The Neo Geo Classic Arrives On Droid
Some of you out there might still remember those old Neo Geo arcade machines with interchangeable games. They were especially popular in the 90s, in Laundromats and pizza joints, since owners could swap out titles that weren’t eating enough quarters. Usually you’d find Bust-A-Move 2, some random shooter and one of a dozen or so King of Fighters titles. And you’d usually find a Metal Slug.
Metal Slug 2, now on Android, is a game whose first level tasks you with firing camel-mounted Gatling guns in an Agrabah-like marketplace. There’s a bit in the second level where if you choose NOT to save a hapless explorer from a killer mummy, you collect the $30,000 ruby he drops. And most of the POWs in the fourth level can only be saved by destroying entire buildings (and not always just one). This is your brain on Metal Slug 2.
“… But we do know that it was us that scorched the sky.”
The Metal Slug series has always stood out from the majority of arcade shooters due to its rare polish and cutting humor. You play one of four crazy-eyed mercenaries as they traverse from country to country obliterating everything in sight, opposing forces and priceless historical landmarks alike. There seems to be some overarching threat of global domination going on behind the scenes, but the player is, by and large, left firing rounds off in the dark as far as the narrative is concerned. While it’s true that the games don’t really have much story to them beyond “Kill enemy soldiers,” little details throughout help to fill in the gaps through surprisingly detailed character animations. Having beaten Metal Slug 1-7 at least once apiece in the past, I can attest that these seemingly threadbare little asides escalate pretty hilariously.
Metal Slug 2 is one of the best-liked and most fun of the series. The graphics are superb, as is the sense of 3-dimensional space. The temporary shift to a far more isometric perspective in the game’s final level feels totally natural, and even amidst limitless hails of gunfire, you’ll rarely go too long without noticing just how friggin’ cool everything looks.
The game comprises six missions, a dozen or so horrific weapons to collect and zillions of bloody corpses left in your wake. Your first play-through should only take you a couple hours or so, but there’s a tremendous amount of replay value here, with four skill levels and a new Mission Mode, which lets you choose any mission to start on once you’ve beaten it. ScoreLoop is supported for achievements and leaderboards, and you can save replays. Sadly, it doesn’t look like they can be shared right now, but it’s a fun feature regardless.
Local Bluetooth multiplayer is also supported, as are several audio and video options. Sound is crisp and immersive, especially with headphones. You’ll often find yourself demolishing entire cities throughout Metal Slug 2, and audiophiles will get a John Woo-caliber bang for their buck.
“Guess I shouldn’t have jumped backwards.”
Visually, the game retains its detailed and vibrant style from the arcade. However, while some slowdown is to be expected at times with, say, two dozen enemy soldiers on-screen, there’s also a good bit of unnatural lag here and there, making for an unfortunately marred graphical port. For purists, the Scanline option adds in a video filter which effectively mimics the hazy graphical look of an old arcade cabinet. You can also play the game in 16:9 widescreen, original 4×3 or in Window Mode, which makes the 4×3 screen a little smaller, and lets you use the touch-screen-mapped buttons and joystick without covering up the bottom third of the screen with your thumbs, which I appreciated.
That brings me to my biggest issue with this port of Metal Slug 2: The touch-screen-mapped buttons and joystick. In its transition to mobile, Metal Slug 2 staggers, if not out-and-out suffers in the control department. The Neo Geo cabinets had pretty responsive sticks that allowed for reliable 8-directional shooting, as well as quick-decision ducking and crawling. That kind of complex command simply can’t be pulled off as easily with the touch-screen, and I constantly found myself jittering around and unable to shoot diagonally. This gets frustrating, particularly during boss fights.
You can change the mapping of the buttons and joystick in the control menu, but you’ll invariably be covering wave after wave of knife-wielding terrorists with your thumb unless you’re playing on a tablet or in Window Mode. In fact, once I switched over to Window Mode I saw my cheap deaths drop down to next-to-nothing, whereas before they had been overwhelming.
Ultimately, Metal Slug 2 isn’t the greatest series entry. Its windstorm finale, as fun as it is, isn’t nearly as cool as the high-flying final mission in Metal Slug 3 (also available now for Android), nor is the game as a whole quite as polished. The occasional lag and steep learning curve derived from the game’s tricky control scheme should be taken into consideration by those less familiar with Metal Slug’s signature brand of hardcore. Having said that, Metal Slug 2 is a classic shooter in the Contra vein, addictive as all hell, and series devotees are strongly encouraged to pick it up.