipped with similar phaser cannons. What follows are intense, close-up dogfights with enemy fighters, and then missile launchers. If things get hairy, you can kamikaze the jet, smashing the eject button at the last minute, slamming the plane into the opposition as your soldier parachutes safely to the ground below.

Each level concludes with a hulking metallic marvel -- always some bizarre, unorthodox, but admittedly hard-hitting robotic beast, armed to the teeth with threatening artillery. These battles are merely a matter of survival; run and dodge as a first priority, continue to chip away at the monsters as a second. They will all take hundreds of shots, but patience is a virtue.

The final confrontation is particularly sensational. Ever seen Independence Day?

The phenomenal animation, colorful backgrounds and sprawling, fiery explosions, while very convincing, are practically matched by sound effects, which although are simply varying roars, drones, hums and rattles, masterfully simulate the sounds of battle. Vehicular engines whine. Explosions scream and collapsing buildings shatter. Rapid-fire guns spatter. If your eyes are not convinced of the dangers of war because of the title’s cartoony nature, your ears will certainly be more easily fooled -- this is authentic sounding as it gets.

If there was any one problem to bicker about, it may be the slightly lagging frame-rate during the more intense areas. As more and more photons from enemy cannons litter the screen, things may temporarily slowdown. Ironically, this “error” may actually be beneficial to you. Things become easier to dodge when they’re going slower, as you’ll have slightly more time to react.

Metal Slug 2, like its predecessor, is a shining example of 2D “old school” gameplay with a genuine focus on an innovative, intriguing idea: cartoons and guns. The result is a knock-down, drag-out affair with only two other accountable weaknesses: difficulty and length. Some stretches of the later missions are quite humbling, as enemies, and, more importantly, their artillery, fills the screen, surrounding and pummeling you. The whole experience is so enjoyable that this shouldn’t detract too heavily from your opinion (your wallet may be a different story). Unfortunately, the six medium-sized levels end too quickly. Thankfully, it is lengthier than the first, and packed with more items, objects, enemies, and POWs than the first. Subtle all-around improvements make this the side-scrolling wonder that the original was, and then some.

dogma's avatar
Community review by dogma (October 25, 2004)

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