Anyone who has played a Metal Slug game in the past knows what, generally, to expect from any new entry into the series, as the core gameplay has seen little alteration over the course of its 12-year history. The fast, frenetic, and fun run-and-gun shooting action once again makes a return in Metal Slug 7 for the Nintendo DS, the first original entry to go portable since 2004’s Metal Slug Advance.
The appeal of the Metal Slug series has always been the intense and hazardous Contra-style action, combined with a light and humorous visual style and overall tone. Metal Slug 7 delivers on both fronts, managing to contain the classic Metal Slug feeling on the small DS screen. Although everything is scaled down to fit the DS, there is little loss of visual quality; the colorful sprites are slightly less detailed, but retain the clarity and artistic stylings of higher-resolution versions.
Metal Slug 7’s gameplay also remains intact on the handheld, as the DS’s d-pad and face buttons are precise and responsive throughout the game. There are no tricks here; players run, jump, shoot, bomb, and slice their way through the waves of enemies while rescuing grateful prisoners of war. The story is as thick as the plastic wrap that the game ships in, but like the good old days of the 8-bit and arcade eras, that doesn’t really matter, as the focus is squarely on gameplay.
As in Metal Slug 6, there are six characters to choose from in Metal Slug 7, each with unique talents. For example, Marco deals increased damage and can fire more rapidly than the others with his pistol, and Eri starts off with extra grenades and the ability to aim her explosive tosses. This mixes things up a bit, and allows players to adopt different strategies on subsequent play-throughs, or even after continuing a game.
Metal Slug 7, while still very challenging (I’m not going to even tell you how many times I bit the bullet), is slightly more forgiving than past Metal Slug games. In addition to a beginner mode that doubles the number of available continues, the game saves players’ overall progress, allowing them to start new play sessions from the most recently accessed mission. No longer are players restricted from later levels due to their inability to survive, and highly skilled veterans still have the option of starting from the beginning with each go-’round.
There is no shortage of weaponry in this game; heavy machine guns, shotguns, rocket launchers, lasers, and a number of other cartoon boomsticks are scattered liberally throughout each level, usually in the hands of POWs. (Does that even make sense?) The game also adds three new Slugs, the heavily-armored and high-firepower vehicles used to obliterate the opposition, to the already sizable stable.
Metal Slug 7 is clearly an enjoyable shooting experience…for one. That’s right, portability comes at a price, as there is no multiplayer option in this game — something that has been a mainstay in the series from the beginning. Players who live and breathe co-op play will most certainly be better off waiting until this timed DS exclusive hits Xbox Live Arcade. For the soloist, however, Combat School mode offers a number of challenges (eliminate all targets, collect all items, rescue all hostages, etc.) to be completed for points and self-satisfaction. It doesn’t quite stack up next to a cooperative play option, but the goals do keep things interesting.
Metal Slug 7 makes for a grand old on-the-go gaming experience. It captures the essence and retains the integrity of the franchise for the tiniest of handheld console screens (although the touch screen is essentially ignored), and even though cooperative multiplayer has been omitted — a significant blow — the game is still very much worth playing for the solo enthusiast.