I haven’t done an “Ode to _____” journal in a while. The only thing I’ve ever had an ode to was Toradora!, and re-reading that makes me want to vomit. I kinda want to do more odes, more with things that brought me up as a kid and mean a lot to me nostalgically. One thing’s for sure though, there won’t be many like the Toradora! one. That was far too sappy for my current approval.
So, here we are with Metal Slug X.
The thing one may ask themselves about this specific choice may not be “What’s Metal Slug?” as much as it could be “Why Metal Slug X?” The honest answer would be that Metal Slug X, for the longest time, was the only game in the Metal Slug series I’ve played. It was the only one we had growing up and the only one I assumed my father could find. It was the only one I was ever exposed to, so whether this may be a weaker title in the series or if Metal Slug 2, the game X was remade from, is better doesn’t apply to me, because I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t have that context. I have all the nostalgic value from X, so it’d be hard to say it wasn’t my favorite, even if other titles were better.
Now, for those who don’t know, Metal Slug is a “run and gun” game where a player takes control of a single soldier and shoots his way through waves of enemies and obstacles. It originated as an arcade game (hence the shortness of the game), but was later ported to home consoles. Basically, somewhat similar to the Mega Man series, you run and shoot, progressing from left to right. It’s a game that needs no more explanation than that.
As a kid, I found the way this game was presented as charming. The design of the entire game was super appealing to my weeb eyes and the story was just stupid enough to keep my interest. Good army goes against bad army, but then it turns out that aliens are working with the bad guys and you have to go around shooting all sorts of things from soldiers to aliens to mummies to mummified dogs to mutant creatures to giant machines with giga-rocket launchers. Holy shit. It’s this sort of basic plot mixed with all of these insane elements and subtle humor that makes the game so memorable, even if the gameplay feels somewhat underwhelming.
It’s fast, it’s goofy, it’s nice to look at. It’s a bombardment of explosions and gunfire and crazy weapon capabilities. Lasers and homing rockets; fire and heavy artillery. Fat guys with pioneer cannons that explode upon death. Prisoners of war that shoot energy balls. Tanks and airplanes and a fucking camel with a machine gun strapped to its hump. Bloodshed and massacre, but it’s okay because you’re on the superficial “good side.” It’s one long stretch of everything stated before. You’ll finish it all before you even know it.
The one major drawback from the game, playing it again at my age, is that the game is far too short. Not only that, but the game doesn’t have a lot of immediate replayability. When you play it once, you’ve played what you’ll play anytime afterwards. It’s a game to play when you’re in the mood to re-open the wound, so to say. The only thing worth doing to spice it up would be to implement your own challenges, as it doesn’t do anything to challenge you aside from standard gameplay. Speedrunning or No-Death runs would be good for adding more replayability, but as it stands, Metal Slug X doesn’t encourage any of this. Once you know the secrets and can memorize where the enemies come from and what they do, the game doesn’t have that same feeling of grandeur it once had. It’s predictable; a quick burst of energy that doesn’t last.
Nevertheless, that burst of energy is a fun one, especially more with a co-op partner. The game is simple fun that doesn’t require a lot of wayward thinking. You run, you shoot, you hope you don’t die. You laugh at the fat perks and you fear your mummification. Every bit of this game has color and flare and creativity poured in, but again, it’s only within the limited span the game has to offer.
Metal Slug X is one of the more nostalgic titles within my long history of games. It’s also one that I wish I could know more about. It’s gone through a cycle of games that aren’t much different from the others (another similarity with Mega Man), with little to no backstory concerning the enemies, the characters, or anything else. It’s not a game to get immersed in for gripping storytelling or character empathy. It’s full-on, guns blazing action from left to right, and damn anyone who could stop you. Still, a little more info would be nice to have, if even to some degree. Motivations, backstories, how the war has affected the characters. Anything like that could effectively revitalize an already flashy and memorable game. It’s a long shot, but Metal Slug knows a thing or two about shots.
All gameplay screenshots courtesy of AmitDabydeen.