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GBA Review - 'Metal Slug Advance'

by Justin on Jan. 30, 2005 @ 12:38 a.m. PST

Metal Slug Advance will feature five, all-new, action-packed missions plus diverse areas and rugged terrain including subterranean dungeons such as mysterious ruins, limestone caverns, and lava zones. As an added bonus, Metal Slug Advance will feature 100 different METAL SLUG E-cards to enhance player's abilities and assist them in the completion of their missions.

Genre: Action
Publisher: SNK
Developer: Playmore
Release Date: November 30, 2004

Buy 'METAL SLUG ADVANCE': GBA

Metal Slug has been around for seemingly ages. SNK's little franchise, a wonderful little action game, first impressed gamers on the Neo-Geo, but has since visited other consoles, including the Xbox and PS2; and, in its short lifespan, the Neo-Geo Pocket Color. Although the developers tried to translate the Metal Slug spirit into that game, it wasn't quite the same. The small screen -- or more importantly, the guts behind it -- couldn't quite offer up the speed and fluidity and detail that the series is known for.

It's nice to see that the Game Boy Advance is more than capable of carrying the Metal Slug torch honorably. Although some of the effects are noticeably toned down here (explosions are a bit less intense, there's no blood) everything else is pretty well perfectly preserved. Animation is excellent, as goofy or realistic as the developers intended (and they do intend both).

But this isn't just a port of one of the Metal Slug titles. This is actually a brand new game, a new entry in a series that has yet to disappoint its fans. Gameplay is, at its core, mostly unchanged from previous games. It's Contra-esque run-and-gun mechanics feel old-school with a sexy coat of paint, and the difficulty level is appropriately challenging. There's over a dozen weapons to use, a multitude of enemies to dispatch (or dispatch you), two playable characters, the ever-fun, versatile, and appropriately-named Metal Slug tank, five long levels with branching paths, and over a hundred collectable cards that add to replay value immensely. There's also, contrary to the one-hit-kills of Metal Slug Advances' predecessors, a health meter, and unlimited continues.

"Collectable cards? Bah, humbug!" you shout as a clamor arises in your house. "I don't want no stinkin' collectable cards! I want levels! More than five of 'em! And a life meter, n' unlimited continues! Who wants that? This is gonna be too bloody easy!" Wrong! Sorry! Metal Slug Advance is easily one of the most difficult games to grace the system in a while, and if you think you can saunter in and complete the games "miniscule" number of levels in an hour then you'll have your butt handed back to you in shame promptly. This is tough stuff. The first two levels are pretty challenging, but the difficulty level only rises from there on, and by the time you get to the end of the game your wits will need to be sharpened so well that they can cut diamonds. You're gonna need all the help you can get.

And the collectable cards aim to give you a hand. Some of them merely offer up descriptions of items, like bread, once you collect it. Others add important elements to the game: extended health meters, more weaponry, or even new forms of the Metal Slug, for instance. There's over a hundred. But the catch is, you only get to keep the cards (and bragging rights) if you complete the level unscathed. If you die, you automatically lose all cards acquired in the level. True, beating the actual game doesn't require you to do it in one life, and if you die you'll go back to a reasonably placed checkpoint. But for those looking to flaunt their skills, they're gonna have to really get down to business and have the levels down-pat -- beating a level without losing a life is really, really tricky.

Control in the game is as sharp as one could wish. Your character (Walter or Tyra; there's honestly no difference aside from, of course, their looks) moves just as quickly as your fingers move. You can gracefully go from platform to platform, riddling soldiers full of bullets, launching rockets at buzzing helicopters, or toss grenades with a tap of the shoulder button at the little group of guys hiding in the trench nearby. When you take command of the Metal Slug, you'll have to get used to the tank's aiming mechanism; it takes some getting used to, but once you do, it'll absolutely tear up everything that comes at it. Well, assuming you can take the heat, of course.

The game's graphics are very nice. Not one to falter in the animation area, Metal Slug again delivers with silky smooth motion. Everything from tossing grenades to firing guns to hopping around or slicing a nearby soldier is brilliantly realized and flows as nicely as hot butter. The color palette is vibrant, with lush jungles, brisk mountains, sandy deserts, and more. Characters are detailed, as are the environments. This is one very finely polished game, graphically, and it doesn't lose anything being on the GBA.

Sound is equally good. The music is nicely engaging, offering upbeat tunes for each area of the game. The beloved voice clips that are summoned when you pick up weapons or other items return in fine form. Best of all are the sound effects; whether it be the popping of machine gun fire, the crunching of the ground under Metal Slug's treads, the moans from soldiers taking a hit to the chest, the kaboom from a nearby explosion. Everything here is really fitting and only serves to draw you into the experience.

Is the game for everyone? No. It's certainly much too hard for the casual gamer, and even those who are more familiar with gaming might find themselves turned off by the sheer challenge the game presents. Even seasoned Metal Slug veterans are bound to have some difficulties, and actually collecting the cards in the game is something worthy of a plaque. This is for serious gamers, those who plan to sit down and spend some quality time mastering the game.

All in all, though, Metal Slug Advance is a really good game. Its gameplay, at heart, is pure Metal Slug. Sure, some things have been altered. There's now a health meter and unlimited continues. But the game is still quite challenging, and if you're a completist it's no doubt harder than previous games. The graphics and sound are amazingly good, really showing off the power of the GBA (or perhaps the age of the Neo-Geo, by this point -- either way, it looks and sounds fantastic). If you're not afraid of some challenge, don't hesitate to give this game a go. It's definitely one of the best 2D action games to hit the GBA in a good long time.

Score: 8.9/10

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