Metal Slug 7
A bullet ricochets past your ear; the gun from which it was fired clasped firmly in the hand of an enemy soldier, his face twisted into a mocking grin. Overhead, an incoming mortar-round whistles towards its target and out of the dust-clouds and carnage of war as a heavily armoured tank lumbers into view. Looking around, you notice a small cartoon hamster crawling at your feet. There’s only one thing for it – grab the rodent for a hefty points bonus and pump the ‘Y’ button like there’s no tomorrow! War isn’t hell; war is hilarious and rendered in two dimensions. Welcome to the latest instalment in the Metal Slug series.
There’s being true to your original vision and then there’s stubbornly resisting change; Metal Slug 7 arguably does both of these things. After having appeared on countless consoles, the arrival of this seventh entry marks nary the smallest of changes to the vintage ‘run and gun’ gameplay, adhering to a well established formula to a fault: take control of one of six cartoon soldiers and set about the destruction of hordes of bad guys over classically 2D, side-scrolling levels. This is old-school gaming, pure and simple – it’s chaotic, deaths are frequent, bosses are large and ‘Continue’ and ‘Game Over’ screens soon become a familiar sight. SNK undoubtedly hold the retro-vibe as a badge of honour, but it is, unfortunately, also a cross that Metal Slug 7 must bear, in all likelihood dooming it to a position as another niche title in a niche series.
The Metal Slug series has always prided itself on its visuals; shunning the latest 3D rendering techniques for good-old sprites and pixels, and at its best, the artistry of its 2D graphics are a thing of beauty. It is with a certain sense of trepidation then that one approaches the series’ arrival on the DS – is this a machine capable of replicating the minute detail of SNK’s previous efforts?
Happily, Metal Slug 7’s pairing with the DS is pulled off with some aplomb, with the minute sprites exuding the OTT cartoon violence that fans have come to love. Visuals are crisp, clean and full of character – successfully ticking an important box on any Metal Slug wish-list – and will without question satisfy Metal Slug aficionados. While the top screen is allowed the shine, the touch screen does feel a little redundant, playing host to a needless overview of your current level. In a game where your major concern is where your next bullet is going, and where the next enemy bullet is coming from, seeing what lies ahead is never really on the agenda. Nintendo’s New Super Mario Bros. and Konami’s recent Contra 4 both proved the effectiveness of spreading the action over two screens, and it’s a shame that SNK didn’t learn from this. Although it’s hard to hold this against the game too much, a more interesting use of the host’s capabilities would have been welcome. The decision to not include any form of multiplayer also feels like a large oversight.
Gameplay-wise, Metal Slug 7 is as solid a representation of the series as DS owners could hope for and makes for an ideal on-the-go gaming experience. The titular metal slugs (combat machines ranging from tanks to mechs of various sizes) are present and correct, and there are plenty of memorable boss battles. Although lacking some of the thematic excesses of previous instalments (there are no blood-spewing zombies here!), there is enough variety in enemies, weapons and locales to hold your attention for the seven levels presented. SNK has attempted to add another layer to the experience with a challenge mode (i.e. completing levels while meeting certain requirements such as rescuing as many hostages as possible and time-trials), but this is likely to only appeal to hardcore Metal Sluggers hungry to push their score just that little bit higher.
Metal Slug 7 is what it is; a resolutely old school, unashamedly non-progressive and brutally tough side-scrolling shooter and, in many respects, SNK should be applauded for bringing an authentic Metal Slug experience to the DS. However, its failure to make the most of dual screens feels like a missed opportunity and it is disappointing that the quality of delivery isn’t matched by a similar degree of ambition. Rather than being something really special, it is merely (!) a rewarding, polished, charming yet teeth-gnashingly difficult shooter rendered with pristine 2D visuals, and an easy recommendation for fans of the genre. If, however, the thought of constant restarts, unavoidable deaths and thumb-aching button-mashing isn’t your thing, we suggest you look elsewhere.
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