Metal Slug Anthology (Wii) review
"There are numerous options available, more than most people would ever expect. Youíd think that one of them would be perfect for the average gamer who has been playing Metal Slug games for years. It turns out that none of them are, though. Thatís downright mystifying when you consider how many times these games have been ported to home consoles."
The Metal Slug games have developed a hardcore following because they feature not only frantic run Ďn gun action, but excellent animation that lets the artists easily display their sense of humor. Metal Slug Anthology is a seven-game compilation that celebrates those things but nothing more. The graphics are here. The slowdown isnít. The action and humor are here. The precise controls arenít. As it turns out, that last omission is one of the titleís only true flaws. Unfortunately, itís a big one.
With this sort of compilation, there are several things you might expect to go wrong. Maybe you think the visuals wonít live up to their reputation. It would certainly be unfortunate if that happened, since Metal Slug games rely so heavily on visual polish. There arenít any major issues there, though. Action remains fast and frantic and the only time I found myself scratching my head was when some of the boss characters didnít flash when shot. I wasnít sure I was even damaging them, which made for the occasional moment of confusion. Series fans who have memorized every boss and every weak point should do just fine.
Perhaps you anticipate that the music will be muted and no more than a shell of its arcade self. Itís happened in other cases, but it doesnít here. Explosions rock your speakers just as they should. The soundtrack is every bit as fantastic as it always was, and you can even unlock the compositions by applying virtual tokens you earn for completing the games. Artwork and a text interview are also tucked away on the disc.
Load times are another issue with some compilation packs, but here theyíre minimal. You wait about seven seconds after selecting your game of choice from the main menu, and some of the prettier offerings have three or four points throughout where you have to wait two or three seconds mid-level for the latter half of a stage to load. None of it really gets in the way of the experience.
Thereís also the question of limited credits. Past Metal Slug games have irritated gamers by allowing unlimited continues, or by limiting the number of times you can die and keep progressing through the relatively short games. This compilation gets that right, too; you can toggle unlimited continues on and off at will, to match your mood for the moment (by default, you have unlimited chances).
So, with so many important things going right, what holds the package back from true perfection? Those pesky control schemes do!
There are numerous options available, more than most people would ever expect. Youíd think that one of them would be perfect for the average gamer who has been playing Metal Slug games for years. It turns out that none of them are, though. Thatís downright mystifying when you consider how many times these games have been ported to home consoles.
The default control scheme is one of the best. You remove the nunchuk attachment and hold the Wii Remote sideways, like an old NES pad. The d-pad controls your movement and the Ď1í and Ď2í buttons jump and shoot. However, that leaves bombs unaccounted for. You might be wondering whether they mapped the special weapon to the ĎAí or ĎBí button. The answer is that they chose neither of those very fine options. Instead, you have to shake the controller when you want to chuck a grenade.
Consider for a moment how ridiculous that is. Letís say your chosen character is crawling along a boardwalk on his or her belly. A vehicle is approaching quickly and regular shots simply arenít going to prevent a collision. Grenades are necessary, but standing up to throw some will expose you to enemy fire from behind. The solution is obvious: you need to throw some bombs while staying on your belly. However, that means you have to hold the Ďdowní button and shake the controller swiftly. It can be done, but it never feels right. You have to think about the controls to pull it off, something that shouldnít be necessary in a game of this sort.
Okay, so thatís one control scheme. There are others, though. If you go into the options screen, you can tweak the default for both the first and second players, so that each person can play as suits him or her. You can even plug in a GameCube controller and play that way. With that method, the only limitation is that the d-pad has been mysteriously disabled. Youíll have to control with the analogue stick. Even so, thatís my favorite way to play.
The option to choose a GameCube controller begs the obvious question: why isnít there a configuration for the Wiiís classic controller? It was built for precisely this sort of game, yet itís completely unsupported. If you plug it in, nothing happens. Consider that a warning if you sold your GameCube (or never owned one in the first place). Like the lack of a button to throw grenades in the default control scheme, the failure to support the classic controller is perplexing.
So are the other control methods. One asks that you hold your Wii Remote upright--like a joystick--and tilt it to simulate an oversized arcade stick. Another lets you control things with just the nunchuk adaptor, but it feels gimmicky. Then thereís a final scheme that makes you tilt the controller left or right whenever you wish to move, then rock it forward to duck. The game lets you adopt either left or right-handed versions of those options. Thatís very considerate, but it doesnít make up for the lack of a control scheme that actually makes sense.
In the end, Metal Slug Anthology was almost everything I could have hoped for. Itís great to finally have the seven main entries in the series all collected on one disc and itís nice that gamers donít have to put up with graphical compromises to enjoy their running and gunning. The controls just get in the way. Itís one thing to innovate for the sake of innovation, and Iím not saying that some of the options arenít fun for a few minutes here or there. They just should have been supplemental to something more familiar. Sometimes all a person wants to do--even on the Wii--is play games the way they were meant to be played.
Staff review by Jason Venter (December 28, 2006)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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