Why don’t camels spit bullets?
As casual games fill our smartphones, it is hard to imagine a game like Metal Slug X being played on one. I mean, could you imagine Contra being played on a Blackberry? There is a disconnect for those of us that played arcade games as our brains drift toward the recollection of putting quarters into a box to play a game. The familiar joystick is missing. The clicking button sounds are gone. In their absence, you have a touch screen you need to mash your fingers against to replicate the same action you remember. That endless pressing of buttons and quick pivoting of the joystick became something that would help you transcend time itself. Would that same exhilaration from the arcade still translate to iOS?
If you are unfamiliar with the Metal Slug series, think Contra meets 1980s anime with tanks. Much like Contra, you blast through enemies in this side-scroller as you collect weapon upgrades to help you mow things down faster. Points are tallied as you progress and collect items from those you rescue. Then, every once in a while, there is a vehicle that is somewhat like a tank that you get to hop into to take on a boss or more aggressive waves of things trying to kill you. Add in a cartoon style to the game, with anime artwork to complete the package. Basically, run from point A to point B shooting everything in your path without dying too many times. Metal Slug X is actually a remake (or re-issue) done mostly to fix slow down issues with Metal Slug 2. However, some slowdowns still occur when things get crazy on the screen.
The same Metal Slug difficulty remains when bringing Metal Slug X to your iPhone. Rather than pumping in endless coins to fuel your revenge, the game starts you off with 20 credits, with three lives per credit. As Metal Slug X is a “one and done” hit situation, you’ll find that you burn through these credits faster than you would like. A mission mode is added on top of the classic arcade mode to offer you the chance to go back to missions you have unlocked. If you burn through enough credits, this can be a frustration saver when trying to progress deep into the game. If all else fails, you can also change the difficulty to something you can handle.
Part of trying to capture the magic of Metal Slug X is nailing down the basic controls. Taking a game that depends on joystick aiming doesn’t always translate when you try to shoehorn it into a touch screen. Thankfully, Metal Slug X didn’t suffer in the port. While the aiming doesn’t have the exact precision that is preferred, it isn’t lacking enough to make the game suffer. It seems as if some midpoints were removed between joystick stops in order to allow the touch screen to function without too many commands being thrown at it. This can make trying to aim upward at angles less than 45 degrees rough. It needs to be mentioned that over-extended play, grease, and other buildup on your iDevice will hamper the accuracy of your movement and aiming. I’m sure by now that you should be familiar with the “stuck finger” idea when trying to accomplish something on a touch screen that is dirty. Metal Slug X is just as susceptible to that as anything else. The buttons function just as they should though. Mashing down on the fire button (the “A” button) feels just as natural as the arcade when bringing the bullet, rocket, or laser laden pain.
Metal Slug X brings a bunch of options to iOS that you might not consider when looking at a smartphone game. Perhaps the most important is the ability to reconfigure the buttons anywhere on the screen. Is your fire button not in a place that fits your grip? No problem; move it anywhere you want. Want to control with your right hand and fire with your left? You can do that too. Don’t worry about messing it up, either as you can reset it to the default layout at any time. There is also an option to toggle auto fire, which is just a constant stream of fire done by holding down the “A” button. As some weapons you pick up will have a finite amount of ammo, this might not always be the best thing to leave on.
Another important thing to note with Metal Slug X is that you can configure the video options in different ways. There are 4:3 and 16:9 window ratio options, in addition to a windowed mode that mimics an arcade cabinet. Mostly, they are there to match up to the different devices that Metal Slug X might run through. On top of iOS, this port is available on Android. Given the huge variance in devices for that platform, including the ability to alter the screen is a smart thing to do. If you want the classic scan lines look, you have the ability to add that as well. Offering them at 50% and 100% saturation (as well as off, which I recommend), you can get the classic Neo Geo look on your phone. A recording option is mentioned in the menu as well, but I couldn’t find a way to get it to work. Perhaps this was leftover from a port to a previous console. I imagine it would be fun to be able to record games while playing over Bluetooth multiplayer though.
These days, we see everything from the past resurface on Steam or be ported to system after system in hopes of rekindling some nostalgic purchase. While I wouldn’t recommend buying yet another copy of Metal Slug X if you already own one, the iOS version is certainly worth your consideration. The movement can be bothersome as you gunk up your iDevice and you’ll never quite reach that joystick/arcade button synergy due to touch screen limitations, but the fun of this run-and-gunner is still there. Metal Slug X is a successful port to iOS; there is no question about it.
Metal Slug X was reviewed using an iPhone 4S.