You might have thought that, with the onwards march of technological process and gaming's own reliance on technology, the answer as to what's the most handsome game would also be one of the most recently released. There's one title that quickly puts paid to that notion, though. Heck, I think that even if you posed the same question 100 years from now only one real answer will remain: Metal Slug has a beauty that's near-timeless.
It hasn't aged a jot since 1996, and I doubt it ever will. There's magic in those pixels, and every time I slot my own MVS cartridge into place I know there'll be some new surprise to find. It's action gaming at its most muscular, backed up by video game art at its most characterful.
And now the series is backed up by one of the very best gaming artbooks I've had the pleasure to browse. Bitmap Books' Metal Slug: The Ultimate History is a fine piece of work, an unprecedented look behind this most splendorous of series whose history has, up until now, been criminally under-reported. The Ultimate History rights all those wrongs, tracing the lineage from Irem through to Nazca and SNK with many of the key players speaking in-depth for the first time.
It traces that lineage from In the Hunt, GunForce 2 and Undercover Cops, and sheds fresh light on Metal Slug Zero - the first prototype that was built entirely around the titular tank and before Peregrine Falcon Squad were introduced. It's a book that sends you off in fascinating directions - there are the influences such as Masamune Shirow's 1986 manga Dominion, Mamoru Oshii's Patlabor or Hayao Miyazaki's Daydream Data Notes - and lands back at the unwavering truth that Metal Slug has a singular beauty of its own.
There's a comprehensive history, complete interviews with the likes of Kazuma Kujo that are conducted with an expert's eye for detail and flow with the same warmth and humanity you find in Metal Slug's artwork. This really is a phenomenal book - perhaps the best art book I've ever seen on the subject of video games, and near indispensable for lovers of the series or for those who just like looking at fine works of art. I'd say it'd make an ideal Christmas present, but it's probably a bit late for that - so just do the right thing treat yourself to this magnificent book.