Have you ever played Metal Slug in the arcades? Remember? That amazing 2D shoot-em-up with the dazzling graphics, superb animation and sublime retro-stylee gameplay? You do? Did you like it? Yes? Excellent because you are going to flip over this pint sized version of the incredible arcade game.
Instead of trying to do a straight conversion, SNK have reworked this into a new and different version from what you are used to in the arcade. Wait, don't turn your nose up just yet because this version has all the action of the arcade game, but in a more exploration based gameplay setting. Rather than a straight left to right shooter, MS: 1stM is almost free roaming, there is plenty of exploration to be done, while shooting the hordes of evil soldiers that are thrown your way. And explore you must, because littered around the generously large levels there are pickups that must be collected if you are to rise through the ranks, and coins that buy continues, not to mention weapons to improve you arsenal. Don't forget that as well as interpersonal combat, you get to control the Metal Slug tank and the cute Harrier jet for variety.
Like I have said, the levels are on the whole large. Some have multiple exits that take you on different routes through the game, extending longevity further. Each level is masterfully designed with cunningly hidden extras and hidden rooms, some levels require some real brain wracking and eventual backtracking in order to squeeze the most out of them. Levels of note include the skydiving levels, in which the parachute must be opened at the right time, the prison escapes, skilful use of the knife a must, and the harrier shoot-em-up stages.
Metal Slug's graphics are superb, all the characters are well defined and animated and the backdrops are varied and detailed. Animation on the Metal Slug itself is really cool, somehow they've given the stubby contraption real character which is amazing considering how small it is on screen. On the downside, the enemy bullets can be difficult to see, but it doesn't detract from the game too much. Oh, and there is a touch of slowdown, but when you see the graphics, I think you'll forgive it, it doesn't happen often.
The sound is nice, with good effects and suitably military music. The controls themselves work well, but the weapon swap being on the "option" button can make pausing a real nightmare as it has to be held down in order to pause the game.
This game is big, you can finish it two or three times, and you still won't have seen all the levels. Despite the exploration there is loads of action too which is a good thing. The only real problem is that sometimes the jumping is a bit "leap of faith-ish" and the jumps can also be difficult to judge. On the whole, the game is excellent and the little niggles shouldn't put you off from buying what is a real Grade A product.