There’s Nothing Else Like the Glorious Pixel Art of Metal Slug

Metal Slug

When I was a kid, I first spotted Metal Slug in a video game magazine (though I can no longer recall which one). It wasn’t uncommon to find me flipping through gaming magazines back then, yet almost nothing I read or saw stuck in my memory into adulthood.

Metal Slug was different. Metal Slug hypnotized me in a way that none of the other games on the pages could. I became obsessed with this game, even though it was out on Neo Geo, a system that was way outside my price range. To my knowledge, there never was a Metal Slug machine in our local arcade, but I can’t be certain that it was never there. I certainly never saw one.

So Metal Slug was always a thing that existed outside my reach.

But oh, that glorious pixel art! How I would while away the hours, staring at those screenshots and imagining what this game must have looked like in motion, with pixelated bombs bursting across the screen.

Now, I’ve admired blocky video game art for a long time, but with Metal Slug, there’s more to it than just pixels. Everything has so much personality. There’s a sense of fluidity to everything. The glorious machines of war are brutally detailed, and they look like they might have come clunking and belching off the pages of a Tank Girl graphic novel, with the smell of smoke and gasoline wafting in the air.

Metal Slug

Decades had passed before I actually sat down to play the thing, though occasionally I’d see references to Metal Slug on various lists of beloved game franchises, remembering that I had penned it into my video-game bucket list. Quite often, a thing you were drawn to as a child ends up being a huge disappointment when you finally experience it in adulthood, but Metal Slug lived up to my childhood expectations in every conceivable way.

It looks absolutely beautiful in motion. The gameplay is smooth as butter, and the animations flow in such a way that your perception just sort of melts into a gorey blur of blood and fire. The action is way too fast, but in a way that causes a surge of adrenaline to seize your body. The feeling of playing Metal Slug is indescribably joyous in the most wicked of ways. The guns feel absurdly powerful, and the enemies explode into splatters of goop and entrails. Playing Metal Slug is like chugging a full pot of coffee, then watching G.I. Joe cartoons on fast-forward — if only the art in G.I. Joe were even close to this amazing.

Metal Slug

It’s difficult to track down the original artists for this stuff, because so many of them were credited under pseudonyms. At the beginning of a developer interview (which can be accessed in the Metal Slug Anthology), you can find the following list of credits:

-MEEHR, Lead Designer

-AKIO, Graphic Artist, basic design of characters and machines, animation, supervision

-SUSUMO, Graphic Artist, work on overall scrolling and supervision

-CANNON or MAX-D, Graphic Artist

-TOMO, Graphic Artist

-KUICHIN, Graphic Artist

-ANDY, Programmer

-SEEKER, Programmer

Weird, right?

Metal Slug

Kazuma Kujo, who worked with Nazca Corporation during the creation of Metal Slug, once remarked in an interview, “At that time, Japanese game companies were very cloistered, like a closed society, and to announce their real names was prohibited. Therefore, we used our nicknames instead.”

While Kujo remains hesitant to reveal any of his prior coworkers’ secret identities, many of the people listed above have been unmasked over the years. According to the Nazca Wikipedia page, MAX-D is Kazuhiro Tanaka, and ANDY is Kenji Andō. AKIO is still simply known as Akio, but his work can be found on Pixiv, an online community for Japanese artists.

Metal Slug

All of the mystery surrounding the game’s creation only makes it seem more alluring. I doubt I would have ever thought to figure out who the people were who made a game like Metal Slug as a child, but if I had tried, I would have quickly hit a dead end (this was before the widespread adoption of the Internet, after all).

Metal Slug managed to capture my imagination based on just a couple screenshots. Decades have passed since them, and I’m now an adult with a disposable income and unfettered access to the Internet. But even so, after all these years, Metal Slug still hasn’t loosened its grip.

Note: All of the screenshots in this article come from the ridiculously named original game in the series, Metal Slug: Super Vehicle-001. They were captured in Metal Slug Anthology on PS4.

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