Metal Slug 6 still uses hand-drawn sprites; the very same ones the series has used for the last 10 years. But they're still attractive and elegant – more is expressed in Slugian trot and death animations than fifteen billowy RPG soliloquies. It's the backgrounds that have transformed, though in SNK's warped minds, high-res graphics somehow equal lifelessness. A storefront, a tunnel entrance, a skyline seen from a bridge – as handsome as they are, they're reduced to numb panoramas. They don't do anything. They don't move, they don't sway, they're not open to interaction, they are simply... there, like Annie Hall in her bed, without her drugs.
What else is there to say? You were excited at the announcement of a new Metal Slug, on new hardware, but deep down you also knew that this was going to be SNK begrudgingly sliding its feet towards what is not even the future, but the present. The level design is still as flat and listless as it was in Metal Slug 5. The bosses are either boring or maddening, and all so animation-bereft that the only way you know you're dealing damage is because your score's going up.
You were excited at the announcement of a new Metal Slug, on new hardware, but deep down you also knew that this was going to be SNK begrudgingly sliding its feet towards what is not even the future, but the present.
However, several sections in the middle of the game approach classic material: the game slows down and you fight a new, even tougher alien threat. Some scenes, particularly in the bridge mission, combine several of these ET breeds, and you're jumping back and forth, shooting and weaving like it's 1998. Afterwards, the game dives into hopelessly hard mode. The aliens become too tough to enjoy fighting. Are the right people even working on these games now? I couldn't keep up with the SNK bankruptcy saga and have long lost track.
I guess I can't be too harsh. It's obvious somebody's trying: They introduced a points combo system, stats for each of the six characters, two weapons slots, and they got rid of that useless slide move from 5.
But still.... Sigh. All of this can't help the people either too lazy or too poor to design an engaging boss fight.
The inclusion of Metal Slug 6 in this collection overshadows something far more appealing: the original Metal Slug on an American console for the first time. I found it once at an arcade two years ago so I knew it was still excellent. But playing it now in my living room, I'm fascinated by how melancholy it is. In the background are rifles stuck in the ground to demarcate a fallen comrade, and crestfallen girls footed by graves. And the ending: one of Morden's soldiers throws a paper airplane and it glides through the levels, over corpses and decaying tanks, past homes and buildings that have been shelled out, until it curves left and vanishes into the evening.
The first Metal Slug was always envisioned as a serious game, though dressed up with barmy sprites and blitzed with humor. The Japanese have an interminable fondness for the irreverent and the melodramatic, but have always embraced one extreme at a time. Metal Slug, however, is tone perfect. It is bloodshed that pulsates with life and comedy, without compromise to the other.