It remains to be seen how many Neo Geo titles HAMSTER will ultimately bring to the Switch, but there's been no sign of the publisher slowing down in recent times. This has ensured that a good range of titles are available, but it has resulted in some that are surplus to requirements. There’s little reason to download Fatal Fury 2 when the Special update is also available, and now Metal Slug 2 becomes a game to skip in favour of its updated version: Metal Slug X.

At its core this is the same globetrotting game as Metal Slug 2, providing frantic run and gun action and featuring humorous character designs and detailed background art. Four characters are available to choose from and the challenge can be tackled solo or in co-operative two-player mode. Vehicles (tanks, planes camels) pop up every now and then allowing for an alternative way to blast away at the bad guys and rescue the POWs . A number of changes have been made to the game, however, with the biggest one being the reduction in slowdown.

The original version of Metal Slug 2 suffered frequent slowdown, sometimes slight, other times the action would slow to a crawl. It was quite off-putting and reduced the enjoyment the game provided. Slowdown is still present in Metal Slug X, but it doesn’t happen as often nor is it as extreme. There’s a dip in performance should a lot of activity be occurring on screen, but overall this is a much smoother experience.

There are other changes too, including colour palette differences to the stages; the opening mission takes place at night rather than during the day for instance. The opening stage also sees you fighting different enemies; the original had local thugs, but here a number of them have been replaced with soldiers.  Additionally the end of level boss is taken from the first game, with the one that featured in MS2 being used as a mid-level boss in a later mission.

Elsewhere there is an increase in enemy numbers, a few new ones (like mummified dogs!) and the surprising foes that turned up at the end of the original game now make their presence known much earlier. This makes for a tougher, more chaotic adventure but there are new weapons to help you out, including the Enemy Chaser (homing missiles) and the Iron Lizard - a wheeled weapon that will scuttle along the ground towards your enemies. Powered up versions of weapons are also available, which come in very handy if you find yourself surrounded.

Energized, adventurous music and a variety of explosions and screams enhance the onscreen chaos, with the action entertaining throughout by providing a variety of different dangers for you to contend with. Soldiers may run or jump at you, ride bikes or just stay put; some shoot, some lob grenades at you. Tanks take time and/or precious grenades to get past and other times you’ll be hopping over rockets as you blast at the hovercraft below. Aircraft and helicopters attack from the sky, requiring you to run around shooting above, whilst avoiding the fire they rain down on you. 

The game can get very tough, but a visit to the options menu will allow you to change the difficulty (eight settings) and adjust the number of lives available. Unlimited continues removes the challenge from the game, but you can always limit yourself to how many you use. For an enforced challenge there are the usual ACA Hi score and Caravan modes that work particular well here. With only one credit to try and beat the game, Hi Score requires you to be less reckless than you might otherwise be, whilst Caravan sees you trying to work out how best to rack up that score as you attempt to move up the online leaderboard.

Conclusion

The original version of Metal Slug 2 suffered horrendous slowdown, and whilst Metal Slug X doesn't completely fix the problem it reduces it enough for the quality of the game to shine through, with bright (recoloured) cartoony visuals and great music enhancing the frantic gameplay. Some enemy changes increase the difficulty, but this is offset somewhat by the inclusion of new weapons. Show restraint with your use of credits and the game can be very challenging with numerous attacks coming from all directions. If you just want to see events unfold, however, additional credits are just a button press away. The ACA Hi Score and Caravan modes work well with this game, adding to the replayability, but it's also enjoyable to replay the regular arcade mode. Whether you've handed a Joy-Con to a friend or are playing solo, Metal Slug X provides quality "fun and gun" action.