Suppose for a moment that you could go back a decade in time. The original Playstation is achieving popularity, and the Nintendo 64 is still new. The Xbox and its successor won't be available for years. If you were to walk into an arcade, you wouldn't see many DDR machines yet, but there would be dozens of fighters. Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and Killer Instinct ruled the day. One on one fighting was by far the most popular genre, but there were a few notable exceptions that featured co-opgameplay. One of those, a fondly remembered classic, one that spawned several sequels, was Metal Slug.
Metal Slug was old school even from the beginning. Two soldiers are dropped behind enemy lines, armed to the teeth and ready to fight. Baddies come out of the woodwork to attack our heroes. Throughout the fight, all sorts of different weapons are available, and at the end of a level, there is a big, tough boss. There's not much new to this part of the Metal Slug formula, is there? It's quite reminiscent of Contra, and in my book that is a good thing.
One aspect of Metal Slug that makes it stand out from the crowd is the art style. The animation is all hand drawn, and it is gorgeous. The main characters are large, and detailed, not just palette swaps of each other. The appealingcartoony look really fits well into the arcade action. Helicopters, parachuting enemies, tanks, and even battleships will all make you smile; the game looks fantastic, and the graphics hold up well even today.
Marco and Tarma, the heroes, have all sorts of weapons in their arsenal. Among the coolest, oddly enough, is the melee attack. When an enemy gets to close, the attack button will execute a satisfying knife strike. Weapon power ups are obtained when you free prisoners from the clutches of the enemy. Rocket launchers, a shotgun, and a nasty upgraded machine gun allow you to cut down enemies with style. You can even take over the titular Metal Slug tanks, small, one man vehicles that add to your defense and your offensive firepower.
You will definitely need the bigger, badder guns, for Metal Slug is no easy game. Even the console version, with unlimited credits, is tough enough to take an embarrassing amount of continues. I am sure it would eat up plenty of quarters in your pocket in the arcade. If you enjoy a challenge, the hordes of enemies and "bullet hell" aspects of Metal Slug will be right up your alley.
Metal Slug is available on modern systems, a testament to the series' popularity. Metal Slug Anthology , featuring not only the original but several sequels, is available on Wii, PS2, and PSP. It'll probably be fairly cheap if you can find it used. If you are just looking for the original, the Virtual Console port of Metal Slug will set you back a not very wee 900Wii points. We'll likely cover other games in the phenomenal Metal Slug series in a future column. In the meantime, check out the official Co-Op Classics thread in our forums, and let us know what other great co-op titles of the past you'd like to see us cover!