The first Metal Slug came out in 1996, a good while after the Neo Geo’s prime. As home and arcade games moved into polygonal 3D, and 2D sprites were seen as old fashioned, the Neo Geo was already somewhat obsolete. And yet, Metal Slug managed to be a big hit for the platform.
But as with a lot of Neo Geo games, I didn’t know about it until after the fact. I first read about it online, and my first encounter with it was the original game at (where else?) a pizza place. I gave it try, but came away with it a little unimpressed. It was fun, but I didn’t quite see what the big deal was.
It wasn’t until I got into Metal Slug 3 that I was really sold on the series. There was an arcade at a college I went to that had three “main” games, all running on big screens. The most popular by far was Marvel vs. Capcom 2, which there was always a big crowd around. Next to it was Street Fighter Alpha 3, which also saw a lot of play, but mainly from people waiting for their turn at MvC2. And then there was the odd one in the bunch: Metal Slug 3.
I was nowhere near good enough to play MvC2 at the level everyone else was, and I had the Dreamcast version of SFA3 at home, so I spent my time on Metal Slug 3. It seemed few other people actually played it, but there were some insane high scores, so I knew I wasn’t the only one who was into it. It’s still my favorite in the series.
Sometime later, the arcade was moved to a different room, and a lot of the games changed. The big screen MS3 disappeared, and instead, there was a regular MVS cabinet with Metal Slug 4 in it. I played it a bit, but never got into it as much as the previous game.
The Metal Slug series is unique among run-and-guns due to its slower, methodical pace. In a game like Contra, you’re encouraged to keep moving, otherwise you’ll get overwhelmed with enemies and bullets. Metal Slug is the opposite. Because enemies appear as you move the screen forward, you’ll likely get overwhelmed if you go too quickly. Thus, it’s better to stop and take out enemies as they appear.
In a way, it also feels a little like a beat’em-up. There’s a slow timer at the top of the screen like in most beat’em-ups, and some of the enemies take an insane amount of punishment before going down. There are also instances where you can’t progress at all until you’ve eliminated all of the enemies on the screen.
I love the run-and-gun genre, and the Metal Slug series is one of my favorites. It really has a style of its own, and that made it stand out amongst the likes of Contra and Gunstar Heroes.
Next time, I’ll talk about another great, but much lesser known, run-and-gun on the Neo Geo.