Metal Slug 7 features one of the best run and gun experiences you’re likely to experience in a portable console.
Along with the Contra series, Metal Slug has been the king of the run and gun genre for more than a decade. The release of Metal Slug 7 is a weird one, especially as it originally came out exclusively for the Nintendo DS, a platform for which it doesn’t necessarily seem naturally suited. Also, this was the first game of the franchise that SNK decided not to release with an arcade version. It’s quite odd, though, that the game loses almost all its identity, as it lacks co-op, one of the series main characteristics.
Being able to play with somebody else has always been one of Metal Slug’s strongest points, as the game required you to use a different strategy not only when playing against regular enemies, but against the extremely hard bosses. The impossibility of playing with one of you pals make the game considerably harder, and at times you’ll be thinking what SNK was thinking when they decided to omit this key feature. To be fair, it should be noted that the Nintendo DS’ little screen maybe a little awkward to play cooperatively, especially if we considered the fast pace nature of the game, but Konami proved with Contra 4 that it’s possible to develop a co-op game on the DS with satisfactory results. At the same time, the game doesn’t include multiplayer options of any kind, not locally nor through Wi-Fi. It would have been nice to compare times or even high points with other people over the internet, but unfortunately there’s no way to do that.
The gameplay has remained pretty much the same ever since the original Metal Slug was first released in 1996 for the arcades, and Metal Slug 7 is no exception. Expect swarm of enemies coming at you from every single angle of the screen, but run and shoot frantically and you’ll be just fine. It’s surprising that such a simple premise can be so fun and engaging and that the art-style so proper of the series has aged so gracefully, even after so many years of recycling it. From a more technical perspective, it’s a shame that the game doesn’t use any of the Nintendo DS’s capabilities. The only mechanic that you may use is the stylus to scroll down the maps, this can be quite useful to locate and rescue POWs (prisoners of war) or weapons. Apart from that, you can pretty much ignore that the DS even has a touch screen and you can focus on the action that takes place on the upper screen. Level design is also outstanding and each one has at least one secret that may take you a while to discover.
Apart from these important limitations the game is really good. It has a story, but as always it’s quite simple and unimportant. There are six characters to choose from: Marco Rossi, Tarma Roving, Fiolina Germi, Eri Kasamoto, Ralf Jones and Clark Still. There are also seven missions to play and three different difficulty settings: Beginner, Normal and Hard to add a little more of variety to the game. This is one of the main problems with the game, as there are only seven missions, and even though you can play them in various levels of difficulty, you can pretty much finish the game in one sitting. Once you finish it, there are some reasons for replayability, but take into account that you’ll be playing the same levels over and over again.
Graphically, the game looks simply amazing on the Nintendo DS. One of Metal Slug’s main characteristics has always been its incredible art-style, which mixes beautiful backgrounds with great-looking characters and striking vehicles. These graphical details make the game quite distinctive and unique, as each character has different facial expressions according to the situation. For example, every time you finish a level your character will grin and when soldiers of the opposite faction see you rushing in their direction they will jump and yell in the most awkward ways possible. This sense of humor has always been a trademark of the series and if you’ve been a fan of previous games you’ll be happy to know that the game has many graphical gags. Of course, this adds more originality, but something that really stands out is the inclusion of various vehicles. Metal Slug has always focused on slugs, and fortunately every level has at least one vehicle that you can ride to attack the enemies or bosses. Each mech, plane, tank or robot is really well detailed and being able to hop into them is extremely fun and satisfying. Furthermore, there are many weapons in each level, though, some of them are quite difficult to find.
Soundwise, Metal Slug 7 is amazing. The game is full of sound effects, so every time you choose a character, you shoot an enemy or you use a different weapon you’ll hear a very distinctive sound. The soundtrack is even better, each level, mission or menu has a unique tune that you are not likely to forget soon. Most of the songs are quite catchy, memorable and suit the action quite well. There are times when the music slowly fades out letting you know that a boss fight is coming.
Besides the main missions, the POW list, the ranking and the options screen, the game includes a Combat School, which is basically a tutorial that also includes many missions. Here, a cute drill instructor, called Cynthia, will tell you the basics of the game and the objectives of some the included missions.
In the end, Metal Slug 7 is a good game. There are some interesting omissions like the lack of co-op or the fact that it doesn’t support any of the Nintendo DS’s capabilities, but the game makes it up with great sense of humor, a frantic-paced gameplay, great level design, and the inclusion of new and interesting vehicles. On the other hand, those who would like a more fully-featured version of the game could try Metal Slug XX (released for the XBLA and PSP). For all the others, Metal Slug 7 is a good bet and a great experience that fans of the series shouldn’t miss.