Review by Emuchu
"Metal Slug pops off another number... on the DS?"
Metal Slug is that odd sort of series that's been around since the dawn of gaming, but refuses to evolve or change in any way because it knows that if it ever does, we'll all riot and storm SNK headquarters.
For Metal Slug 7, SNK makes the odd decision to release a numbered Metal Slug game exclusively on a handheld system, and it's that sole point that leads to most of its critique. I'm going to assume that if you're reading this review, you're already familiar with Metal Slug's run 'n gun gameplay and jump right into what makes Slug 7 different from the others.
The first question that pops into a gamer's head when he finds out a console game is heading to a handheld is the graphical quality. The graphics still manage to retain all of the bold, colorful violence of the other Slugs, with one exception: scaling. The graphics look like, instead of being re-sprited to fit the DS's screen, that they were designed for a full arcade cabinet monitor and scaled down (possibly suggesting a console port?), which is particularly noticeable during, say, the characters' walking animations when their eyes suddenly disappear. The bottom screen of the DS, instead of having, say, a complex HUD full of data or having the gameplay area stretched to the second screen (like Contra 4), just has a map. This map displays the locations of the POWs and hidden pickups, but I can't help but feel it was just slapped there: the map doesn't even take up the whole screen, and the developers should have realized that we wouldn't have time to look at the thing, anyway.
The second question regarding Slug 7's new home on the DS is whether or not it supports multiplayer. Sadly, it doesn't, which is a huge blow to its replayability. After playing Contra 4, I was looking forward to two-player Slug action on my DS, as trudging co-op through legions of soldiers and mocking each other's failures was the shining light of my Metal Slug memories (if one run-and-gun shooter can do it, so can the other, right?), especially since Metal Slug isn't as platforming-happy as Contra is, but alas, it doesn't seem to be implemented... In an effort to replace it, SNK has re-introduced Combat School, which is a mode where you're trained to become better at the game through increasingly bullcrap objectives, beginning with just surviving a mission with infinite ammo, to juggling balls, to jumping as much as possible, to surviving the same mission with no extra lives and no weapons but your pea-shooter, all the while flirting with your field officer as your rank goes up.
The basic idea is that if you can complete these absurd objectives, you can tap-dance happily through the real game-- and for the most part, it works. After a few hours in, I was blowing perfectly through the first two missions of Slug 7, laughing the whole way. The objectives in Combat School are graded, for perfectionists, and a score is assigned to you. Get enough points, and you increase in rank. Increase in rank, and your field officer finds you increasingly more attractive (which made me want to play more, not sure about you lady gamers).
For the most part, Slug 7 is more or less a direct sequal to Slug 6. All six of the playable cast returns: Marco, Tarma, Fio, Eri, Ralf, and Clark, each of them still with a unique ability. These abilities are powerful and diverse enough to actually warrant repeated playthroughs with each of the characters, which is great for the replayability of an arcade-style game.
If you haven't played Slug 6, the four Slug regulars have abilities you'd expect: Marco has a powerful handgun for people who don't like thinking about weapons (autofire + Marco's handgun is actually more efficient than many weapon upgrades). Tarma has increased power and more hit points when he's in a vehicle, along with vulcan fix. Fio has 50% more ammunition in her weapon pickups, and she spawns with a Heavy Machine Gun (very newbie friendly), and Eri begins with 20 grenades instead of 10, gets double the grenades on pickup, and can throw grenades straight ahead, up, and down.
The two newcomers, Ralf and Clark, being from King of Fighters, have much more personal, suicidal abilities: Ralf is the only character that's manly enough to knife vehicles. Imagine leaping into the air and stabbing a helicopter to death and you can see why he's cool. He also has a special Vulcan Jab technique that can destroy a tank faster than Super Grenades can. He even gets up once after being killed to offset how close he has to stand to vehicles. Ralf's ability is even stranger: he throws people. Even if they're shielded. He also gets brief invulnerability each time he throws someone, so he can jump into a crowd of enemy soldiers and chuck them all one-by-one without caring about being shot, stabbed, run through, run over, or exploded.
The characters are different enough to actually change the way you go through the game, which is a huge boon to the game's replayability, especially with two-player sorely lacking.
It's Metal Slug. Don't ask. If you MUST know, yes, all the trademark bad guys show up. The evil man in the uniform comes back, you own him again, he mopes, and then a portal materializes behind him and grants him an army FROM THE FUUUUUTURE!
The core gameplay is completely intact in this sequal. Like Slug 6, Slug 7 makes use of additional buttons besides the series' classic Shoot, Jump, and Grenade. You can hold two weapon upgrades besides your normal peashooter, you can unleash melee attacks on command and throw your weapon (I don't see what the point of this is without co-op, though). All the controls are responsive, so you won't find yourself dying because your characters aren't doing what you want.
The missions are varied and interesting. One mission has you sitting on a moving platform throughout the entire stage, and another has you piloting a giant screen-sized mech. Metal Slugs are still around, along with fighter planes, that weird walking thing with the two machine guns, and the aforementioned giant mech. Plenty of weapons: Heavy Machine Guns, Shotguns, Flame Guns, a Thunder Gun (I think it's new), Super Grenades, Lasers, the Z-Sword, and Molotovs. What's noticeably absent, though, are zombies (I missed the mega zombie barf), mummies, and getting fat. Really, it's Metal Slug, and all the craziness that we've come to associate with the title are still rampant in this one.
Basically, it's still Metal Slug. You're still running, and shooting, and jumping, and dying every ten seconds. If you're fan of Metal Slug, you'll like Slug 7, too. The only question is whether or not you'll dig Slug's transition to a hand-held--you trade screen size for portability, and two-player for Combat school... and a map that doesn't seem to do much more than take up screen space. If you can deal with that, and if the premise of mastering an arcade game still appeals to you even without an actual arcade version, Metal Slug 7's waiting to greet you with open arms... and then to shoot you in the butt.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 07/28/08
Game Release: Metal Slug 7 (JP, 07/17/08)
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