There's nothing better than having a giant game library with you when you're on the go. That's why video game compilations are such an attractive proposition when it comes to PSP games, the idea of having a half dozen games on one single disc is a lot more attractive than hauling around a bunch of UMD games. SNK's newest video game compilation is none other than the Metal Slug Anthology, a collection of some of the greatest 2D action games ever created. Although it's priced a little higher than other compilations, this is definitely one disc you should be on the lookout for.
Metal Slug Anthology is a collection of seven games, including all six of the main Metal Slug titles as well as Metal Slug X, a slightly altered/remixed version of Metal Slug 2. Each of these games offers amazing hand-drawn 2D graphics, intense action, and a whole lot of crazy levels to play through. Best of all, you can bring a second player into the action, making the game's challenging levels somewhat more manageable.
In case you haven't had the pleasure of playing this series before, Metal Slug is a 2D shooter not unlike Contra or Gunstar Heroes. You play a soldier-like character that runs from the left part of the screen to the right shooting up enemy soldiers, mummies, aliens, zombies, tanks and pretty much everything else that gets in his (or her) way. The series is known for its humorous animations and crazy looking characters; the entire game is overflowing with character and is easily the funniest 2D shooter ever created. Along with multiple weapons and enemies, your soldier will also have the ability to commandeer vehicles (tanks, jeeps, submarines, jets, camels, etc.) and take out the bad guys in a number of exciting ways.
This is not the first time we've seen the Metal Slug games on a home system. Ever since its inception back in 1996 we have seen this series on the Game Boy Advance, Neo Geo Pocket Color, mobile phones, Sega Saturn, Xbox and PlayStation (there is also a version of this Anthology currently available on the Nintendo Wii). Like most of the other Metal Slug ports, this PSP Anthology looks and feels exactly like the original arcade games, which is pretty much all you can ask for with a collection like this. The bad news is that this collection retails for $40, which is a good ten to twenty dollars higher than most other PSP compilations. The good news is that this is worth it, even if there isn't a lot of variety between the games. If you're already a fan of the series then there's no reason not to pick this game up, but for everybody else there's the added incentive that this collection will mark the first time the sixth Metal Slug installment is released on these shores.
Despite the fact that there are seven different games in this compilation, you'll quickly notice that all of them are pretty similar to each other. Unlike some franchises that evolved into 3D titles, Metal Slug stayed tried and true with the original 2D formula. Not that this is a bad thing, but if you're looking for a lot of variety between the games then you should probably look elsewhere. That's not to say that there aren't some differences between the sequels, one of the best things about this PSP collection is that you can chart how things have changed since the series' inception. Although most of the early editions are largely the same (with the addition of new levels, weapons and vehicles), the series has matured quite a bit since the first game in 1996. All you need to do is play the first game and Metal Slug 6 to see how far the series has come, even on the outdated technology that is the Neo Geo. Metal Slug 6 offers 2D graphics that scale, different characters with their own unique abilities, and a difficulty mode that actually matters. These changes may not sound like much, but they add a whole new dynamic to the franchise. One can only hope that this is the direction all future Metal Slug games go; fans of the series have been waiting a long time to see some real innovation in this long-running franchise.
The reason this package is so attractive is because the games are just a lot of fun. While some people may shrug off the series and complain that they are nothing more than Contra clones, the truth is that we don't get that many games like this anymore. This is the type of experience that reminds gamers how much fun it was to go to the arcade and waste quarters trying to make it to the end of a game. In this world of deep action games full of RPG elements, Metal Slug reminds us of a simpler time when all you had to do was jump, shoot and dodge the enemy fire.
But beyond the pure simplicity of the theme, it's fun to play these games because you never know what you're going to see next. The brilliance of the Metal Slug series is that it doesn't take itself too serious. The artists behind the game have a lot of fun adding small (yet hilarious) details to the backgrounds, and the animation is some of the best to ever come out of the Neo Geo hardware. The levels themselves are also a treat to behold; there are so many different locations you will be experiencing as you play through all seven of the games in this package. The idea that you could be fighting crabs in the desert in one level and then battling mummies in a pyramid in the very next stage is attractive to me, and then you throw in the crazy aliens and simple-minded army men and you have an experience that is all over the board. And the best part of this series is that these levels aren't just outlandish, they are truly memorable.
In a lot of ways Metal Slug Anthology is a better fit on the PSP than it was on the Wii, if only because the controls feel more natural on the handheld. You don't need a whole lot of buttons to play any of the Metal Slug games, so the PSP's limited buttons and lack of a second analog stick never play an issue with this compilation. When it was released on the Wii, Metal Slug Anthology offered a half dozen ways of setting up your control … none of which felt as good as a standard game control. By contrast this PSP port only offers one way to control the action, and that's all you will need.
Unfortunately the handheld game does come with a few caveats. For instance, PSP owners will have to put up with frequent (and often lengthy) load times which can sometimes break the flow of the action. They aren't too bad, but they seem noticeably longer than other versions of the game. You will also be able to change the screen size around (offering you the ability to have it go full screen, 4:3 or original pixel), but some of these sizes look bad on the PSP's widescreen display. Neither of these complaints is that big of a deal, but they are certainly worth mentioning.
Outside of a few minor hiccups, Metal Slug Anthology is a fantastic game that should be played by both fans of the series and those who have never heard of it. The game play is a bit on the shallow side, but the amazing graphics and weird levels are going to keep you playing long after you've finished the first game. With its seven pixel-perfect games, some cool bonus materials, and a great sense of humor, Metal Slug Anthology becomes the first must-own PSP compilation of 2007. I can only hope that this is the beginning of future Neo Geo compilations, I wouldn't mind getting my hands on a Samurai Shodown Anthology.