As you may already be aware, we’re massive fans of SNK’s Metal Slug series. The Wii Anthology went down a storm in the Nintendo Life office and when we became aware of plans for a seventh instalment we became very animated and had trouble getting to sleep at night. However, such giddy anticipation was tempered by a sense of caution, because this new game represents a significant departure for the franchise – it’s the first of the numbered titles that hasn’t made its debut in the arcade (not including the spin-offs such as Metal Slug Advance on the GBA and Metal Slug: First Mission on the Neo-Geo Pocket, of course).
For the uninitiated, the Metal Slug series boasts a premise that is so devilishly simple and straightforward that little explanation is required; essentially, you move from one end of the level to the other, pouring thousands of bullets into approaching enemy forces and making use of the various vehicles that dot the landscape (the most notable being the titular Metal Slug, a sort of super-deformed tank). As the franchise has progressed more and more death-dealing rides have been added to the ranks, including planes, helicopters and even camels.
In Metal Slug 7, fans have a trio of new vehicles to play around with. The train-like ‘Slug Truck’ allows the player to bolt-on additional cannons to create one of the most fearsome arsenals yet seen in the Metal Slug universe; the ‘Slug Gigant’ is a robot with a powerful wave cannon and the ‘Slug Gunner’ is a highly mobile armoured suit that grants both manoeuvrability and incredible stopping power.
Another feature that is new to the game is the ‘Rush Blaster System’. Introduced in order to encourage players to adopt a more aggressive play style, this system enables scores to be multiplied up to sixteen times their normal value. By stringing together attack combos you force up the ‘Rush Blaster’ gauge in sequential stages – double, quadruple, times eight and finally, sixteen times the standard score. Once the gauge is maxed out, it drops back down to zero and you’re encouraged to link together another succession of attacks to drive it upwards again. If you’re the kind of person who loves score-based challenges (if you’re a Metal Slug fan, that is almost a given) then this simple aspect makes the game incredibly addictive.
Considering the age of the series (the first game was released well over a decade ago, and visually each instalment has remained pretty faithful to the original blueprint) one might assume that the DS would be ideally placed to host such a title. While this is true to a degree, we can’t help but think that SNK might have been swayed by the console’s current dominance of the portable market rather than its technical suitability. While Metal Slug 7 looks nice enough, the low resolution of the DS screen means it looks markedly less impressive when compared to its arcade forerunners; in fact, when placed alongside the Metal Slug Anthology running on the Sony PSP, Metal Slug 7 looks positively anaemic.
SNK’s choice of format is made even more puzzling when you consider how little has been made of the DS’ unique talents; the bottom screen is used as a map - which is admittedly useful when it comes to locating vehicles or hostages – but there’s no WiFi multiplayer (two player co-op is practically a must-have in a Metal Slug title) and the touch screen is solely for moving the map screen around during play.
However, regardless of these niggles, the fact remains that this is Metal Slug and is powered by the same hardcore heart and soul that beats underneath previous entries in the franchise. The gameplay is fantastic, the action is frenetic and 2D carnage is a joy to behold, in spite of the disappointing way in which the visuals have been scaled down to fit properly on the DS display. Along with the stunning Contra IV, this is one of the finest arcade blasters yet seen on Nintendo’s dual screen portable.
Choosing to give the DS a fully-fledged instalment in the Metal Slug series as opposed to a side-story or spin-off is a brave move on SNK’s part, but we suspect it has more to do with current market conditions rather than an undying faith in the capabilities of the hardware. Still, while Metal Slug 7 unquestionably suffers visually due to the limitations of the DS, it still retains what is arguably the most vital component of the long-running and highly esteemed shooter franchise – the gloriously anarchic, hell-for-leather gameplay. If you’re already fan then this review is entirely superfluous – you will no doubt have pre-ordered this already (or picked up the US/Japanese import months ago) – but those of you that are new to this legendary ‘run and gun’ lineage are recommended to sample the superlative Wii collection at the nearest possible opportunity; if you like what you see then Metal Slug 7 is the ideal next step.