A vivacious explosion of pixellated mayhem, the arcades were to prove the first glimpse of a future of spiralling debt and ‘just a little bit more’ spending for generations of youngsters who all too happily reached deep into their parents’ pockets and laucned coin after coin into the ever-hungering slot. Many great series and titles were spawned from the extended arcade generation and countless numbers of these continue to thrive in ports and re-releases or fall, having their wizened, wrinkled spirits live on through ill-advised series revival sequels, often tragically tranishing the retro lustre of the original.
Metal Slug was a run-and-gun, side-scrolling shooter, birthed from the fiery pits in which bespectacled gamers, besotted with unreality, could only dream of making their home. Technology was on the rise and with consoles having injected themselves deep into the arteries of home entertainment, an ever-growing audience saw ever-improving output from the games companies, in Metal Slug’s case, the Japanese creators, SNK.
So for XX, have SNK come out all guns blazing? Well yes, they have, but alas, only in the most literal sense.
A melee of munitions; a soiree of sanguinary slaughter; an orgy of destruction; a kaleidoscope of violence. Metal Slug, at its core is, and remains, all of these things. Absurd weaponry, endless throngs of enemies and their respective amrmaments, level design forged by inmates in the very bowels of an asylum, these too are characteristics which XX bears on its brutally scarred, yet handsomely chiselled features. For all the bullets in the world, though, XX cannot simply grasp my eyes and maintain their gaze for its entire (short) duration with such a limited source of interest.
Graphically, there’s not even a glimmer of modernity, with the title remaining true to its cabinet heritage, shunning a HD-makeover and garbing itself in the vintage splendour, the trappings of the coinslot era. Lazily presented in the cabinet-style arcade frame that has typified many of the XBLA ports, playing the Slug on a substantially large display unit offers little room for wonder, with pixels looking more like vibrantly tinted windowpanes than fragments of dismembered limbs and fiery shrapnel.
The controls and interface both prove pretty standard fare and while that does nothing to harm the existing forumla, a few modifications to the controls, which can at times be an irksome beast to wrestle with, would not have gone amiss.
This title simultaneously represents everything that is right and everything that is wrong with XBLA. A chance to replay titles which have been swept between the cracks in the wizened floorboards of time, to explore the foundations that were laid down by the ancestors of the titles we shell out on today, we love that. The problem is, the XBLA, through a significant number of releases, has become a stage on which bloated companies can reach lazily with greasy, ringbound fingers into their back catalogue and fling dusty, excavated relics onto the Arcade, largely unchanged.
That XX is actually a port of a relatively recent title, Metal Slug 7, only makes things worse, offering absolutely no explanation for the weary visuals. Don’t misunderstand this, the game is fun in the trademark predictable and mindless fashion which Metal Slug is loved by many for. The problem is that so many opportunities for improvement have been missed. Innovation is what drives the industry and general developmental laziness only serves to hasten the stagnation of advancement in the field. This reinvention of the wheel abides strictly with the “if it ain’t broke…” maxim and bears a notable absence of the tangy zest which made the earlier iterations so RSI prone on their first plays.
In short, the game presents a slice of quick-action pie to pass the time but won’t keep you anchored for any impressive stretches of time. At the hefty ol’ price of 1200MSP, I can’t recommend a purchase, 800 would have been far more reasonable. If you’re a fan of the series with a resolute hankering for some more Metal Slug action, by all means buy it, but there are better games available for that sort of money.