The year is 1996, the PlayStation and Saturn have been out for just over a year and are showcasing the next level of gaming, 3D. It sends shockwaves through the industry, developers begin phasing out development of 2D games and the future begins to look bleak for gaming in two dimensions. SNK however knew that 2D gaming wasn't dead, 3D may have been new but it was blocky, ugly and mostly experimental, and so using everything that was learned throughout the 16-bit generation with games like contra they came up with one of the wackiest, addicting and fun run and gun arcade games ever.
With the decline in arcades worldwide it seemed Metal Slug would die with them, but no Metal Slug lives on and now we have a brand new console exclusive Metal Slug for Nintendo DS, but will it be a must buy or just plain sluggish, read on to find out.
Once you boot up the game you'll see a menu of five options, the reason I'm mentioning the menu in this way is the fact that the menu is on the top screen not the bottom, the menu icons are the perfect size for the touch screen but the developer decided to put them on top screen, I tip my hat. For a while now I've moaned and complained that just because the DS has a touch screen it doesn't mean the game has to utilise it, in fact this game barely even uses the touch screen at all, but we'll get back to that later.
The main game is comprised of 7 missions and is playable in 3 difficulty modes. Easy mode gives you a heavy machine gun as your default weapon and 9 credits. Normal mode gives you a hand gun and 4 credits and hard mode only 2 credits, each mode slightly changes the gameplay too to either make the game easier or harder.
That's right just like its arcade predecessors MS7 has an old school credit system as well as three lives per credit, seems pretty generous doesn't it? But this game is brutally hard, bullets, bombs and bad guys litter your way, they come from both sides and even from above/below. All those lives will simply vanish before your eyes in a gorgeous mesh of 2D pixels, oh and did I mention the game is hard?
As said in the intro Metal Slug plays similarly to Contra in that you run through a level killing anything in your way all the time picking up different weapon upgrades to make the game just a tiny bit easier. It does however differ in a few areas, those being in Contra when you touch an enemy you die, In Metal Slug you can use a melee attack to kill them up close or just run straight past them, unless it's a tank of course. The style for Contra has always been a more 'realistic' well 80's Hollywood cheesy action movie real but real non the less, Metal Slug chooses a more cartoony style with fluid hand drawn animations and over the top physical actions from every sprite on screen.
Also included in the game is an option called 'Combat School,' where you can hone in your skills by completing a list of challenges which will see you in different parts of the game trying to do specific things, be it rescuing POW's or simply trying to jump as much as you can, all the challenges award you with points and are a neat distraction from the main game.
As you play you'll notice some men tied up, they are the POW's (Prisoners or War) if you free them they can give you new weapons. The weapons in the game are extremely varied, everything from shotguns to rockets to bouncy balls are available and all affect the enemies death animations. For example, you pickup a laser, everyone you kill with the laser will vaporize same goes for the flamethrower, the enemy will run around in flames before eventually dying. It all adds that little something special you don't see with other games, and it looks cool too.
Weapons aren't the only thing at your disposal, the name Metal Slug refers to a tank you can drive in the previous games, no tank in this game however there are, jumping robots that drop balls of fire, airplanes which almost turn a level into a horizontal shooter and an end level boss where you both fight in big steam punk mechs, it is epic. And surprisingly the robots all handle pretty well. One complaint is although they have their own health bar the robots can only really take three hits before they explode, that's right explode, you have to jump out before it does or you go with it, just another thing to keep your heart racing.
Enemies for the most part are your basic run of the mill soldiers that you'll gun down left right and centre but every now and again you'll come across tanks, helicopters and even cannons, this requires you to constantly be on guard and be able to constantly change your strategy whenever a new enemy appears on screen. The variation and the rate at which the enemies appeared never at any time feel overwhelming and yet at the same time never feel like a walk in the park either, there is nearly always something on the screen to kill.
As said before the game is spread across seven missions which as you can imagine could bring up some very interesting ideas when it comes to level themes. Unfortunately this game seems to lack any form of distinction when it comes to levels, in that there isn't a single level that sticks out in my mind as being inventive or original, I would normally say "If it's not broke, don't fix it" but we're onto MS7 and I've played the other games, the variation in levels is what makes them so unique, I mean no other game could get away with your character becoming fat or a zombie, but not in this game. Shame.
Controls handle much in the way of previous Metal Slugs, you use the D-pad and face buttons to controls the actions of your character, everything from shooting to jumping is done in this very non revolutionary touch screen kind of way. And thankfully I'm glad for it, a game that doesn't conform to the console or adapt itself from what it has always been is a refreshing change. The actual game controls aren't that bad at all, granted it can be a pain to shoot diagonally and at times and the platforming elements are a little bit broken as sometimes you'll fall right through the scenery or a jump will require you to be on the edge of a platform in order to make it to the other side all the while your shooting left right and centre.
The stylus controls boil down to being able to scroll through a map on the bottom of your screen, that's it, basic.
The Metal Slug games have always had a distinctive look about them, a style not seen in other games, the transition to the DS has been mixed. The character sprites have all been shrunk down as opposed to zooming in the camera slightly to keep them the correct size. Bullets are very small little balls that can become difficult to see when there is a lot going on on-screen all at once. But the boss fights are still very epic indeed, all the bosses are highly detailed and some have some very impressive rotation of the sprites. Overall the scaling of the sprites doesn't really take anything away from the look of the game but it can make small objects difficult to make out.
Sound is a difficult subject to rate because all the sound effects have been reused in nearly every Metal Slug game previous, the music on the other hand is gorgeous, each track fits the mood of the level perfectly and helps add tension in the right places, like just before a boss battle. My only gripe about the music is that for the most part you can't hear it, there is so much going on onscreen and sound effects blaring constantly that you miss one of the best features of this game.
The game is very portable in that there are seven levels all of which would take no longer than ten minutes each to complete, saying that I found myself shouting at the DS quite frequently out of frustration, something I wouldn't want people on the train to work to see. If you're a quiet gamer then it is prefect for you but if you're like me and shout whenever the game cheaply kills you then maybe yeah buy it but don't play it in public.
So you've just completed the last level, credits have rolled and you're back to the beginning again, what now? It's only taken you just over an hour to complete the game, is that all? Well apart from the training levels, yes. The game is painfully short, don't get me wrong the other Metal Slug games could be completed in an hour too and MS7 is amazing while it lasts but this is the first Metal Slug to be released on consoles only, you'd have thought they would have made it longer to make it seem like more bang for your buck but no, you get your standard Metal Slug sized game.
One thing I always loved at about Metal Slug, the multiplayer. My brother and I would stay up all night and play through each game over and over just trying to outdo each other, the multiplayer aspect is such an important part of the game... so, where is it? MS7 has no multiplayer. To me it's like kicking a football against a wall and not being allowed to play properly with friends, it's just wrong. I am seriously disappointed there is no multiplayer in this game, hopefully the Xbox Live version will sort that out.
Overall what more can I say? It is a solid run and gun Metal Slug game, it doesn't innovate anywhere it just gives you non-stop action. Buy it if you're a fan or the series or just a little curious for some hard action.