metal slug 5: the location test adventure
by tim rogers
10312003

 


Metal Slug is a series of videogame which is deeply important to the Japanese cultural landscape. That is: it's like Contra or something, except it has cutely animated characters, and enemies with lots of personality, and sometimes you turn into a zombie.

There have been many Metal Slug games -- at least five, if I'm counting correctly -- and each new one is fun for most of the same reasons as the last one was fun, and the first one was fun for the same reasons Contra was fun. You get to run around, jump around, and shoot lots of stuff. As the original Metal Slug was a NeoGeo game, it looked better than Contra or even Contra III, and it also let you ride vehicles, like the legendary mecha itself, the Metal Slug.

Now, Metal Slug 5 is location-testing at Ikebukuro Sega GiGo, a large arcade near the Sunshine City shopping complex and one of only two Lotteria franchises that happens to sell the Kimchee Shake. On a day when neither of us had anything better to do than drink a kimchee shake and laze around Sunshine City, my friend Chuck and I stopped into the GiGo, bought a cup of "Ice Box" -- Aspartame-flavored "grape" "ice" "cubes" -- from a vending machine, and stood around watching people play Metal Slug 5.

So loved, and so revered, is Metal Slug, that one of Tokyo's most loved and most revered arcades puts the game on one cabinet in a dark corner of the basement. The "dark corner" part can be explained easily -- the corner happened to be close to the desk behind which three arcade employees stood, and you know they wanted to keep watch. The "one cabinet" part, I don't get.

Really -- just one cabinet? Is this not Metal Slug? Do people not love this game?

One is how many cabinets my local US Army post pizza joint had of the original Metal Slug; in this Tokyo basement with sixteen Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution cabinets, I expect more.

Maybe they put it on one cabinet so as to make it easier to keep an eye on. The guy behind the counter seemed to love keeping an eye on the game -- it looked like it was on his list of "Hobby," right up there with "PlayStation2" and "Xbox." When I whipped out my Sony DSC-P7 digital camera and shot a little footage, the guy put down his towel -- to mop up joystick-sweat? -- and stepped out from behind the counter. He went so far as to make eye-contact with me. I put the camera away quickly, and he backwards-stepped back behind the counter.

He was a badass, that's for sure.

So I figured, then, that the fine readers of insert credit would have to make do with a summary of what I done saw, done did, and done heard at the roketesu. (That's Japanese for "Location test," like "Pokémon" is to "Pocket Monsters.") So now let me say something about the game:

The most I can say about the game is that it highlighted the Japanese arcade habit quite nicely. I counted fourteen people in line to play. Just about each one played alone. Many of them played with their friend Mr. Cigarette. A group of two kids, looking like they were skipping college classes to attend the location test, played together, got to the third level, and then died. One guy, also accompanied by Mr. Cigarette, got all the way to what I think was the final boss. I can't really tell you what this boss was, because I couldn't see all too clearly. He was fighting it in some kind of Incan-inspired temple, though.

The guy lost at that boss, and stood up. It was then that the two kids sat down. Apparently, the rule was that you only play one credit, and once you lose, it's back to the end of the line. The guy who lost then went and stood behind me and Chuck. He was wearing a dark navy blue business suit and a layer of maybe-cold sweat. I thought I'd ask him some questions. I didn't ask him any questions. He looked like he didn't want to be bothered. He wanted back at the game.

He got back at the game when Chuck and I finished our turn. Set up directly next to Metal Slug 5 was a cabinet featuring IGS's Atomiswave beat-em-up Knights of Valour: Seven Spirits, the kanji title of which revealed it as set in the Three Kingdoms universe. Me and Chuck figured we wanted in on some of that. I played Zhao Yun. Chuck was Guan Yu. We got as far as the second level -- a pyramid -- and quickly died by spikes. The game can be summed up by calling it a whole lot of button mashing. It recalls that old days-of-yoreish feeling, that feeling of many a cartoon-licensed beat-em-up: if you want to see the end of the game, you keep putting in the money, son.

NOW WITH THE PLEASURE OF CHINESE HISTORY!!

Metal Slug 5, especially after playing Knights of Valour, struck me as something of the opposite. It's a game you can actually get good at. Not only can you get good at it -- you can stay good at it. These guys who waited in line to play Metal Slug 5 must have been good at Metal Slug since the days of the original. Now, with Metal Slug 5, all they had to do was master the slide move (down and B), and they'd have mastered the whole game.

Chuck and I stood and watched some more hardcore Metal Slug action. Each player had a certain practiced posture and contemplative facial expression. Each player only came close to saying something each time they died. Each player hopped into the airplane in the third level, and took off flying, just like they were supposed to, and shot up the giant enemy warship. Each one knew exactly how to handle the warship: fly directly inside it, hold your position, keep shooting, and move up and down to dodge the gun turrets as the warship moves.

In the second level, the blond-bearded hostages are replaced by guys in business suits, who spill powerups out of their briefcases when rescued. That's the level where you first get to pilot the Metal Slug, which moves slowly and kind of flies. You need to ride elevators to reach high points.

There are no elevators in the lava cave level, and you'd wish you had an elevator if you take too many powerups, and become fat. Becoming fat is a novel concept. You get slower, and more . . . well. I think I've seen it somewhere before. I can't be too sure.

THE GRAPHICS

look a lot like Metal Slug 3 and 4. That's . . . about it.

THE SOUND

is pretty much the same, too. Okay, shit, I'll stop it with this. No, no -- one more:

THE JOYSTICK

I played with was broken. Not just broken, broken, or broken -- it was broken.

Well, I mean, it wasn't broken broken, at least. It was still . . . together.

It just wasn't working. It didn't stand up. It fell down toward the lower right corner, and hung there. This caused my character to perpetually duck and crawl to the right. I had to hold UP on the joystick to stand up, and even then, I couldn't aim upward.

I was using the player-two position, yes. All the same, I outlasted Chuck, who complained that his stick was "sticky" around the middle.

A "highly revered" game here, ladies and gentlemen.

I can't say much more about Metal Slug 5, much more than "it's Metal Slug 3 with a Megaman-ish slide move and situations that incorporate the slide move," because I didn't play it to completion. At best, I didn't even play it halfway so.

Chuck and I knew at "Game Over" that we could never show our faces at the Metal Slug 5 machine until the location test was dead and over. So we played that bland Atomiswave beat-em-up -- I don't even remember its name anymore, and I typed it five minutes ago -- and jetted the hell out of there. We figured we'd go upstairs, and have another go at the roketesu OutRun 2 machines -- all four of which we'd soon find to be sparklingly free of diseased schoolkids in their dirty jeans. Which is to say, with no one in line, we had us a good, grand time at OutRun 2, and I'll be coming to you with a review of it at some point in the near future.

Before OutRun 2, however, at the time we left the basement, the suited man from before, seated at the player one position, was avoiding falling fruit in the lava cave level. The line of men waiting to march into battle stood twenty-something strong behind him. Which meant: it was a little after six o'clock. People were getting off work, or something.

We could have stuck around to see if that dude beat the game. Even so, what does it matter? It only matters as much as what that guy did afterward. Did he jump up and celebrate? Of course not -- he was Japanese. Did he treat himself to some Ice Box from the vending machine? Of course not -- he was wearing a suit. Did he scream to the manager to go get him a hooker in colored legwarmers? Of course not -- he'd rather go out and pick one himself.

Hell, he probably got up and went home, for all we know.

At home, he probably fired up Metal Slug 3 for his PlayStation2, smoked a cigarette, sipped a beer, mumbled "Hello" to his son when he got home from school, and looked back at the TV, unpaused the game, delivered the final shot to the level four boss, and screamed, in perfect English (or Japanese),

"You're damn right Metal Slug 5!!!"

Then he checked himself -- "Did I just say 'Metal Slug 5'?

"UH-OH! IT'S HAPPENING AGAIN!"

The moral then, is this: you get what you pay for, and you take what you can get, and now that it's here, we pay for, we take, and we can get Metal Slug 5.

I just need to wait for the wide release, so I can find a machine with a not-broken joystick.

--tim rogers needs more one-hundred yens

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