I have fond memories of the arcades of my childhood. Even though I was born slightly too late to fully enjoy them, they taught me a lot about great graphics, gameplay, and techniques they use to take your money. I’d like to think this has a little bit of crossover nowadays, as a game based around collecting quarters may try to do the same with micropayments.
Fortunately, you don’t have to pay per play with SNK Playmore’s port of the first Metal Slug game for Android. For those not in the know, Metal Slug is a highly-successful shooter series where you blast your way through various locales. Usually you’re facing pastiches of Nazis, jungle guerrillas or other undesirables, and must arm yourself with tanks, grenades, knifes and bonus weapons.
What makes the game stand out from other shoot-em-ups is the presence of some detailed and well-animated pixel graphics – frankly, they make the game look better than it has a right to. It also has some awesomely bad voice clips, such as the “rocket lawn-chair” from the title of this review.
For the most part the visuals have translated well onto the Android platform, with all the animations looking smooth and as detailed as before. You have the option of playing the game in a 4:3 or 16:9 format, and both modes look good: the main advantage of sticking to the black bars of 4:3 is to give yourself a little more room for the on-screen controls on which the game depends. There is some slow-down that occurs when there are a lot of enemies, gunfire and extraneous graphics on the screen (for instance, the parachutes in the screenshots), but usually the game performs pretty well.
The on-screen controls can be placed around the screen at your leisure, and they’re simple: one button to fire, another to jump, and a third for a grenade attack. This should be standard for those of us who have played ports on a mobile platform before. We know that these companies usually have to condense down concepts or try to replicate them as closely as possible: fortunately for Metal Slug fans, there were only three buttons in the original arcade release to begin with.
The question remains – how does it play?
With ports of games, one of the main issues of the conversion is whether or not it captures what made the original great. With Metal Slug, the experience is largely a visual one, but it’s backed up by great gameplay. Good reflexes are rewarded, but you’re not fighting your joystick along the way.
Metal Slug also has a legacy of being extremely unforgiving. Like Contra before it, one hit from an enemy bullet will end your life, and in the age of arcades, this meant that you could easily burn through a few dollars’ worth of quarters finishing one level. That same difficulty is here on mobile, but what makes it frustrating is the controls that you’re supposed to use to keep it from happening.
On-screen controls are notoriously twitchy, and coupling it with Metal Slug‘s physics is asking for a bad time. When you’re controlling a game with a physical joystick in hand it becomes simpler to make smaller, finer adjustments because you can jiggle a joystick back and forth: your precision is limited how quickly your hand can move and the sensors can register an input.
With touch controls, there is a noticeable lag between when you press against the virtual D-Pad and when it actually registers. In situations where accuracy is imperative, this can really hobble the experience; when faced with a vertically-scrolling level where I would have to made numerous jumps over a chasm in the middle, my first response was “Oh, this is going to be painful.”
And to be honest, it was. This was also playing on the Easy difficulty, one of four that are available. Controls were sluggish to make fine adjustments, change shooting angle, crouch… these are all very basic forms of movement that should be responsive. Trying to move and jump at the same time was hit or miss, as failing to jump over the same chasm three times just lead to a quick game over.
Sadly, for all that Metal Slug does right there’s an awful lot it does wrong, as well. I would rather the graphics take a hit than the controls, as you can still have a complete game without the other.
If you still want to try out a classic and breeze through it on Easy, you can buy Metal Slug for $3.96. However, if you’re looking for the ultimate, precise shoot-em-up, this may not be for you.