"Peace Forever !"
Title: Metal Slug
Developer: Nazca Corp.
Date Published: 1996
Platforms: NeoGeo (ported to Sega Saturn and Playstation)
Metal Slug, originally developed in 1996 by Nazca for SNK's Neo Geo arcade and home systems, is a true original. It runs on hardware a decade old* with meagre processing power, and yet manages to be one of the most frenetic and enjoyable arcade games of the 1990's.
The game is a side-scrolling platform shoot-'em-up in the Contra mold. It casts the player as Marco Rossi, a Duke Nukem-style commando badass, who must take on an entire army (led by the sinister Morden) with only his trusty guns and grenades (and a mate in two-player mode).
He does have one other secret weapon however: the Metal Slug Super Vehicle 001 articulated mini-tank. This is a one-man tank capable of ducking and jumping and armed with a vulcan cannon and a mortar. It also has a self-destruct function should all else fail. The tank can be found in various locations throughout the game, and although tricky to maneuvre, gives the player a big advantage (and lets you run over troops!).
Metal Slug's genius is that it's played for laughs. The enemy troops point and laugh at you when you die, only to scream in terror and run away when your next life drops onto the screen. They attack in droves, scrambling up walls and sniping from windows, and manning all kinds of ridiculous vehicles. The developers pride themselves on providing waves of stupid enemies - their only AI being to run at you until dead.
Everything in the game is incredibly fluidly animated, from the many death sequences to the rocking and juddering of tanks and trucks, to the elaborate composite sprites that make up the end of level bosses. The attention to detail is incredible - each level has dozens of little set-pieces and things going on in the background. And, most satisfyingly, everything can be blown up. Ships capsize, walls are demolished; At one stage a hapless soldier standing next to a gas can gets caught alight, and runs into a nearby building - which promptly explodes, sending debris and troops hurtling out of the screen!
Metal Slug proved, at a time when everyone and their dog was trying to make bigger and better 3D games, that you could still push back the boundaries of what could be done in 2D. The almost cinematic quality animation and the simple yet addictive gameplay overcome the technical constraints of the machine. Metal Slug was followed by three sequels** and two Neogeo Pocket Color spinoffs. You can play the originals on the PC with the excellent NeoRageX emulator.
*OK, 6-7 years old then, but that's still pretty impressive.
** Metal Slug 2, 3 and 4 - I don't count Metal Slug X to be a fully-fledged sequel as it's basically a rehash of Metal Slug 2.