Alright, let’s do this one more time. Not the last time, mind you. We still have Garou left. But the age of my comparison reviews between ACA NEOGEO re-releases and the pre-existing (and still available) Dotemu-developed versions is just about at its end. Metal Slug X ACA NEOGEO ($3.99) is the latest release in Hamster and SNK’s mobile Arcade Archives initiative, and one that I know a lot of folks have been waiting for. I mean, I even told you to wait for it when Metal Slug 2 ACA NEOGEO hit. Took a little longer than I thought, but here we are. Let’s go into the details.
If you’ve read any of previous reviews of ACA NEOGEO releases that ostensibly replace the decade-old Dotemu versions of the same games, a lot of this is going to be familiar. I will go through it anyway, because some of you might be new. Feel free to head on to the next paragraph if you deem it necessary. So, the Dotemu version of Metal Slug X. It was quite good for its time, but its time was when Iron Man 3 was ruling the movie screens and everyone was doing the Harlem Shake. Things have marched on, and despite receiving updates over the years those original mobile versions are in rough shape now. While you can still buy the Dotemu version and save a buck by doing so, you should not. The ACA NEOGEO version is superior in every meaningful way. There, that’s all settled.
Metal Slug X is a strange game in the context of its series. While Metal Slug 2 had been very well-received and was a big success, it was hard to deny its technical issues. It suffered from severe enough slowdown that even a generation of players who had been raised on NES slowdown found it jarring at times. Developer Nazca Corporation had started work immediately on Metal Slug 3 after finishing up the second game, intending to make it the biggest and best run-and-gun action game that SNK’s NEOGEO platform would ever see. Fair beans to Nazca – the developer did more or less pull that off.
Still, those intentions meant that the third numbered installment would take two full years to finish development, which was a very long time for a company that was in dire financial straits and needed every hit it could muster. Egads! SNK’s 1999 fiscal year was ruined! But what if… Nazca Corporation were to make some adjustments to Metal Slug 2, shift it over to the more advanced Metal Slug 3 engine, and disguise it as a new game? Oh ho ho ho ho ho! Delightfully devilish, Shin Nihon Kikaku.
I’m being a little cute here to force the reference, but there’s no getting around the fact that Metal Slug X is a meal slapped together from the leftovers of last night’s Metal Slug 2 dinner. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course. This is a safe space and I think we can all admit that hot turkey sandwiches are usually better than the roast turkey the night before. It happens. And that is what happened here, too. I feel bad for people who were buying the extremely pricy AES cartridges, as they basically got Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3‘d here, but they were probably rich anyway. Metal Slug X rules. It’s a better game than Metal Slug 2 in every single way, and it’s just different enough to justify picking up even if you already own the game it’s based on.
It’s better on a technical level, with considerably fewer instances of slowdown and substantially lower severity when it does occur. There are more enemies about, owing to the freedom the Metal Slug 3 engine offered. Aesthetically, while the stages themselves use the same themes and layouts, the time of day has been changed in most of them to make things feel fresher. The music has been arranged and altered in some stages, and the Metal Slug 3 announcer has been added. There are some new sound effects, and an improved credits sequence.
Over on the gameplay side, there are a lot of little changes that add up to a big difference. New bosses, new enemies, new vehicles, more P.O.W.s and power-ups to find, new weapons, improved versions of existing weapons, and new behaviors for various objects and gimmicks. It’s a more difficult game, but not egregiously so. Indeed, I think the difficulty is just right in this game, with the extra heat compared to Metal Slug 2 proving to be most welcome. The pacing is really good too. I love Metal Slug 3, and it’s certainly a towering achievement in its genre. But I can’t argue with anyone who says that the last stage drags out far too long. You won’t have that issue with Metal Slug X. It’s all killer, no filler.
My heart struggles to choose between this game and Metal Slug 3 when I’m asked which is my favorite game in this series. I can’t pick, but the point is that if you’re into this genre at all you might as well own both of them. Four dollars? Yeesh. I threw way more quarters than that into this game back in the day. I think its snappy nature also makes it more well-suited to mobile than Metal Slug 3. Now, this game does suffer from the same issues we’ve seen with all the other Metal Slug ports to mobile. If you’re not using an external controller, you’re stuck with using touch controls in a game that can be quite demanding in terms of precision. But you have unlimited credits, so it doesn’t particularly matter if you die a lot. You know, if you just want to have fun and tour the game. The other issue is that to play multiplayer, you’ll need enough controllers for everyone and a display you feel comfortable enough crowding around.
Otherwise, it’s smooth enough sailing. You get both the Japanese and international versions of the game, tons of options to mess around with, a handy save state feature so you can stop and pick up at any point, and the usual extra modes every Hamster game comes with. The timed Caravan mode is decent here, and the score attack mode is a good challenge. There are online leaderboards to compete on as well, which can add some replay value to the game if you need more. Everything is emulated well, but there’s no surprise there. NEOGEO has been a solved problem for Hamster for a very long time now.
If you have an external controller or don’t mind the idea of playing with touch controls, Metal Slug X is about as good a run-and-gun experience as you’re liable to get on mobile. It’s a tightly-paced, action-packed tour through some wild and wacky stages that will keep you on your toes the whole way through. One of the best games on the NEOGEO, and I’m glad we’ve got a fresh version of the game to enjoy for the next ten years.