Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Developer: SNK Playmore
Release Date: November 18, 2008
A staple of SNK and gaming has always been the Metal Slug series. This violent but comical side-scrolling shooter is notorious for taking many of my quarters in the arcade and much of my patience in the various home console iterations. In 2006, gamers were given the opportunity to play through the entire Metal Slug legacy in Metal Slug Anthology for the PS2, PSP and Wii. It felt like I was playing through the exact same game seven different times, and now it's time to play through it an eighth time with Metal Slug 7 for the Nintendo DS.
In the Metal Slug series, the story has never been the main focus. Typically, it involves the power-hungry General Morden and his army trying to take over the world, and it's up to a group of commandos to stop this threat. In Metal Slug 7, players will choose among the six playable characters — Clark, Eri, Fio, Marco, Ralf and Tarma — all of whom are familiar to veterans of the series, and each boasts his or her unique abilities. For example, when Tarma rides in a vehicle, it gains more durability from enemy fire than when other characters are riding in it, while Eri starts off with more hand grenades than everyone else. Players will select a character when they first start the game, and the player can change the playable character if he chooses to continue after the game ends.
Depending on your skill, you may or may not experience the Continue screen multiple times throughout the game. The constant bombardment of enemy fire, explosions, and collapsed structures are what make the Metal Slug series so hardcore. Everything kills you in one hit, and knowing when to fire and when to duck for cover are the bread and butter for this franchise, and each entry is identical to the previous one. There are seven levels of running and gunning, rescuing POWs and battling bosses. POWs are those iconic bearded men who always wind up being captured by enemies and reward you with weapon upgrades for rescuing them. These weapons are pretty familiar from the other games and include heavy machine guns, laser rifles, shotguns, rocket launchers, and so on down the line. The Zantetsu Sword upgrade seems to be more of a downgrade because it causes players to slash their melee weapons like madmen, which is useless for the ranged weapon mentality for which this game is known. Like the other titles, you lose all of the power-ups you acquire if you die, and you lose credit for rescuing the POWs if you choose to continue, which only affects perfectionists.
Since Metal Slug 7 can be completed in about three hours, rescuing all of the POWs is all you have to get your money's worth. There is the Combat School mode, where players can play through the levels, but with specified objectives, such as eliminating all of the enemies or playing through a level without dying. There are 80 of these missions for players to take on, and they should provide some additional playability.
Unfortunately, the title doesn't make much use of the DS' functionalities. All the action occurs on the top screen, and the touch-screen displays a map that can be dragged around but serves no other purpose. What makes it disappointing is last year's Contra 4 features the exact same gameplay as Metal Slug and even it managed to incorporate both screens in the frantic action of that game style. Metal Slug 7 still plays like it's from 1996: You jump with the B button, fire with the Y button, and throw grenades with A.
Despite the archaic gameplay, SNK managed to add a few new features to the gameplay such as the inclusion of new vehicles that can be controlled, which are called Slugs. One huge, new vehicle is the Slug Giant, which can take and deal a large amount of damage. It can even crush smaller enemies that are unfortunate enough to be in its path. Other than the Slug Giant, you still have series mainstays, like the standard Metal Slug tank, the Slug Flyer aircraft, and the obnoxiously controlled bi-pedal Slugnoid.
There's no multiplayer functionality in this title, which is disappointing because one of the key features of previous Metal Slug games was the co-op play with two players. Players would cover each other from the barrage of bullets in classic 2-D side-scrolling fare. The lack of co-op may be due to the hardware on which the game is running, but I don't see why any local wireless or online cooperative play couldn't have been included.
Just like the gameplay, the presentation for this title still resembles its earlier entries. The series continues to use the same character and enemy sprites in each entry, and they look really cartoony but manage to retain the mature mindset for which the series is known. As a fan of sprite-based games and visuals, I'm perfectly fine with the 2-D appearance that this entry offers.
Likewise, the sound effects of bullets being fired and screams of pain from your enemies are still familiar to veteran Metal Slug players. The music is pretty much the same, too. The boss battle music has always been a memorable tune for me, as it creates that tension of fighting and surviving against a larger and more powerful enemy. The sound and presentation in general are nothing new to the series.
Overall, Metal Slug 7 for the NDS is a solid and difficult side-scrolling shooter that adds little to the franchise. Fans of the series and the genre may enjoy the title, but may also grow bored of the stale gameplay elements. If you haven't played any of the other Metal Slug games or are new to the genre, then this title is a great game to start off with, but don't expect to have your socks knocked off.
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