Well, here we go again. The latest addition to SNK and Hamster’s mobile Arcade Archives line is none other than Metal Slug ACA NEOGEO ($3.99), a second take on a game we got a mobile version of a decade back from Dotemu. That was a fine version for its era, albeit with all of the problems one would expect from trying to convert a run-and-gun action game from sticks and buttons to touch. Time has marched on, however. Despite some updates over the years to keep the game running, there are a lot of issues with it in the current year. Is that enough to merit buying the game again if you already own it? Should those who have neither version spend the extra buck for the new one? Come on in and find out the obvious answer.
So again I do want to clarify that Dotemu’s Metal Slug 1 ($2.99) was a perfectly fine version for its time. Things were very different in the mobile scene back in 2013 when that game was first released on mobile, especially with regards to screen sizes and aspect ratios. While the app saw occasional updates to maintain compatibility with various versions of iOS, some aspects didn’t get much in the way of reworking. One of the biggest problems with these older Dotemu NEOGEO ports is that the touch screen buttons are too small for modern displays, even at their largest setting in the options. That is also the case here, and it makes the old version very hard to play. You can use an external controller, but compatibility is a bit spotty. There are also a few minor emulation issues.
I’m repeating myself here from other recent reviews, but despite the slightly cheaper price I would caution strongly against buying the older version over the ACA NEOGEO one. I don’t even think SNK should still be selling that version now that this one exists. I doubt it will ever get the necessary updates to make it as playable as it used to be, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets retired in the near future. The ACA NEOGEO version isn’t exactly a treat to play with touch controls either, but it’s a lot more comfortable. It also offers many more options and modes, which I think makes it the one to pick all-around. Even if you’re using an external controller, you’ll find the ACA NEOGEO version runs and plays better.
As to the game itself, Metal Slug probably doesn’t need too much introduction if you’re interested enough in NEOGEO games to be reading this review. If SNK’s home/arcade console system is known for one thing, it’s The King of Fighters. But if it’s known for two things, the second one is Metal Slug. Developed by ex-Irem folks at Nazca Corporation, this run-and-gun action game is among the very finest the genre has to offer. It’s not hard to see why it spawned such a long-running and popular series. The graphics are incredibly detailed and lavishly animated, the gameplay is excellent, the pace of the game is zippy, the vehicles are exciting to use, the bosses are ridiculous, and it’s as much fun to play alone as it is with a friend. It’s also silly without pushing things too far, which is welcome in a genre that tends to tilt one way or the other when it comes to humor.
That said, the level of challenge and the fact that you need to pull off some wild moves make this ill-suited for touch controls, though in this ACA NEOGEO version you have access to an infinite number of credits to finish the game with. If you’re going to play the game seriously, you’ll probably want to make use of an external controller. It plays great that way, and it makes this version perhaps the best, most affordable official way to play Metal Slug. Throw in the usual extra modes, which work out quite well for this sort of game, and you have a really nice package here. Will the online leaderboards be populated? You can be part of the solution to that one, my friends.
The Dotemu version of the game had a handful of nice options, but this ACA NEOGEO version offers quite bit more to play around with. You can adjust the various difficulty options, tweak the controls to your liking, and tinker with the video and audio to a decent extent. You also get the usual save and load options, something the previous version was lacking. It’s nice to be able to stop and pick up a game like this anytime you want on mobile. Of course, the usual ACA NEOGEO issue is here in that you can’t play multiplayer very easily. You’ll need a couple of external controllers and must both play off the same device, so unless you have something bigger than your iPhone it’s going to be a bit of a cramped situation.
I think players going the touch screen route will want to carefully consider what they are looking for from ACA NEOGEO Metal Slug. If you don’t mind the fact that you will probably be playing sub-optimally, having trouble hitting angles and doing quick maneuvers, and dying a whole lot, then you can still have a good bit of fun here just touring the game with unlimited credits. It’s certainly no worse than any other virtual button-based run-and-gun game on iOS, and the quality of the original game shines through sufficiently for you to have a nice time with it. Sixteen quarters, people. You can own this game and keep it in your pocket for sixteen quarters. Tell that to the you of 1996. Their mind would be blown.
I’ve said a lot of this before about various other ACA NEOGEO releases, and this perhaps collects many of those points. Better than the previous version? Absolutely. Good game? Friend, it’s so great. Well-suited to mobile? Probably not, especially if you’re using touch controls. Worth picking up anyway? Yes, I think so. It’s feature-rich, gives you all the margin for error you could ask for, and is affordable to boot. A solid pick for fans of arcade classics.