Sundry Sunday is our weekly feature of fun gaming culture finds and videos, from across the years and even decades.
I’ve always been a little ambivalent about Metal Slug. Not about its gameplay, which is excellent, but about its theme. It’s been said that it is impossible to depict warfare without glorifying it in some way. I think there is some truth to that, and there is no question that the Metal Slug games depict the hell out of it.
I think the Metal Slug makers recognize a bit of that, because of how humanely the enemy soldiers are depicted. They’re all trying to kill you, but they’re far from snarling villains. When not actively trying to bring about the end of Marco and Tarma (and Fio and Eri)’s lives, they’re chatting with each other, having a meal, sunning themselves on the deck of a ship, using the toilet or just hanging out. When they spot the invading players, they often react in terror. Sometimes you don’t want to shoot them, even when they’re climbing on your Slug and trying to throw a grenade in the hatch. Even their leader, General Morden, is not the typical villain. His backstory says that dissatisfaction with corruption in the Regular Army’s ranks, along with the loss of his wife and daughter due to an act of terrorism, was what caused him to launch his rebellion, and his solders admire his leadership.
It’s almost enough to make one want to overlook the questionable aspects of his army’s symbology, for which I can only thank my lucky frog the usual suspects haven’t latched onto. Morden is rehabilitated a bit in the endings of Metal Slugs 2 and 3, where he’s betrayed by the Martians he joined forces with, and helps the player’s commandos defeat, but its true that he’s always the antagonist at the start of each later game. Metal Slug, for all its sci-fi, zombie, magic and other trappings, is still a game about depicting conventional warfare, no matter how one-sided and improbable it may be.
Ah, as is often my habit, I used the subject of the post to write a short essay on some aspect of gaming. I hope you don’t mind. Here is the video, a stop-motion recreation of a typical Metal Slug scene, made by official entities to promote a mobile game. It seems appropriate to the subject.
Dr. Sparkle has come through once again with the 63rd edition of Chrontendo! It’s the third we’ve linked to from Set Side B (even if, for a while, we incorrectly labeled the previous one as #68, oops).
The games covered by this one are:
Knight Move (Japan only): A puzzle game involving landing a chess knight trying to land on a target square. Apparently this got a later release on PC by Spectrum Holobyte. Wikipedia tells us that the “A. Pazhitonov” listed as the creator on the Famicom version’s title screen is Alexey Pajitnov, the creator of Tetris. I cannot speak to that fact’s veracity, but it seems plausible enough. Pajitnov later would be hired by Microsoft to make puzzle games for them around the Windows XP era.
The Mafat Conspiracy: the sequel to Golgo 13! The US release does its Japanese manga source material a great disservice by not having the grim face of protagonist Duke Togo visible anywhere on the front of the box, instead using extremely generic cover art. In play, it’s very similar to a slightly more competent version of the original, just with a different scenario.
Disney Adventures in the Magic Kingdom: Another of those Capcom Disney games, a glorified minigame collection, and probably the worst of the bunch! We’re a mile away from Ducktales here. As if to confirm the player’s low expectations, trivia questions are part of the game.
Solstice: Isometric platformer of the style well-known around that time in the UK, a very difficult yet respectable exploration game, and probably the best game in this episode. I prefer its SNES sequel Equinox, programmed by the Pickford Brothers, which has a highly distinctive look.
The Last Starfighter: This is secretly a renamed port of the Commodore 64 classic Uridium! A little of the bloom is off the rose here, if only because high speed scrolling of the kind you see here is so common on the NES, yet so difficult to accomplish on the Commie. The C64’s distinctive look was heavily influenced by that system’s limitations: it takes some serious programming effort to get the C64 to be able to scroll significant screen data in a frame, enough so that, to do it, you basically have to leave color memory unchanged, since it can’t be relocated like tile definitions can. The NES can do scrolling much more easily than the Commodore 64, and had been doing very colorful fast-scrolling games like the Super Mario series for years, yet the game kept the same nearly-monochrome look as the C64 game. That’s why Uridium got such acclaim in the UK, because scrolling games like it were unknown on the system at the time, while the NES had support for it in the hardware, so it didn’t have nearly the same impact.
Captain Skyhawk: The main things I remember about this, a game which I’ve played and beaten, is it was made by Rare, and that Dave Barry once wrote a column about how much his kid dearly wanted a copy of this game. Dr. Sparkle is pretty hard on this one too, and I think for good reason. This is clearly a game intended to be in the River Raid style, but with elevation. It could have been done as a quasi-flight sim, with targets you have to duck beneath or fly over, but in its design the elevation barely matters, and instead it’s a lot more like a standard vertical shooter. The enemies don’t even cast shadows! Helicopters or ground vehicles alike can be shot if if they were on the same plane. It would have done better if it had either gone all-in on the elevation, maybe tying it to the player’s speed, and having fewer yet smarter enemies that also had elevation; either that, or taking out the elevation completely and making it into a 2D shooter more like Zanac or Raiden. Rare at that time understood the NES hardware better than most developers, and was more than capable technically of going with either approach. But they didn’t.
Then after you have Afterburner-style dogfighting levels, then the point where most players threw down the controller in disgust, when they’re asked to align and dock with a rotating space station. It all resembles a tech demo at Rare that Milton Bradley decided to try to make a few bucks off of selling as a game.
Hatris: Another game designed by Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov, it’s also nowhere near as iconic as Tetris was, but as time has shown us, very little else is. I get the play mixed up with that of Nintendo’s Yoshi puzzle game, perhaps for good reason. Turns out there was an arcade version of this!
Palamedes: Another Tetris-ish generative piece-laying puzzle game, this one with a dice theme. And there was an arcade version of this too!
Hiryu No Ken III: 5 Nin No Ryuu Senshi: Only released in Japan. Dr. Sparkle is quick to let us know right off this isn’t the “Fist of the North Star” Ken, but the Flying Dragon: The Secret Scroll Ken. These games are a bit more simulationist (in a sense) in their depiction of martial arts than most beat ’em ups.
SD Hero Soukessen: Taose! Aku No Gundan: Also Japan-only, second in a long series of “super deformed” (basically meaning big headed, small bodied humanoid figures depicted in a cutesy kind of way) robot fighting games. The robots (and tokusatsu characters) are licensed from a variety of media, making this a massive crossover media series that could be seen as an inspiration for the hulking monstrosity that Super Smash Bros. has become. Properties that I recognized from the video are Kamen Raider, Gundam and Ultraman. This one has a fan translation patch.
I don’t see as many fan shrine sites as I used to. Old ones have died out or, in the best case, gone into archive mode, and new ones aren’t replacing them as quickly, or at least don’t seem to be. It could be I don’t search for them as often, or Google not surfacing them as much-not only has the quality of its search degraded markedly over the past decade, but for whatever reason its results seems much more focused on answering questions and selling things. Google also seems a lot more like to give you links from big sites, instead of small web sites made by individuals.
That’s why I was please to find 6th Division Den, a site focused on Metal Slug that the Wayback Machine suggests was founded as recently as 2018. I didn’t find it through Google, but as the host of the official site of the game from yesterday’s post, Aqua Ippan.
Much of the site’s content is devoted to creating pixel art and on getting the images out of the games, but it has a lot of examples to go by. And the site itself looks great! I don’t see many sites like this anymore, but I’m glad they can still be found from time to time.
Indie Retro News reported recently on this cool run-and-gun game made by Division 六 the style of Metal Slug. Here’s a promotional video. Note that some of the sound effects are taken directly from Metal Slug, but are intended as placeholders. The final version should have no outside assets.
The title is no joke, a couple of crazy people RetroGL and JoneGG, are actually doing it, and while they’re close to a final release you can also download a current alpha for free, with manual, from links in the description on their Youtube demonstration video:
It’s a great example of playing to a system’s strengths (surprisingly large sprites and a legendary sound chip) while downplaying its limitations (only eight sprites, low multicolor resolution, 16 colors, a controller with only one button). It’s much better than the arcade porters of the system’s heyday would have accomplished. I mean, just look at it! On the Commodore 128, they even plan to implement stage scrolling!
I’m not sure how it works internally, but given that it’s being distributed as a CRT file and not a disk image, my guess is on physical hardware it’d rely on a physical cartridge for expanded, bank-switched ROM space. It’s a trick that’s being used more often, like how Champ Games uses it for their Atari 2600 ports of classic arcade games.