Metal Slug — The Remarkable Era of 2D Pixel Shooter


With the latest release of Metal Slug series (Metal Slug: Awakening) from Tencent, it is genuinely sad to see how the golden series of 2D pixelated shooter has come to an end. Old arcade game enjoyers loved one of these — we are talking not just about Metal Slug, but Contra, Area 51, and more. Back when we were so keen on exchanging money for coins at the counter (this was before the coin exchange machine was a norm in arcades) and spending hours playing at the arcade whilst our parents went to buy groceries or went shopping.

But let us focus on Metal Slug for today — this is one of the golden arcade games you would find in every shopping complex or supermarket. What really drills down the entertainment that the players can get from playing this game?

As one of the Metal Slug veterans, we are here to give you a whole list of why’s.

But before you go any further, read our review of Metal Slug Awakening here

The Gameplay is Simple.

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Metal Slug 1 first mission (Screenshot taken from

Remember the time where all you were given is a simple tutorial of how the game basically works, before jumping right into the action? That is what you would find in the Metal Slug arcade machines. All the buttons you would see with one joystick on the arcade machine — they all serve a purpose for each. One button to shoot, one button to jump, one button to throw a bomb, and the joystick to move the character around.

The game really just focuses on throwing you into the action and for you to spend endless hours on it. The game was not only available on arcade machines, but they were on consoles, too. So, if you really found the game entertaining and had a console back at home, you could persuade your parents to go to a video game store to buy the game and play it at home.

The game is simple: you are given three lives (configurable if you are playing on console), and each level — ‘missions’ — requires you to run into the thick of the action, gun down every enemy you see, and face a boss in the end of that every mission. Everything that registers as a hit counts for points, so you can go ham on shooting everything that gets in the way. But you do not have to worry about accidentally shooting hostages (in this game, we call them prisoners) if you see them being tied somewhere in the game. Some of the prisoners even help you fight them off (but if you die/lose a life, they will just run away).

What really adds more fun to the game is that in each level, there will be at least a “super vehicle” called as “Metal Slug” (get it?). To enter, you just have to stand in front of the vehicle, and jump. The character will get into the Metal Slug, and the function is just as similarly to how you move the character (move, jump, bomb, and shoot). Every Metal Slug (the Super Vehicle) is given a life bar (which tanks only three hits max).

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Metal Slug fighting against the first boss in Metal Slug 1 (Screenshot taken from

In essence, the game is all about you gunning down all the enemies in every missions. There is no need to grind on levels, nor a marketplace to exchange tiered items (which can be complex for beginners), nor even in-game purchases to get exclusive weapons that can beat high-tier enemies. The character starts off with a handgun (with unlimited ammo), and you can get various other powerful weapons as you progress (shotgun, heavy machine gun, and even laser gun or something odd such as iron lizard), but of course — they have limited ammo and the characters drop them automatically upon dying.

This personally used to motivate me enough to try my best not to die, because often than not I did die before even using up all the ammo for the weapons I picked up. I can also say the same for every Metal Slug I found — it was so difficult to prevent the Metal Slugs from being destroyed before I got to the boss fights. But it was indeed — simple gameplay mechanics, but it worked wonderfully (something that Metal Slug: Awakening cannot replicate).

Plenty of Unique Stages and Interesting Encounters.

Fio getting abducted in Metal Slug 3 (Screenshot taken from

As the series went on, each release got progressively better, with new stages, new characters, new enemies, and new enemy types. We were even treated with mini interactions between characters and bosses in some missions, most notably in Metal Slug 3.

Honestly, the interaction caught me off guard when I saw my character getting abducted by an alien disguising as General Morden (the main villain in the series), whilst revealing that the real General Morden was being tied up at the spaceship hull. Then the game threw in another character for me to control in order to save them, now with the help of the army of General Morden himself. It was such an epic scene, and truthfully — nothing else could beat that scene; not even the final fight of the tarantula-like alien (the Invader King) in Metal Slug 6.

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Invader King boss fight in Metal Slug 6 (Screenshot taken from

But all the boss fights in Metal Slug series have always been so memorable, with each having their own design (some are honestly creepy, like the Invader King boss here), attack patterns, and difficulties. Some are easier than the others, and some are almost impossible without sacrificing so many coins for continuing (losing so many lives and temper in the process). Simple interactions in such a simple pixelated game are the ones that led the players cherish the game even more, no matter how long the series have been.

Oh, have I mentioned that players can access alternative stages too? Some of the missions have alternating paths that, if found, can lead the players to an alternative stage before reaching the boss fight. It is genuinely fun to explore and see which areas are yet to discover because some of these paths are hidden. I still remember the unique implementation of this — it was more of an event rather than exploring different routes. In Metal Slug 4, after the boss fight, the players are prompted to escape the exploding laboratory. The ending of the game depends on whether or not the players can make it to the exit on time.

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An alternate ending if the players do not reach the exit in time (Screenshot taken from

Like I mentioned earlier, all these interactions make the game vividly memorable. They are unique, and the developers excel really well in adding the replay values to the games.

Couch Co-op was The Bomb.

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Player 1 and 2 playing as Nadia and Trevor in Metal Slug 4 (Screenshot taken from

This was way before online multiplayer existed. Almost every multiplayer games back then allow for a split-screen or couch co-operative gameplay that you can invite your friends, siblings, or parents (if they are into it) to play along. Metal Slug is no different; each title allows for a couch co-op to dive into the field of enemies together as a friend, or a competitive partner to compare scores after every mission. One thing I genuinely find entertaining for Metal Slug is that the games are made for both single and co-op plays.

The enemies are extremely abundant; enough for both players to have fun blasting each and every one of them. Some games may have too few enemies that one player can solo the entire playthrough whilst the other one just practically watches (Time Crisis series are unfortunately one of them).

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Final scores of Mission 1 in Metal Slug 4 (Screenshot taken from

Another thing to note about the couch co-op in Metal Slug: neither of the characters get perks over the other. Some games would have the Player 1 to retain all upgrades or collected weapons and have the Player 2 to just join in as a guest player (meaning they would have basic equipment/weapon only) no matter how many times they have replayed the game.

Both will start with a handgun in every mission, and every weapon found later in the missions can be collected by either player (providing whoever gets to it first). Since the weapons are pretty abundant in any given mission, there would be no sense of competitiveness between the players to get to any of the weapons before the other. Plus, in Metal Slug 6, the game introduces a new feature where players can keep or toss away the weapon they have picked up. So if Player 1 picks up a Heavy Machine Gun, for example, they can toss it to Player 2 if they die (losing their picked up weapon), so they can have another weapon ready to use.

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Ralf and Clark have their weapons kept for later use (Screenshot taken from

The game promotes both competitive and cooperative gameplay for both players (mainly they are more on cooperative, but sure you can compete scores if you want). It is fun playing solo, but playing with a friend definitely doubles the fun. If only they allow for four players — the chaos would be unpredictable.

The Soundtracks are Brilliant.

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Metal Slug 4 credits as the theme End to the War (composed by Toshikazu Tanaka) plays in the background (Screenshot taken from

The soundtracks in this game are just amazing. They are fitting in each of the stages. The first stage in Metal Slug 5, for example, the soundtrack “Heavy Africa” by Toshikazu Tanaka) is played in the background as the players go through a jungle, which fits really well with the theme of exploration. Then they proceed through a ruin in the middle of the jungle — “Ruins Excavation” by Toshikazu Tanaka is then played, giving the players a sense of uncertainty whilst exploring abandoned ruins full of traps.

Some of the boss fights definitely have insanely memorable theme songs, too. If you have heard of Metal Slug 3D (the first attempt in making the game look different than the rest), the final boss fight (I do not know what to call them) is honestly creepy as a child. The soundtrack — “Shout of Sadness” by SNK Team — are not helping either. The orchestral song together with Latin chanting by the opera fit really well, and definitely deserve credits for inducing fear and panic in the players when they face the final boss fight in the game.

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Final boss fight in Metal Slug 3D (Screenshot taken from

Speaking of credits, some of the credits theme in this game are definitely worth staying until the end of the credits roll for. I still remember the credits theme of Metal Slug 4 after escaping the exploding laboratory — the soundtrack gave me a sense of accomplishment after fighting hordes of enemies in all of the missions. With just nothing but a light blue background of a computer as the credits roll, the soundtrack ended with the computer shutting down, signifying that you have completed the game.

Our Verdict?

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The four main characters in Metal Slug series (Screenshot taken from×1080.jpg)

Classic Metal Slug series are definitely fun to play in general. They are the games you would play when going back home from school before going out to play with friends in the evening. Sometimes, you would even play the entire series until late midnights, tuning to the credit song in Metal Slug 4 and feeling accomplished in life.

The games do not cost that much nowadays anymore, but it is really unfortunate to see how the series have somewhat forgotten its roots and have gone for a more gacha-like money-grinding game after Metal Slug XX. We can only hope the series would go back the way we remember it, but times have changed. Regardless, if you have not heard of this game, why not give it a try? I promise you — they are super addicting to play, both alone and with friends.


  • Muhammad Hariz

    A ’00 Malaysian freelance writer for MugenMilano. Occasionally writes for fun; otherwise, going to the gym and playing video games would be the R&R for Hariz. Having a keen interest in the area of gaming and technology, Hariz’s written materials would mostly be tech-related and gaming news, particularly in adventure, horror, and fighting genre. Doesn’t stop him from writing other interesting topics, though, as long as it is worth checking out.

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