The initial announcement of Metal Slug 7 on the Nintendo DS was a stake to the heart of 2D lovers anywhere. In the arcades, it was often hailed as the epitome of spritework, and it seemed as if SNK had acknowledged that such games only belonged on portable platforms. (This just so happened to be the same conclusion that Konami came to with their Castlevania and Contra series around the same time.) It eventually redeemed itself with a re-release on the Xbox 360, but for awhile, it was content to be exclusive to portables. It’s also the first of the mainline series to be home exclusive, with no arcade release.
Metal Slug 7 is not the first portable Metal Slug, but it is the first portable instalment in the series proper – it is not a side game like the NGPC or GBA instalments. There are no map screens, no life bars, no concessions – it’s just like the old arcade games, with all of the pros and cons that it entails. Despite the smaller screen, the characters are all roughly in proportion to their arcade/console counterparts, the animation is just as smooth, there’s plenty of scattered debris and blood, and it’s just as difficult as it ever was. It’s obviously not quite perfect though. The sprites have just been rescaled as opposed to redrawn, so all of the characters look smudgy and pixellated. The backgrounds, too, seem to have been created to be displayed at a higher resolution, and there’s a weird shimmering as the screen scrolls. There is a bit of slowdown, but it’s consistent with the Neo Geo games. The only major blow is the lack of any two player mode – if Contra 4 could do it, then why not this? Toshikazu Tanaka returns for the soundtrack, but it sounds pretty scratchy coming from the DS, and it’s pretty boring anyway.
So while it does make good on its titular promise to play like a true Metal Slug game, the quality of said game is a bit more questionable. The series stumbled with the fourth and fifth installments, but the additions to the sixth game were very much welcomed. Unfortunately, the designers have fallen back into the same rut. It carries forward all of the features from Metal Slug 6, including all six characters, their special abilities, and the scoring system.
There are multiple difficulty levels, with the easiest granting you a permanent heavy machine gun, but unlike Metal Slug 6, you can complete the whole game on the easiest level. You can also restart at any stage once you conquer it, so even though it’s quite difficult, it’s easily beatable with a few tries. Like the console releases, there’s a Combat School option to compensate a bit.
It does not, however, add much of anything else. There are seven levels – one more than a usual Metal Slug game – but they’re mostly dull retreads of everything we’ve seen before. Once again, the backgrounds have that rendered look that looks amazingly dull compared to the beautiful pixel art of the earlier games, and so much of the game takes place in mines and underground caverns that it feels way too dark. The new enemies include metal suit wearing Morden soldiers from an alternate dimension that appears to have emerged out of a Stargate, but this doesn’t make for any particularly interesting encounters. Some of the boss fights use impressive multi segmented sprites that animated separately through rotation effects, which are the few areas that are somewhat impressive. The sixth stage puts you in control a gigantic mech, stumbling forward and smashing over enemies, before challenging Colonel Allen mano-a-mano in a similar machine. The other interesting stage gives you a parachute, slowing your descent as you fall off cliffs into an enemy stronghold. There’s a new weapon that shoots out lightning, but even the Slugs here are pretty boring.
The game was re-released in 2009 under the name Metal Slug XX, published first on the PSP and then on the Xbox 360 Live Arcade. The title seems to suggest, like with Metal Slug X and Metal Slug 2, this improved version was supposed to be the version the developers initially wanted to release. Indeed, the PSP and Xbox 360 actually has the screen space to display Metal Slug as it should be (though it was still designed for a typical arcade 4:3 aspect ratio rather than a widescreen display). The sound quality is much better than the DS, and it actually supports two player mode too.
However, very little of the core game has actually changed. Some color palettes have changed a bit – the first level takes place at dusk rather than mid-day, for example – but otherwise the only real addition is Leona (from The King of Fighters) as a seventh playable, only available as DLC. She has slightly more ammunition and can take more hits in a Slug, and also has a Moon Slasher skill to deflect projectiles.
Other than a few fleeting moments of inspiration, Metal Slug 7/XX is definitely a case of same-old, same-old. The appeal of playing a portable Metal Slug is somewhat lessened by the Metal Slug Anthology for the PSP, which offers a total of six (and half, counting X) Metal Slug games, a majority of which are quite a bit better than this one.