Inside Pulse 12

Review: Metal Slug 7 (Nintendo DS)

Metal Slug 7
Developer: SNK Playmore
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Genre: Shooter
Release Date: 11/19/2008


Although SNK is primarily known for its fighting game series, I have to admit games like King of Fighters and Samurai Shodown were not what originally sparked my interest with this particular publisher. Instead, it was both the Baseball Stars and Metal Slug franchise that were my gateway to Terry Bogard, Geese Howard, Yuri and the A level SNK characters.

I’ve always felt that Metal Slug 3 was the best in the series. One and two were great, but three blew me away, especially with the eventual port of the game to the Xbox with a lot of bonus features and frills. MS 4 & 5 were a step down in quality, but they were still enjoyable games. MS 6 made its US debut on the awesome Metal Slug Anthology for the Wii and PS2 and all six games thrown together gave that compilation our “Shooter of the Year” award for 2006.

Two years later and we finally have the much delayed Metal Slug 7, exclusively for the DS. Anytime a series gets up to the number seven, things start to get a little stale. Is MS7 able to show us something new, or has the series picked up the same issues that detractors say about KoF, where SNK just makes cookie cutter games to sate an ever shrinking core audience?

Let’s Review

1. Story & Modes

It’s Marco and gang against General Morden once again. This time though, it appears time travel is involved, or at least it seems that way from the scene you get in the game. Much like every other SNK game, Metal Slug 7 is very sparse when it comes to story details, leaving much of it up to the imagination unless you find one of the many sites that go into detail with the official canon plots of these games. My one big complaint with SNK is that the stories are left only for the zealots to enjoy rather than having them fully fleshed out in the games.

Like is all MS games, you’ll be killing enemy fighters and vehicles, using your own vehicles known as “Slugs” to help propel you through the game and each stage ends with a massive boss fight. You’ll save POW’s who in turn give you power ups and you play until you beat the game, die, or achieve a high score. From just a plot and core gameplay point of view, MS7 does appear to be a paint by numbers game. Thankfully, first impressions can be decieving.

There is one new mode in Metal Slug 7 and that’s “Combat School.” Combat school is actually a lot of fun as they are drills in which you go through mini levels trying to achieve one of several different objectives. In each of these, the goal isn’t necessarily just to beat the mission, but it’s to achieve whayt would normally be a secondary objective in the main game. These goals may range from “Save as many POW’s as you can” to, “Only shoot living enemy targets.” When you complete each level, you get a rating. Each rating equals points, and points act as XP, where reaching a certain threshold of points earns you a new military rank. These are many missions in combat school to complete and this gives the Metal Slug series a nice breath of fresh air similar to “Fat Island” in MS3.

I’m at that point where I find the side games like Combat school to be more entertaining than the main game versions of Metal Slug. Maybe it’s because we are at the 7th game and it’s in these offshoots that we really see SNK get creative. Combat School is actually the main reason I would recommend this game to long time MS fans like myself as it’s something outside the box and it can be quite difficult to obtain an S rating, while quite easy for someone new to MS to barely eke through the mission.

I wish the main game of MS7 had a bit more innovation, but Combat School gives the game some much needed depth, especially at a $29.99 MSRP.

Story & Modes Rating: Decent

2. Graphics

It should really come as no surprise that Metal Slug 7 uses some of the same sprites we’ve been seeing for over a decade. This is SNK after all. Still, this is one of the brightest and sharpest looking Metal Slug games ever and you can really see a difference in graphics when compared to the ports of MS4 & 5.

There are some new animations in the game to reflect each character’s new “special attacks” (more on that later), and I love all of the new bosses. Each boss is HUGE in stature and they each provide some fun and harrowing battles as you try to figure out their attack patterns and ways to kill them.

There is no slowdown present in MS7, which is amazing considering the amount of enemies and shots on the screen at all time. I was very impressed that the little DS cart could handle all the action on the screen, especially when slowdown has been present in shooters and fighters on the system.

Visually Metal Slug 7 is a generation behind what can be done in portable systems. MS7 would have easily worked as a GBA game, or even an Xbox or PS2 game. Although the graphics are a bit outdated in terms of texturing and pushing the limits of the DS, they still have the classic retro feel the MS series is known for and it’s still appealing to look at, especially since so many characters have nuances about them when shot, killed, or made angry. The little details make up for the usual SNK sprite reuse.

Graphics Rating: Decent

3. Sound

There’s a lot of classic Metal Slug sounds in this game. The POW’s “Thank You!” when you say them. The cries of pain when someone is shot or stabbed. The familiar machine gun shooting when the game first starts. All the sound effects and tiny “voice acting” bits Metal Slug fans have come to cherish are still intact and make this latest MS game a joy to play through.

The music of MS7 is quite nice as well. Like with all MS games, the music is enjoyable and sets the tone of the game, yet is never annoying or distracting. This is importance because it allows the gamer to concentrate on the high rate of firepower blazing across the screen rather than the music. I honestly can’t even remember the music with the game turned off, but if I boot it up in my DS and listen only to the background tracks, I can hum along with them with ease.

Unlike most games, the special effect noises are more important than the score with MS titles. Each gun has their own unique sound, each Slug makes specific unique noises, and even run of the mill cannon fodder soldiers have their own expressions and noises. Like with graphics, MS7 tends to let the little subtle nuances stand on their own, and it’s the perceptive gamer that catches these. If you take the time to listen to the myriad of noises in MS7, you’ll walk away quite impressed with all that they crammed into this little cart.

Sound Rating: Good

4. Control and Gameplay

Thank you SNK for not doing a touch screen & stylus version of controls. No siree, you’re playing Metal Slug 7 the way the series was meant to be played, with button mashing action all the way. You use the D-pad for moving, the Y button for shooting, the A button for gernades, the B button for jumping and the R button for changing between weapons. It’s classic Metal Slug controls all the way, and the game plays perfectly here on the DS.

There are six playable characters this time around, and each has their own specific abilities that you can use. Some characters have two abilities, while others have one. Marco, the main character, actually has two to three depending on the difficulty level you choose. Some special abilities are innate with the character such as Marco’s double damage with the handgun or Eri’s ability to have twice the normal amount of grenades. Four characters however have special abilities that can only be used by pressing Up, L and Y at the same time. These characters are Clark, Ralk, Tarma and Marco. Tarma and Clark’s aren’t very useful in my opinion, but Ralf’s is pretty impressive, it’s just too bad his inherent weakness is too strong for even his special ability to overcome. Marco simply has a salvo shot that does extra damage, but he has to be stationary to do it. Thus Marco is the best of the four with special abilities and continues to make him the best character choice overall. The special abilities are new to MS7, while the strengths/weaknesses bits are holdovers from MS6.

Something you might not notice at first is the “Rush Blaster System.” This is because it only pertains to your score. The faster you kill enemies on the screen, the higher your rush blaster meter gets. The higher the meter, the bigger the point multiplier you receive. You can get the meter up to 16x, so for those of you concerned about high scores, keep a close eye on this meter.

MS7 is an amazingly solid game with some of the tightest controls for a DS game this year. The gameplay is exceedingly simple to get a hold of and master. It’s surviving the waves of enemies that are your real challenge here.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Unparalleled

5. Replayability

If there is one thing MS7 excels at, it is replayability. You have six different characters to play as, each with their own unique moves and styles. Sure you can beat a game with Marco, but can you with Flo? This puts a nice new twist on the game and lets you discover which character works best for you. Combat School is another area you can spend a lot of time on as you try to raise your rank, or replay each mission to get a better score. Finally, you have the prisoner list, which shows you how many POW’s you have freed in each missions. For gamers who like to complete every little aspect of a title, this is more than enough reason to replay a mission as you try to save every single beardo in the game.

If that’s not enough, there’s also trying to set a new high score. Remember once upon a time when that alone was reason to beat a game?

Replayability Rating: Good

6. Balance

Generally this is an area where most SNK games, including MS titles score a bit low. This is because SNK’s idea of “Easy” is what most developers would call “Normal” or “Hard.” With MS7 however, they have provided an easy mode that is actually well, better suited to new gamers or those that can’t hack “SNK Boss Syndrome.” I actually found myself enjoying all the different difficulties settings and one can even argue that the game plays differently in each, which certain characters performing better on say Easy, then on Medium or Hard.

In terms of character selection, there are some characters that are superior to others. This may come as little surprise, but the series mainstays of Fio and Marco are the top tier characters, with Tarma and Eri acting as the middle tier. I put newcomers Ralf and Clark (You do know where these characters originally came from right? Nice bit of fan service SNK!) at the bottom simply because Ralf’s speed issue is far too annoying for me to enjoy him and Clark’s back breaker move is only there for people playing to set a high score rather then beat the game. Still, each character has their uses.

I love SNK for letting you have the mission select option in MS7. This means people can start on whatever missions they choose, making progressing through the gamer easier for newcomers to shooters. However, I also love SNK for limiting the amount of continues you get. Too many shooters with unlimited continues make the game eatable by anyone who just wants to press the continue button over and over again, making the game fundamentally worthless as the average gamer tends to ignore the actual level design and insane difficulty of the game. It also makes them play recklessly because hey, unlimited continues. Screw that. SNK has struck the perfect balance here with MS7 and although I prefer, “The more you play, the more continues you earn” style, this is arguably just as good.

MS7 is probably the most balanced of all Metal Slug titles. The difficulty levels are different enough that you can feel it, and easy is actually easy for the first time in SNK history, making one of their titles accessible to all gamers. Sure the game is still pretty hard and only an idiot savant wilol beat the game on his first playthrough, but MS7 managed to strike the perfect accord between being challenging and rewarding, making it playable by all.

Balance Rating:Unparalleled

7. Originality

The main game of MS7 is indeed a cookie cutter experience. Only level design and boss fights separate one MS game from another, and even then it can be a blur for even the most ardent of MS fans. Combat School is highly enjoyable, but even here, many of the missions are the same exact level, just with a different goal, making things run together. Plus, this isn’t the first time SNK has done Combat School. Just play Metal Slug X and you’ll find it there too.

Although MS7 is a lot of fun and offers some nice new gameplay issues and a fun new mode, it really is bereft of creativity. The core game, albeit it quality, has not changed since the very first Metal Slug title. This makes these few innovations truly stand out, but also reinforces just how little the series as grown since its inception.

Originality Rating: Bad

8. Addictiveness

I have to admit I spent a lot of time on this game, but most of it was trying to improve my scores in Combat School. The main game of MS7 was fun, and I enjoyed trying out all the new characters, but because Combat School was new and different, I found myself drawn to doing something other than the same old, same old.

The main game has its moments, but after seven Metal Slugs featuring the same exact runthroughs, the eyes tend to glaze over a bit, even if this IS the best MS since MS3. Combat School will definitely keep MS veterans glued to this game as they try to raise their rankings and scores, while the new MS7, although derivative of the previous six, will provide a lot of entertainment as you try out all the new characters, regardless of your previous Metal Slug experience.

Addictiveness Rating: Above Average

9. Appeal Factor

Well Metal Slug and run n’ gun shooters in general have gone from being one of the most popular forms of gaming (Ikari Warriors, Contra, Rush N’ Attack) to being a very niche type of game. It also doesn’t help that a small publisher like Ignition won’t be treated on a level playing field with the larger publishers like Konami, Capcom and EA. It’s a pity too, because MS7 is a really fun game and SNK has made huge headway with this game in regards to making it accessible to all types of gamers rather than their core psycho audience, of which I am a proud member.

MS7 is a great little action game, and its sliding difficulty level means that most anyone can pick it up and have fun with it. Combat School and POW collection are still there for the long time fans of the series to provide them with a nice challenge while their younger siblings or less experienced friends take on General Morden for the first time. If Ignition can get the shelf space and some quality press, MS7 has the potential to be a DS sleeper hit and a great first glimpse into the SNK catalog for a lot of gamers. Will it be the best game people have played on the DS this year. No. Will they have fun with it even while being challenged? Yes, and that’s what counts.

Appeal Factor: Above Average

10. Miscellaneous

On one hand, this is the best MS since the third game in the series. One the other hand, there are two big strikes against it that need to be addressed here. The first is that there is no multiplayer mode. There’s not even a linking of two carts to each other over wi-fi. This is a shame because multiplayer Metal Slug is a lot of fun as well as a source of the series’ appeal. The other big strike against this game is that it is coming to Xbox Live in the beginning of 2009 for a fraction of the cost of the DS game. Now, for hardcore MS fans such as myself, that’s not a problem. I love having portable Metal Slug for the first time since the awesome titles for the Neo*Geo Pocket Colour, but most gamers will be better off going for the Xbox live version as it will be cheaper and just as good, and boasting a bigger screen to boot. If you DON’T have an Xbox, then yes, this is the way to go, but remember you’re paying for the portability and chance to play this game a few months early. It’s up to you if it’s worth more than doubling the Xbox Live purchase price it’ll have. The real wait and see will be if the XBL version has Combat School or if it’s just the main game you are buying. From a consumer standpoint it is probably smarter to wait and see what the XBL release is like, but from a supporter of a small indie publisher standpoint, it may be better to buy the game for the DS simply to see what other awesome titles Ignition will bring stateside.

Miscellaneous Rating: Mediocre

The Scores
Story/Modes: Decent
Graphics: Decent
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Unparalleled
Replayability: Good
Balance: Unparalleled
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary

Although the main game of Metal Slug 7 is getting both predictable and a bit stale, I can’t deny that this game is a lot of fun and the best Metal Slug since MS3. Combat School is surprisingly fun and long time MS fans will spend most of their time in here simply due to the shiny new nature of this spin off. Casual gamers or those new to the MS franchise will be happy to hear this is the most accessible game SNK has put out since the original Baseball Stars for the NES, which a sliding difficulty scale that actually prevents SNK Boss Syndrome. This is certainly a better purchase then the Commando: Steel Disaster rip off from a few months back, and traditional run and gun shooter fans will be quite pleased if they decide to add this to their collection.