Metal Slug 3
SNK's run-and-gun series contains some of the finest 2D action games ever released. Marco of the Peregrine Falcon Strike Force is a one-man army, taking on the massed forces of any number of despots and dictators across huge scrolling levels, either on foot or in a tank. The series is known for its relentless pace, hordes of enemies and massively destructive weaponry, not to mention the superb crafting of its levels and some seriously impressive boss battles. Metal Slug 3 is one of the best, which is lucky as it's available to download over Xbox Live Arcade. Alternatively, you can find it on the Metal Slug Anthology for the PS2 and Wii.
Known as Samurai Spirits in Japan, SNK's oriental beat-em-up dazzled gamers on its 1993 release with its hyper-mobile, zooming camera and the largest characters yet seen in the genre. It also skirted controversy for its violence - in its day this was one of the most bloodthirsty console releases outside of Mortal Kombat, and the US version was heavily censored. The game became known for its faster speed and for the fact that it was more focussed on attacks and less on combos than similar fighting games. Annoyingly, it's not available on the Wii Virtual Console outside of Japan, though UK buyers may still be able to track down the PS2 versions of the sequels, Samurai Shodown 5 and 6. A Samurai Spirits anthology for the Wii, PSP and PS2 is expected later this year in Japan.
A fantasy variant on the run-and-gun game, owing much of its visual style and gameplay to Capcom's classic Ghosts n' Goblins series. What distinguishes Magician Lord from rival side-scrolling goblin-slashers is its transformation system. By picking up specific orbs, the wizard hero can turn into various dragon, fish-man, ninja or samurai forms, each with their own special attacks and increased movement capabilities. Not a solid-gold classic, but certainly a good choice for the curious, particularly as it's now available to download on the Wii Virtual Console.