Metal Slug, SNK’s phenomenal series of cooperative run-and-gun side scrollers, have been a staple in video games since its arcade debut in 1996. However, since the release of Metal Slug XX, a remastering of Metal Slug 7 in 2009, the series has remained dormant.
Besides a myriad of mobile game spin-offs, there has not been a new Metal Slug game in the main series after 2009, which is a shame because for a while, it seemed like the series was on a consistent incline and there seemed to be no end to it.
With 2021 marking the 25th anniversary of Metal Slug, it’s sad to think that there isn’t a new game or even some sort of remastered collection on the way. While every Metal Slug is available on modern platforms, the franchise deserves to be revived in some shape or form.
The general gameplay styling of the Metal Slug series begins with two games, In The Hunt and Gunforce II. The former is a submarine-based shoot ‘em up, where up to two players traverse under the sea against other submersibles, underwater mechs, and airplanes. At one glance, you’d be remiss to think that it is Metal Slug, since the sprite-based aesthetics are exactly the same.
Gunforce II, on the other hand, is almost like a beta version of the Metal Slug formula, as you play as a gun-toting soldier battling a rival army and aliens, all while picking up new weapons and getting into super powered vehicles. Many have called this game ‘Metal Slug Zero’, though it has more of Contra’s flavour of action compared to Metal Slug’s more cartoony antics.
And with those two games serving as the foundation, the team at Irem began making Metal Slug, which began as a land-based take on In The Hunt. Initially, it was only supposed to star the titular tank. It was only after play-testing that the developers decided to fuse this tank-based shoot ‘em up gameplay with playable human soldiers, which opened up way more possibilities in game styles.
And so, the first Metal Slug game was born and arcades everywhere were introduced to Marco and Tarma as they shoot their way against a rogue faction looking to spread some sort of new world order. The hefty Metal Slug tank, heavy machine guns, and the helpful prisoners of war that drop upgrades once saved, all made their debut here.
The first Metal Slug was no doubt a success and its run-and-gun formula were only reiterated further with Metal Slug 2, which introduced female protagonists Eri and Fio, as well as more weapons, vehicles, and even player transformations like turning into a mummy. Metal Slug 3, considered the best in the series, introduced branching paths in levels for maximum replayability.
Metal Slug 4 and 5 were not made by the original Metal Slug team, but are still fun romps, and introduced a new score multiplier and a new slide maneuver. Metal Slug 6 was notable for bringing in two new playable characters from Ikari Warriors and had players teaming up with the series villains, the Rebel Army and Martians. Lastly, we have Metal Slug 7 for the Nintendo DS, which was then remastered for consoles as Metal Slug XX.
The run-and-gun formula can get pretty repetitive after a while, which is why the Metal Slug series elevates the gameplay with their two-player gameplay, beautiful sprite work, and diverse cast of bosses and challenges. That said, for any series to grow, experiments to the formula must be made.
One such experiment was Metal Slug 3D, a third-person shooter take on the gameplay that came off as undercooked in 2006, but could be reiterated in 2021. Another gameplay departure came with Metal Slug Attack for iOS and Android, which is a tower defence take on the series. It’s one of the only new Metal Slug games to come out in the 2010s, and while it was a perfectly fine game, it didn’t really satisfy long-time fans.
So, looking back at all of the instalments in this 25 year old franchise, it’s high time for us to see a new Metal Slug game soon. With beat ‘em ups like Streets of Rage 4 and the new Battletoads proving that a bygone genre can make phenomenal comebacks, hopefully the same can be said with Metal Slug.