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SummaryClassic Run-n-Gun Action
The GoodThe number one thing I like about this game is the action, speed, and intensity of the gameplay. I may not generally be good at high-intensity gaming, but it is something I truly love to delve into. This being a Metal Slug title, it has no shortage of rampant arcade action or intensity. As if it was directed by Michael Bay himself, this is rife with gunshots, craziness, and explosions. All of this action, by the way, takes place without so much as a smidgen of slow-down or frame-rate issues.
Graphically, the game isn't exactly putting the DS through it's paces, but it is very pretty. Designs are the fairly standard Metal Slug fair--soldiers, tanks, mechs, Slugs and the like. Everything looks good and if it moves or animates, it animates fluidly and looks fantastic. Granted, I'm not sure why machines like the some of the mech-like slugs would need to animate in a manner befitting breathing, but whatever. It looks pretty sweet, and there's an amazing level of detail.
There is a wide variety of guns to acquire through the game, all of them earned by rescuing Prisoners of War. First, you shoot or cut their ropes and free them, then you actually physically walk into them, and they'll drop items and weapons for you. Rescuing POW's adds a minor layer of additional content to the standard formula. Some of the weapons are pretty clever, such as the one that shoots little "cars" along the ground--I believe it's called the Iron Lizard. On sloped stages, this can be intensely useful. Two weapons may be carried at one time.
Bosses are massive, varied, and impressive. All of them are gigantic machines--tanks, ships, robots and the like. They crowd the screen, feature fancy, detailed animation, and all have their obvious weak spots. Generally, if a player is skilled enough, the fights are typically well balanced between overwhelming boss encounter, and manageable attack pattern.
The game features a "Combat School" mode with a variety of mini-missions and challenges for the most hardcore Metal Slug fans to delve into. They feature things such as boss fights within a time limit or life limit, hitting stages just to collect items, or focusing on rescuing POW's. There's something like 80 missions, according to the back of the case. The Combat School part of the game keeps track of the player's various skills and accomplishments therein, and rewards more skilled gameplay with an in-game rank.
There are six selectable characters with their own subtle nuances. Each character has an automatic melee attack that is used (typically with a knife) when an enemy character gets too close for shooting. The melee attack is very fast, and automatic--and it saves from some embarrassing deaths pretty often.
There are also six vehicles, or Slugs, in the game that may be piloted when the player comes upon them. All of them are typically pretty fun to use. Probably the most impressive is the enormous Slug Gigant, which is essentially a mech that takes up about a third of the DS screen.
The game keeps track of how many POW's have been successfully saved, and which they were. It also saves high scores, so if you're into that, there you go. There are also three difficulty settings, and once a stage is unlocked, it may be replayed again at any time. All seven stages can be unlocked in Easy mode, and played on any difficulty after that.
Finally, while the sound effects may be somewhat standard fare--they're still generally very fitting. The music on the other hand, is outstanding--at least when it can be heard through the ruckus of the gameplay. It actually sounds orchestrated, deep, and epic. It's hard not to love the tunes in this one.
The BadWhile this isn't my first time with a Metal Slug game, this is my first extended play experience. And the number one gripe I have about this is the near total lack of being able to easily shoot in eight directions, a la Contra. For a game that fills so easily with such a mass of explosions, gunshots, missiles, shells, mortars, vehicles, and enemies--not being able to defend oneself easily by shooting in all directions is a major hindrance. I don't know if this is common in the series (been a while since I've played a Metal Slug game, so I don't recall), but it's the thing that annoys me the most. Only the laser and heavy machine guns can be used diagonally, and only by "sweeping" across the screen. No simple targeting of anything diagonally, you know, like a boss.
The prisoners of war that drop your weapons? Most commonly, they'll drop some bizarre useless item that serves only to earn points. It takes a special kind of game for me to care about score. Specifically, if it's a game where the goal is to attain a high score. Building a high score is generally secondary to the run-n-gun formula of the game.
This game is on a system with one of the top run-n-gun titles of all time--Contra 4. And good luck competing with that beast. I consider Contra 4 not just an excellent addition to said franchise, but also a hallmark of what makes for a good run-n-gun game, especially on the DS. That said, Contra 4 set some standards and--especially for fans of this genre--it's going to be hard not to compare the two games. Unfortunately, Metal Slug 7 does not, in my view, live up to Konami's beast.
DS's touchscreen features are used rather poorly. It's basically a strange gimmick of sliding around a map of the stage to "see what's in there." I used it once just to see, and it's generally unnecessary. Occasionally, there are menu items that can be selected or changed via the touchscreen. Oftentimes, it feels as though too much action has been crammed into one tiny screen, whereas, if it was spread out over both screens--it might be more manageable, even fitting.
The six characters are not different enough. Typically, they're interchangeable with such subtle nuances that it's likely they won't always be noticed. For instance, there are characters who, when riding in a Slug, can shoot and aim the weapons at the same time, and others who can only aim (or reposition) the weapons when standing still. This begs the question, what the hell is wrong with the Slugs if people can't operate them the same way? You see what I'm getting at? Some of the differences between characters are just illogical when used in-game.
Each character also has a special melee attack. It is cumbersomely used pressing the Y button while holding the L button. I can't think of single time I got it to work successfully--in combat--nor can I think of any time when I thought it would be better than just shooting or knifing dudes. A few characters have bonus special actions that do things like firing a volley of shots or activating some series of blistering punches. They sound cool, right? Yet they're in the "didn't like" segment of this review. That is because they're cumbersome to use: Pressing up on the D-pad, plus the L button, plus the Y button. Maybe we should just ignore the fact that the X button isn't used at all in this game. The other downside to these extra actions is that I can't really see a point to using them. They're cumbersome to activate in a game that requires near constant movement and attention to the action--I never used them with any noticeable degree of success, and I can't imagine them working out all that well.
As I said in the "like it" section. Players may carry two weapons at once. One active, and one inactive. Stupidly, when the player dies, both weapons are lost. It makes more sense to lose just the active weapon, but no such luck here.
The variety of missions in the Combat School mode is, to be quite honest, kind of joke. For instance, there are essentially three missions for each boss and all they do is challenge the player to defeat the boss, defeat the boss in one life, and defeat the boss within a time limit. Ugh. How about just one, where we're challenged to defeat the boss with limited lives? This just feels like a lazy way to add content to the game. Some of these missions are shockingly difficult.
Saving POW's is kind of an annoying chore, and it seems like it requires them to be saved while, somehow, still finishing the stage without dying. Now, just passing through the game, it's a simple chore. Shoot and walk past them. Get an item and sometimes a weapon. What's annoying, is saving them so it counts, as in, when the game keeps track of which POW's have been successfully rescued. On top of that, just because it's been noted they've been saved doesn't mean they suddenly vanish from the stages. Essentially, there's a lot of work there, for relatively little reward. It's cool the game keeps track of which POW's have been successfully saved, it's obnoxious to what ends the player must take to actually have the game take note. To put this in perspective, after two full play-throughs and some screwing around in other difficulty settings, I saved a whopping 9% of the total POW's in the game.
The Bottom LineMy only other fairly extended experience with Metal Slug is 1st Mission on the Neo-Geo Pocket Color, so if I'm ripping on things that fans of the series are used to, take it with a grain of salt. I love run-n-gun style games, and the Contra series remains one of my favorite franchises. As I said, I consider Contra 4 to be a DS showpiece. This does not live up to the standards set by that game.
Like Contra 4, Metal Slug 7 features only a few levels (8 and 7, respectively), but a variety of "challenge" missions (40 and 80, respectively). Contra 4's levels are vastly more varied, and the game makes vastly better use of the DS's abilities, what with its action spread over both screens. The challenges in C4 are also better varied, and a lot more fun. This may be my opinion, and to those run-n-gun fans who prefer SNK's franchise over Konami's, they may feel differently.
So, obviously, I like run-n-gun games. And obviously, I have my preference on run-n-gun franchises. I'm no genius at this style of game, but I found this one to be pretty damn challenging. While I did finish it on Easy, I was forced to use all of my continues and lives, and even restart a couple times from unlocked stages. I'm pretty sure I don't suck that badly. After all, I have finished the notoriously challenging Contra 4 on medium difficulty, and can handle the original NES Contra without using the famous 30-man code. This could just be the subtle difference in gameplay styles... and that blasted lack of diagonal shooting.
Now, then, I know I listed some negatives here. Here's the deal: The game has shortcomings. It does not use the DS's features very well and death comes, sometimes, all-too-easily--and there are only seven levels. The 80 "combat school" challenges are not varied enough, but there still is a lot of content there for those willing to take a stab at it. The bottom line, though, is despite the nuances and annoyances, the game is never-the-less very fun while it lasts. It was typically a budget title and can (as of this writing) be picked up new for $15. On top of that, there is bonus stuff included with the game, notably, a mini-CD with a bunch of media items for a computer.
Frankly, if you like run-n-gun games, action-packed arcade affairs, or anything from SNK--this is very much worth a purchase. If you tend to like calmer fare, or have more casual tastes--steer clear. The game doesn't push any boundaries, it simply does what the series is known for--and woe be to any casual players who pick this one up.