The run-and-gun. This fine genre, a staple of the 80s and early 90s arcade experience, was on the verge of extinction in 1998, having been surpassed in popularity by fighting games, lightgun shooters and even the venerable shoot-em-up which had found new life thanks to companies such as Cave and Raizing. This type of game’s days were clearly numbered. Early Neo Geo titles, like Magician Lord and Ninja Combat, had tried to carry the torch but just couldn’t seem to recapture the magic of old.
There was but one group left with both the skills and passion to do the dying genre justice in an arcade setting: the Nazca team, who by this time were a part of SNK itself. In 1996, they brought us Metal Slug, a triumph of form and function—gorgeous graphics and solid gameplay. After two years, they figured that the public may have recovered from what they had unleashed, and they returned with Metal Slug 2.
Bigger, badder and better in almost every way, Metal Slug 2 is a worthy successor to the first game and a great warm-up to the team’s magnum opus, Metal Slug 3—to be joyously covered when we hit the year 2000. You can now choose from four characters (featuring the introduction of Fio and Eri) instead of the default of Marco and Tarma locked to the respective players 1 and 2. The stages are generally larger and somewhat more immersive, even including branching paths at some points. The visuals are even more impressive this time around, with debris-filled explosions, multi-part crumpling boss enemies and lush world-spanning environments like only the Irem of old could provide. You’ll blast through what looks like the Middle East, Egypt, China and maybe even Siberia on your missions, set to the tune of the same military-rock fusion style music of the first game. It’s glorious. All told, the enhancements to the game required a Neo Geo cartridge nearly twice as large as the first game—45 megabytes, and it shows.
But all of this beauty takes its toll on the 8-year-old Neo Geo hardware, and the game is riddled with slowdown, sometimes cutting the framerate in half or less. It’s the one drawback of the game, although some players may welcome the slightly reduced pace when things get particularly hectic. SNK heard the cries of those who were upset at this chugging gameplay and released a new version of the game, Metal Slug X, the following year in 1999. That release removed a lot of slowdown, but also changed the graphics and music which some might find objectionable. Thanks to modern technology, though, there’s another option available to play the original, unaltered Metal Slug 2 without slowdown: use the Sliders menu inside your MAME to overclock the CPU being emulated to, say, 150%. This won’t harm your computer, but it will trick the emulated CPU into running at a higher rate than the Neo Geo possessed, which allows it to more easily maintain the 60 frames per second goal. Enjoy—and good luck. At regular speeds, you’ll definitely need it.