Also available on Switch and Windows
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 01/31/2022 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Metal Slug is one of SNK’s most beloved series, so when their handheld game system came out back in the 90s, they obviously had to put a Metal Slug game on there. Being a 90s handheld system, Metal Slug 1st Mission for the Neo Geo Pocket is obviously SIGNIFICANTLY scaled back from its arcade roots, but despite the hardware limitations, it still manages to feel pretty authentically Metal Slug. As a disclaimer, the screenshots are from the Switch release included in Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection Vol 1 since I can’t capture screenshots from my actual Neo Geo Pocket.
One of the most impressive things about this first handheld Metal Slug game is its length. Not all of the levels are super long, but there are seventeen levels in the game. Most of the main series games have somewhere around half a dozen levels, and while those levels are longer, they’re also running on much more capable hardware. Considering that the Neo Geo Pocket was a Game Boy contemporary, 1st Mission has an impressive amount of content. The controls aren’t nearly as smooth as on the MVS, but they work surprisingly well given the system’s limited button inputs. You obviously move with the thumbstick on the left. With the A and B buttons, one is jump and one is fire. The option button lets you switch between your gun and grenades. An inelegant control scheme, but it works and makes the most of the buttons available.
You play as an unnamed “Hero” although everyone who’s familiar with the series immediately knows that it’s Marco. After you finish the game, you unlock a female to play as, but she plays exactly the same with absolutely no changes whatsoever to the story. The missions are all fairly straightforward. With most of them, you just have to kill your way to the end, although there are some where you have to fight your way to a boss whom you have to kill, and there’s one super cool mission where you’re on a little handcar and have to catch up to the front of a moving cargo train. The sprites aren’t amazing, but they look fine especially considering the hardware. The audio is the same; it’s certainly not bad, but it’s not going to impress you with the sound effects or the music.
Metal Slug 1st Mission definitely doesn’t stand up to its arcade counterparts, but as a 90s handheld game, it’s extremely competent. When you consider the fact that there are 17 missions, it’s a more robust offering than a lot of handheld games of the era. It can be pretty tough until you get a handle on the controls, although the Switch port definitely makes that less of an issue with the ability to remap buttons as well as a rewind function. Whether you play on SNK’s nearly 30-year-old handheld or Nintendo’s newest handheld, it’s a game worth playing.