Re(?)Considered: Metal Slug 4

Four on the flaw?

With the Re(?)Considered column, Stuart Gipp — friend to unpopular games that are in all honesty a bit crap — looks back at the games no one else cares about and tries to find the joy in much-hated (or just plain ignored) critical duds. You can enjoy his rehabilitative efforts every other Tuesday.

Metal Slug 3, aka Michael Bay's Metal Slug 3, is by far the most popular game in the series. It's also among the most leaden, least interesting offerings in SNK's flagship run n' gun franchise, offering tedious longeur after longeur. Players take on bullet-sponge zombies that enforce travel at a snail's pace, pray for death by drowning in an underwater level so dull they should call it Dullnut Plains, and finally journey through an alien mothership longer than all three Lord of the Rings novels staged back-to-back as community theatre by molluscs. Who haven't learned their lines. What I am swinging at here is that it's a boring, overlong load of bollocks.

Now, Metal Slug 4 (which followed Metal Slug 3 in a surprising adherence to naming convention) is actually much better than its predecessors, despite what every single person on the entire planet who isn't named Stuart Gipp will tell you. Unless there's some other person named Stuart Gipp who thinks otherwise, in which case he must dieMetal Slug 4 cuts the crap and presents a much leaner, tighter, punchier shooting experience. Gone are beloved series mainstays Tarma and Eri, replaced by the brand new Trevor and Nadia (they're easy on the eye) and returning Marco and Fio, the latter of which is – according to the internet — a “meganekko”, which I understand to be some sort of giant cat. Also gone are the vast majority of the superfluous transformations, meaning the game is much breezier, lighter and frankly more digestible than the others.

It's worth mentioning that almost every single asset used in Metal Slug 4 is directly lifted from the rest of the series, a patchwork of sprites so shameless it makes fictional DS title Castlevania: Budget Cuts of the Necessity look fresh. Consequently, the game is somewhat lacking in the aesthetic excitement of Slug 1, 2, and 3, but to my mind the derivative visuals are a fair trade-off for the much more focused gameplay. There's much more platforming in this one, alongside some fast-moving vehicle sections that are a nice break from the on-foot action. The whole thing is just a treat to play, harking back to the promise of the original Metal Slug that SNK gradually squandered with superfluous nonsense (and continued to squander with the unfinished Metal Slug 5 and the torturously boring Metal Slug 6 and 7).

If you would like to see just how ruddy bloody right I am, Metal Slug 4 is currently available on the PS4 as part of the Metal Slug Anthology, but that version is apparently plagued by input lag. I got used to it in about six seconds, but it might be best to await the inevitable next re-release (possibly on Switch), or pick up a pre-owned copy of the standalone release for PS2 and Xbox.

Open the door, get on the floor, everybody reconsider Metal Slug 4.