Tagged: video games

Metal Slug X

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When discussing SNK’s powerful Neo-Geo hardware, several titles will inevitably crop up in the conversation – King of Fighters, Samurai Spirits and Metal Slug will undoubtedly be mentioned. Having had an AES console in the distant past I have become pretty familiar with the titles in these three series and many of the other games that appeared on the system during its run. I was never a particularly big fan of run-n-gun games of the Contra mould in the past, although I did enjoy Data East’s Midnight Resistance when it came out.  Yet, when I first started playing Metal Slug I fell in love with the detailed and well animated sprites, the cartoon style action and superb music and sound… oh yeah, and the gameplay was pretty good too!

As I recall it was around 1998 when I first got introduced to the Metal Slug series and became a keen follower of the series up when it pretty much went off the rails with Metal Slug 4 in 2002. I have devoted much time to the first three Metal Slug games over the years on AES, and other formats, but the one game in the set that has received the most love is Metal Slug X.

Metal Slug X  (MSX) was released in the early spring of 1999 on the MVS arcade hardware and a little later that year on the AES home console system (both in the USA and Japan).

For those not totally familiar with MSX, the gameplay is good, old-fashioned, run-n-gun. You have four characters to choose from at the start (although you can change character at any credit continue point), and then you battle your way through six action packed stages as you attempt to defeat series regular, the evil  General Morden and his allies. There are hostages to rescue, a variety of different weapons to collect, vehicles and animals (yes, you read that right) to utilise, and numerous different enemies to defeat. Even for its time it wasn’t a particularly original premise, but the sheer quality of the game is what sets it apart.

MSX is also a re-tooled version of Metal Slug 2 (originally released the previous year), and to the cynical, and/or those who do not know what they’re talking about, “is MS2 with the slowdown fixed”.  Yes, sadly, MS2 does suffer with slowdown. Not horrendous slowdown, nor even protracted slowdown, but there are a few points during the game where there are basically too many sprites on screen. From memory, there is an issue on Stage 1, an issue toward the latter part of Stage 4, and at the end of Stage 6 when you fight the end of game “boss”. Those three examples are not meant to be exhaustive, and MS2 is still an eminently playable romp even with the slowdown, but some people just do not like it because of this issue. MSX does a lot more than just address the slowdown, and while saying “it’s a totally different game to MS2” would be stretching it a bit (a lot actually), it is significantly reworked to warrant being praised as a release in its own right. I guess you could call it the “Director’s Cut” version of Metal Slug 2.

So what is it that I like so much about it? Well, aside from the classic Metal Slug gameplay, it is the sheer detail that has gone into this game. A lot of time has been spent adding tiny details in, that on a casual play through, you would just not notice, or perhaps think to notice. There are obvious differences between the 2 and X as well. Although the Stages are the same in setting, some are set at different times of the day, enemies can be more prolific in number or a different type entirely, and some of the bosses have been altered, and on some levels a mid-Stage boss is also included. Remixed music, new weapons, new Metal Slugs and a different end-credit sequence are also thrown into the blend.

There are a lot of, new, hidden, elements in MSX for scoring opportunities, especially in the first few levels, and if you like playing for score or you’re trying to rescue all the hostages, you need to find out where these items are, because many are well hidden. In fact it took me ages to find many of the hidden point collectables and hostages, and I’m still not certain I’ve found them all on every level now! The backgrounds and sprites are highly detailed, the sprites in particular have a number of different animations unique to each character. Clearly a lot of time, and love, has gone into crafting this game and to make it stand out from its predecessor, and I, for one, am highly appreciative of this work as you just do not see it often enough in sprite based video games of this kind. In many ways, it is sad, that after Metal Slug 3 was released, the later entries in the series seemed more of a cynical way of generating cash from the name of the franchise rather than building on the quality that was laid down here.

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Many of you will already know that on home cart Metal Slug X can cost an arm and a leg such is the collector demand for Metal Slug AES titles. The MVS cartridge can be picked up loose for reasonable money (complete kits will not be particularly cheap), and the game has been ported to several mainstream home consoles over the years including PSX, PS2, Xbox and more recently Nintendo’s Wii download service – Virtual Console.  Having been thoroughly disappointed with the emulation used in the Wii version of Metal Slug Anthology, I was very pleased to find that the Virtual Console port is spot on and plays great with the Wii Classic Controller. So, if you haven’t got the Monopoly money required to purchase the AES version, nor a home-Jamma set up needed for MVS, then I would highly recommend the VC port whole-heartedly.  Put simply Metal Slug X is run-n-gun at its finest and most enjoyable.

Metal Slug X
Version tested: Neo Geo AES
Also available on: Neo Geo MVS, Wii, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, PlayStation, PlayStation Portable, PC, iOS, Android

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Who needs PG Tips when you’ve got soup, fags, and Metal Slug X???!!!

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Welcome To Last Week… Gears of War 3

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Been off the ball a bit recently with the ole blog… Have been a bit under the weather and have had much of my spare time sucked from me by the awesome The Last of Us on PS3… I will most certainly share my thoughts on this brilliant game in due course. I had hoped to originally put all the posts on the 7th gen consoles systems and the new 8th gen in the Nottro section, but it will end up reading like one big post… so Welcome To Last Week! This will be a regular post article when I’ll discuss some of the 7th & 8th gen games I’ve had the pleasure of playing.

Whatever the game being discussed will be, you can rest easy that IGN, C+VG, GameFAQs, Edge, Kotaku etc etc, will all have done and dusted with whatever it is I’m bleating about… but I’m sure I’m not the only gamer out there who, for whatever reason (time? money? life? family? put your excuse here), cannot be queuing up at Game at midnight every time there is a major release, dashing home on a cocktail of ProPlus and Red Bull, playing through the game and then posting a blog and/or You Tube video before most of us have even had breakfast and put our underpants on.

With the image of breakfast and underpants lodged firmly in your minds we’ll swiftly move on to something that, frankly, has very little in the way of either – Gears of War 3. Released just over two years ago on Microsoft’s Xbox 360, this is, thus far, the final chapter in the original Gears of War story (last year’s GoW: Judgement is not part of the main story arc).

I really enjoyed the first Gears of War, and GoW 2 was a worthy sequel, expanding and improving on the original. I purchased both either at, or shortly after, their original release dates, so even I was a little surprised that I had not jumped on the GoW 3 band wagon a lot sooner. Why it took me so long to purchase it I’ll never know, but at the seemingly give-away price of £11.00 on Amazon for a new, sealed, copy, it looked like a bargain in the making.

Fortunately, the game delivered plenty of bangs for my bucks.

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Gears of War 3 throws you straight into the action, as you once again assume the role of Marcus Fenix, partnered with his bunch of motely crusaders, in the fight to save the planet Sera from the clutches of the Locust Horde.

The first half of the game has you mainly dispatching waves of Lambent, mutated forms of Locust, who have similar attack AI to the Locust but also have some new tricks up their sleeves too. There is also a section of the game where you have to face a new type of enemy (I’ll keep that bit quiet so as not to ruin the story), which helps throw a good twist into the plot and also sees a rather poignant end to one of the series’ main characters. New weapons also make an appearance to help you vary your attack strategies, my favourite being the awesome Vulcan. The duck and cover mechanic the series has become renowned for, remains as accomplished as ever – many have tried to imitate Epic Games combat system, but few can get close to the masters of this style.

The action is fairly relentless at times, which wouldn’t be so much of a criticism if the game was just a little shorter than what it is and therefore the action a little more varied. Although there are now the Lambent to deal with as well as the Locust, once you’ve hit your umpteenth wave of either you pretty much know what to expect. Now, if you’re going to end a popular trilogy you want to do it with some style, so GoW 3 does not fail on that count, but I do feel that making it like the sci-fi version of Ben Hur in scope makes it a little bit of a chore occasionally. The dialogue is also a bit naff, but seeing as the game was, for me, sandwiched between stints on Uncharted 3 and The Last of Us I am perhaps being a little snobbish… you’re not going to get Oscar winning material in a game of this ilk, but perhaps the dialogue is a bit too coarse for its own good.

The graphics are excellent throughout with some superb lighting effects and fluid animation, certainly some of the finest visuals I have seen so far on the 360, and well worth taking in when you’re not too busy dodging bullets. The musical score is also of a very high quality when the cinematics are called for at various intervals. The AI is also of a high standard, meaning that not only are the enemies no push over to defeat, but that the console controlled members of your team generally react in an intelligent and logical way to whatever you’re doing rather than running round like headless chickens and getting slain every five seconds, much to your own chagrin.
There is also, of course, a healthy dose of multi-player content, which really is not my thing, and therefore I won’t be going into further details on this. Suffice to say, those of you who like your multi-player action will not be disappointed; and there’s DLC map packs to add into the mix too.

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If you enjoyed either of the first two entries in the series then GoW 3 is a real no brainer. While not quite faultless, GoW 3 does provides a substantial and entertaining one player campaign, offers plenty of re-play value for Achievements or to best personal goals from previous runs, and has strong multi-player content to boot. Certainly one of the finest Xbox 360 action games you can buy, and overall the best game in the original trilogy – never easy to keep besting yourself, but, Epic have done a damn good job of achieving this. I just wonder how long it will be before Epic/Microsoft make an announcement about the franchise crossing over to Xbox One…

Retro Gamer Inspired

Well, it probably won’t come as a surprise to many reading this that I am a regular reader of Retro Gamer magazine. I have been inspired to make several purchases over the years from articles published in some of my regular video-gaming reads, and this months copy of Retro Gamer (issue 123) has certainly had an effect.

I am a big shoot-’em-up addict, and although I have not been a big fan of Konami’s Gradius series, I have long had an interest to try out its distant cousin – Salamander. With Salamander featuring on the cover of this month’s Retro Gamer, (with a very good article to go with it inside), I finally decided to pick up the Saturn version of Salamander Deluxe Pack; which then promptly arrived on my desk from Japan the other day. More on Salamander Deluxe in a future post.

This month’s Retro Gamer also has an excellent feature on classic late 80’s software publisher Cinemaware… I loved Rocket Ranger back in the day, and have long been interested in seeing how it still plays all these years later.

So, last Sunday, after it has sat atop a wardrobe at my parents house for nearly 20 years, I decided to recover my once faithful Atari ST.
I have long toyed with the idea of bringing the old girl back to life, but procrastination has often got the better of me. However, with the idea of playing Rocket Ranger buzzing around in the back of my mind, and also keen to revisit the classic Carrier Command, I finally dusted off the Atari (literally), and went scouring in the loft of the garage to find what was left of my ST back catalogue.
Soon, with a handful of diskettes and my old ST, I was back at my own house, into the Games Room, and hooking the ST up to the TV. To my pleasant surprise it fired straight into life; and using a copy of Activision’s Ghostbusters 2 as a tester, was even happier to see that the machine seemed to be working fine.
I will report more on my re-established connection with the world of Atari later on – need to find a joystick, and waiting for a new mouse to arrive courtesy of eBay. One thing that did put a smile on my face during all this was, amongst a small wad of loose diskettes, I found a copy of Jeff Minter’s seminal Lllamatron! No copy of Rocket Ranger though… looks like that’s going to be another eBay job!