Old games don’t stop aging, and when they get old enough anniversaries are certain to pop up. These are great opportunities for everyone in gaming. Publishers get a fantastic excuse for re-releasing old games from dead platforms, and despite what message board all-stars will tell you, gamers can also benefit from these “franchise-milking opportunities”. They give some a chance to play a classic they missed out on, or for an old fan to have an entire series on one neat little disc. Good times all around.
Except it is rarely the case where things work out so squeaky clean. Sometimes a company will take it too far, such as Nintendo’s audacity to charge twenty dollars a pop for NES games that had a 50% chance of being tucked away somewhere in Animal Crossing. Other times you will get a complete surprise; Tekken 5 was a 10th anniversary game, so it happens that the standard disc contains 66% of the franchise’s history on it.
Most often anniversary discs fall into “so-so” middle ground. Everything is a trade off, where one good thing is usually offset by something unfortunate. If the games are perfectly emulated, chances are there won’t be much in the way of bonus extras or retrospective material. If instead it is filled with these goodies, you might discover that the sound is tinny or the game runs sluggishly.
So here we arrive at the Metal Slug Anthology, another piece in the confusing puzzle that is modern day SNK-Playmore. The company is sitting on small goldmine of classic arcade titles that gamers would love to play legally, yet there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to how they choose to give them to us, if at all. The King of Fighters has been easily available on one console or another since its ’98 entry, but when its 10 anniversary came around, gamers were treated with two standard releases. At the time this didn’t bother me; the availability of the KOF series was healthy enough that releasing them all together wasn’t a top priority.
But then the Metal Slug Anthology came around and hit that logic over the head with a shovel. The game costs $40 and gives you every Metal Slug entry that was released in the arcades. A great deal for all, except for those schmucks who paid the same price for Metal Slug 4/5 on PS2, or Xbox owners who got just Slug 3 only a year or two ago. It’s not the Anthologies’ fault that it’s such a great value; it’s just celebrating its own 10th anniversary. But there was no indication from SNK’s past actions that they would even bother celebrating it in the first place.
Spilt milk aside, it is a joy to see all of the Slugs on one disc. While the series has its detractors, there is something to be said for a game that debuted in the waning days of 2d and continued on into the HD era. It may not offer the nastiest bullet patterns or cheapest bosses, but it has the style and charm to go along with a very solid difficulty.
The Anthology is an intriguing view into the later history of SNK. The first few games came when the company was still firing on all cylinders, while the drop in quality in 4 and 5 coincide with SNK’s death and the improper handling of its licenses by Playmore. The jewel of the Anthology is Metal Slug 6, which marked the move off of the old Neo Geo hardware as well as the end of the series in 2d. We wouldn’t have gotten this one if there weren’t an anniversary, as it is barely a year old.
Silly as it may seem, SNK gets brownie points for getting all of the games on the disc. Compared to Capcom’s handling of old Street Fighters, it seems a surprise when it should be the norm. Sadly, the aforementioned trade offs come into play and make the compilation wishy washy. Each game looks to be arcade perfect, though after playing Slug 1 on Gametap with simple 2.1 speakers I can see just how much standard TV speakers can distort sound.
The real problem is loading; aside from the initial load times for each game, there’s a two to three second pause whenever a cutscene triggers or there is a transition in the level. Stranger still is that it only seems to occur in some of the games, mostly notably 2 and 3, whereas 6 seems to run just fine despite being the most advanced.
If certain sources are to be believed, this problem does not pop up at all in the PS2 version of the game, meaning there is absolutely no excuse for this whatsoever. In a world where people continuously doubt the Wii’s graphical capabilities, the inability to run ten year old games perfectly makes my life as a Wii owner that much stickier.
The checks and balances continue in the features list. The menus are fairly simple and at times even confusing, but deep inside them you’ll find art galleries, music samples, and all the control options you’ll need. All of the goodies we expect in an anniversary disc are here, they’re just horribly organized. There are moments while playing when it seems SNK was actually excited about celebrating this franchise, moments that are interrupted by a complete lack of care. This is bad for the serious fan who would like to see the franchise treated with some more respect, as well as for the newcomer, who may be turned off from such 2d classics after seeing that they’re still stuck in the Stone Age of aesthetics.
The Metal Slug Anthology is also available on the Playstation 2, and this will be the obvious choice for most serious Slug fans. Not only do they likely have the console already, but the PS2 allows them to use a good joystick or a six button pad. The Wii does not have this luxury, instead featuring several oddball control schemes that use one or both pieces of the Wiimote and require controller shakes for throwing grenades.
I appreciate the inclusion of these features, as they add an interesting spin on these old games, but all but one of them is useless for serious play, as they seem to have very little thought behind them. The best you can do on the Wii is use a Gamecube pad and its clunky joystick (oddly enough, the Classic Pad is unsupported). If this were an exclusive I could easily tell gamers to live with it, and Wii only consumers will have to do just that. For the millions with Sony hardware, you can do better.
Metal Slug on the Wii is ultimately a good thing. It shows a willingness from SNK to branch away from Sony to companies that actually welcome their games. It is also a chance for the Wii’s audience of new gamers to explore the roots of their new hobby. I fear, though, that these efforts will be sabotaged. With the load issues and half hearted extras compounded on top of control issues, new players will have a terrible first impression and old diehards just won’t care. If you still want to see what these games are about, by all means give this a go. Just consider it a primer for the abuse that is being an SNK fan.