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Metal Slug 4 & 5 (PlayStation 2) artwork

Metal Slug 4 & 5 (PlayStation 2) review


"Metal Slug 5 is certainly worth playing through a couple times for the splendid sightseeing, and once again after that for the stupendous boss battles; as a fraction of a larger compilation, it'd be great. As the saving grace of a $40 "collection" containing only it and the prosaic Metal Slug 4, however, it comes up a bit short."



Metal Slug 4 doesn't deserve a proper introduction. It sucks. All it is is a boring retread of Metal Slugs past, a smattering of elements from previous run-n-gun classics that honestly just doesn't work. Many of the scenes I remember from earlier Slugs I remember for their novelty. Duking it out with the eccentric bodybuilder Sgt. Allen, turning into a zombie and vomiting blood at my foes, damaging some sap's sailboat and watching him try to pump the water out by hand... moments like these worked so well because they were original, and as such, a game comprised almost entirely of scenarios that retread these moments (MS4) comes off as lazy. Its developer Mega even had the gall to rip entire backgrounds from SNK's earlier works and slap them into its monstrosity.

Another lovable aspect of the Slug games I'd played prior to these, 1 and 3, was their interesting mission design. The former presented me with battlefields such as a quaint European town and an exotic Aztec temple, while the latter went totally balls-to-the-wall nuts with things like an enormous alien mothership packed with crimson spiderbots and a murky cavern filled with exploding Arabian swordsmen. In contrast, most of MS4's six locales have a dull, metallic style to them, and even levels such as the token ice stage that don't are still boring thanks to Mega's insistence on haphazardly packing them with the same emerald soldiers and silver tanks we've been battling for an entire series. The end-of-level guardians are equally uninspiring, the ranks of which encompass big nasties such as "stack of random gun turrets" and "square shaped robot".

Admittedly, MS4 isn't entirely worthless. It's certainly tough enough to hold your interest for a playthrough or two, it has the occasional awesome setpiece such as rappelling into an enemy base while blasting away at nearby baddies, and I have to admit that I smiled when I got turned into a monkey and was able to climb about the steam pipes of said enemy base. It's just that these positive aspects have little to no effect on the overall experience thanks to the game's irritatingly monotonous design.

Fortunately, Metal Slug 5 puts a very different foot forward as soon as it begins. A seemingly serene boat trip down a rainforest river quickly goes awry, and as you shoot/stab/explode the hatchet-wielding locals who swing into your boat on vines from the jungle canopy above, you're already experiencing something more exciting and original than anything the previous game had to offer. Things only get better from there, too. This first of five levels follows up on your river raft ride with a trap-laden temple trek (...sorry), while later stages will task you with everything from negotiating a series of bridges that get knocked away by helicopter gunfire to piloting a four-legged spider mech through the subway tunnels of a city that lies in ruins thanks to the marauding terrorist forces you'll be smashing through.

The game's boss encounters are equally diverse. They're not quite on par with, say, the third game's immensely challenging Teacup of Doom, but MS5's end-level baddies are still quite insane both in scenario and in scope. After raiding an enemy factory early on, for instance, you'll get to do battle with a five-screen large bomber in the area's sunset colored skies, using the comparatively diminutive Slug Jet to slowly wear it down while making sure to dodge its myriad projectiles and deadly exhaust fumes. Later boss battles are equally impressive. My favorite is the tower-scaling robot that you attack from within the colossal skyscraper it's moving about, a metallic monstrosity that crumbles entire floors via its sonic blasts and uses missiles of both the vanilla and homing flavors to smash apart the windows--and you!

Unfortunately, the levels leading up to these duels fail to fuse excitement into their variety quite as nicely. Developer SNK-Playmore almost entirely removed the abundant multiple paths of MS3 in favor of a more streamlined experience, and sadly, there's not enough chaos abound to keep things fresh in place of the jettisoned diversity. That's not to say that MS5 is easy; there's certainly enough opposition to keep you blasting until your thumb's sore. It's just that it's also not hard. By the time you've played through it three or four times, you'll know the game's tricks and traps well enough that it becomes kind of boring to go back to it. MS3's road forks and wacky attractions kept me coming back for ages, while the raw firepower of MS1's foes is still alluring to this day. MS5 lacks such a drawing power, hampering its ability to entertain me after being conquered a few times.

That, ultimately, is the entire package's undoing. Metal Slug 5 is certainly worth playing through a couple times for the splendid sightseeing, and once again after that for the stupendous boss battles; as a fraction of a larger compilation, it'd be great. As the saving grace of a $40 "collection" containing only it and the prosaic Metal Slug 4, however, it comes up a bit short. Metal Slug 4 & 5 isn't a total waste--the latter game is fun despite its limited long-term value, and even the former can be good for two-player kicks now that you don't have to restart every level upon continuing. I'm not arguing with the idea of giving us two for the price of one, either... too bad it was actually way better last year when we got 3 for the price of one instead.

Rating: 6/10

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Staff review by John L (May 30, 2005)

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