IGN Review of Metal Slug Anthology
As we move into the next generation of console gaming, the arcade industry is evolving alongside us. While games like Gears of War and Meal Gear Solid 4 take the spotlight on 360 and PS3, arcade gaming has found two main paths to traverse. A series such as Metal Slug can now either find its home on download services like the Xbox Live Arcade or Wii Virtual Console, or take the portable route, banking on retro fan support on DS and PSP. Though there's been no specific plans to bring SNK's prized series to the world of virtual transactions, the series is getting a rebirth in the form of the 10th anniversary Metal Slug Anthology. With the Wii launch, the motion-enabled version of the game was a love it or hate it experience, as it combined classically proven gameplay with somewhat sketchy motion control. Now that the collection has hit the PSP, Metal Slug fans have one more chance to pick up a piece of 2D history to take on the road.
When SNK's Metal Slug Anthology hit the Wii just a couple months ago, the collection had its fair share of ups and downs. Each of the seven Metal Slug games were there, but the control was somewhat of a disappointment. There was no support for the Wii classic controller, no d-pad support for use with GameCube, which also meant no possibility of using older GameCube arcade sticks.
For the PSP version, SNK had a more stable set of controls to work within, and while the PSP hardware doesn't have quite enough power to run the 90's classics without a hitch (not to mention a less-than-desirable d-pad), our expectations were still very high going into it. If the team could deliver a Metal Slug experience that was true to the arcade versions, controlling relatively well and displaying the games as best as possible, we'd consider it a solid buy, and for the most part the team has succeeded. Metal Slug Anthology is a relatively bare bones collection, offering the seven historic Metal Slug games (Metal Slug, Metal Slug 2, X, 3, 4, 5, and 6) and little else.
The game's presentation is basic, set up like the similar compilation games (such as Metal Slug 5 & 6 on Xbox) with a simplistic "chose your game" interface, some expected options such as limited/unlimited lives and an easy, medium, hard setting, as well as the option to display the games in their true aspect ratio, a "full screen" mode (which makes the playfield a 4:3 square), or a stretched widescreen mode that fills the screen. Other than a few added extras, it's all about the seven games.
And while the "true-to-arcade" ports of the Metal Slug series are pretty good, they aren't perfect. All of the necessary elements are there (blood, action, explosions, and a steady supply of heavy machine gun), but loading issues add a series of hiccups to play. In general it takes about 30-50 seconds to go from the main anthology title screen to actually playing one of the ROMs, with odd loading points added not only to boot the arcade games themselves, but also to leave each of the game's title screens, and - an extremely odd one - slight loading pops when switching from character to character on the "select your player" screens. In addition, ROMs not only take a load break in between each mission, but also during screen switches, with eight second quick-loads. In general each Metal Slug game has from three to five screen switches per mission, each hovering around the eight second mark. The long and short of it; loading is annoying, and while it doesn't screw up the game entirely, it is definitely noticeable, and it affects the game's flow.
In addition, a few of the games suffer from some serious slowdown. Since Metal Slug Anthology is actually running the official arcade ROMs (it even says "Two Player Press Start" in the corner while you run through the single player modes), you'll get all the traditional choke points for each respective title as you would have in the quarter-pumping days. That means when Metal Slug II drops to a crawling 5-10 fps, you'll be crawling right along with it. Add in the occasional half second freeze for the PSP to catch up (mostly during intense choke points as well), and you may start asking yourself where the original "true arcade" slowdown ends, and where some platform issues begin. Again, slowdown is to be expected in a few of the older ROMs in the package (Metal Slug X was created specifically to tackle old issues with Metal Slug 2, yet SNK has included both on the pack for retro fanatics), but adding age-old tech issues in with loading times doesn't result in the most fluid of experiences.
That being said, Metal Slug Anthology is in no way a wasted effort on PSP. The games play just as great as they did back in the day, and SNK made the right choices when compiling this package. Players can enter and leave a game at any time, saving the ROM status along the way. A two player mode has been included (Ad Hoc only) for some old fashioned co-op play, and all options (such as continue settings, screen size preferences, and game difficulty) can be saved whenever you leave a game in progress. Just like the previously released Wii version, all unlcokables come from beating the original games though the use of unlimited continues is allowed. All pre-existing extras (such as concept art, music mode, and a text interview with the game's original designers) have been included on the PSP version, as well as seven PSP wallpapers for your system. All extras work on a token system, letting players accumulate their earnings to spend on preferred extras at any time. It isn't an amazing set of extras, but it's more than most compilation sets end up including, especially on a portable.
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