The folks at Bitmap Books love the NEOGEO. Hell, back in 2017, they published the HUMONGOUS NEOGEO: A Visual History that I still haven’t finished, and I’ve been chipping away at it for a few months now! That book is over 400 pages long and chock full of fantastic content. Well, I guess they weren’t satisfied with the handful of pages dedicated to the beloved Metal Slug franchise, so they decided to do something about it. Metal Slug: The Ultimate History is a love letter…no, a love novel, to one of the NEOGEO’s most adored franchises.
Believe it or not, Metal Slug: The Ultimate History is even bigger than Bitmap Books’ NEOGEO: A Visual History publication. This hefty book clocks in at 452 pages and weighs in at a whopping 4lbs 12oz! This thing is gigantic! You may think that a book like this will easily take some bumps during transport but fret not. Bitmap Books know that their publications are works of art and take appropriate measures to protect their product. We covered Bitmap Books’ amazing packaging in our Artcade: The Book of Classic Arcade Game Artwork review.
Crack open Metal Slug: The Ultimate History and the first thing you’ll come across a very detailed history of the franchise. This isn’t just a history on Metal Slug, though. This section of the book transports us back to 1969 with the creation (and eventual downsizing) of the Osaka-based company, Irem. You may be saying to yourself, “Why Irem?”. This is because most of the team who worked on the first Metal Slug game were programmers who left Irem (during the downsize) to join SNK. Upon starting at SNK, SNK’s president decided that the team should have their own name, which is why Nazca came to fruition. Why the name Nazca? Well, because it sounded cool!
The history portion of the book dives into games that the team worked on prior to Metal Slug. In The Hunt and GunForce II get some much-needed love and plenty of beautiful screenshots. You can see Metal Slug’s roots on full display during this section of the book. This section also goes into the production of Metal Slug before it turned into the game we all know and love. In the early stages of the game’s development, the player was only able to control the Super Vehicle-001. During playtests, the team noticed that testers felt too confined, and eventually, the game went back to the drawing board, where the decision was made to let the player exit the vehicle.
Following the history section, the reader is treated to a breakdown of each game in the Metal Slug series. Every game (Neo Geo Pocket Color games included) gets a dedicated chapter, which follows a nice, easy to follow format. To begin, the reader is treated to several drawings and pre-production art (some never before released), which usually is accompanied by a description. Next, several screenshots get a detailed full double page layout. This is followed by more pages that include several smaller screenshots. The final few pages are full of detailed sprite work and map layouts. It’s nice, and a little surprising, to see the Pocket Color games get as much love as the arcade games.
Heavy Machine Gun
The final portion of the book is full of interviews with several of the team members who’ve worked on the Metal Slug franchise throughout its history. This portion of the book is the real reason Metal Slug fans should thankful for Bitmap Books. Interviews with the likes of Kazuma Kujo (lead planner), Takushi Hiyamuta (composer), Atsushi Kurooka (background art), and Andoh Kenji (programmer), and several others are featured. Andoh’s interview in particular is notable, as he rarely speaks to the media.
The reason why this part of the book is so important is that most game creators in Japan had to use pseudonyms during the game’s credits, so other game companies couldn’t find out who they were. This was done by gaming companies to protect their “property.” If another company found out who was working on certain games, they may make them an offer to leave whatever company they were working for. Everything was very secretive. You can see this full force in each interview, as most interviewees still seem reluctant to give up certain information. Each interview is an interesting read, indeed. Oh, and do you want to know why Metal Slug 2 has framerate issues? This actually gets discussed in great detail!
Fans of Metal Slug probably have already picked up Metal Slug: The Ultimate History. If they haven’t, I have no earthly idea what they are waiting for. This book was made for those gamers who love the series and want to know everything there is to know about it. Metal Slug has finally gotten the love it deserves. Be sure to pick up your copy here.
Final Verdict: 5/5
Metal Slug: The Ultimate History, is published by Bitmap Books. It is available now. MSRP: £29.99 GBP.
Full Disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Metal Slug: The Ultimate History provided by the book’s publisher.