Metal Slug 7 (DS) review
"That's when you realize that something has changed. Somewhere between the first two dull stages and the end of the third frenetic round, you started having fun. Lots of it. Somewhere during that series of jumps and explosions and the escape from the steel ball and slimy worms, the pieces fell into place and Metal Slug 7 stopped feeling like a pale imitation of past glories. The “been there, done that” haze dissipated and suddenly you care."
Metal Slug 7 starts out slow. You're in an underground cavern, walking left-to-right as usual and blasting soldiers along the way. It's so familiar by now that some gamers could practically do it in their sleep. For two stages, the old routine persists. By the time you turn the second boss to scrap iron, you might be wondering why you're even still playing. The franchise, you'll think sourly, has jumped the shark.
Dismissing the game so quickly would be a mistake, though, because the third mission makes up for any early shortcomings. Though the backdrop remains decidedly cave-like, the ability to hop into a Metal Slug and wreak havoc--until now a mere afterthought--becomes wholly satisfying and all but necessary if you mean to survive. As a military train chugs forward, soldiers swarm you from the sides and even drop from the ceiling in turrets. You return fire with swaths of ammo that fill the screen with explosions: beautiful, chaotic bursts of flame.
As the train proceeds to the right, you next find yourself on an elevator... and hopefully still in possession of that all-important vehicle. Here your adversaries rain from above, parachutes deployed as they snipe you from a distance before drifting out of sight. More goons slide onto the scene, weapons ready. Over-sized cannons dangle from metal pipes and shell you as you pass. While you're dealing with all of that, spider-like robots fly from beneath, latch themselves onto the elevator and fire charged laser shots from below you.
Survive that gauntlet and you might think that celebration is in order, but there's no time. Next you'll find yourself fleeing like Indiana Jones as a massive steel ball rolls behind you. To survive that challenge in non-pancake form, you must negotiate a series of lifts and sloping planks as you descend deeper underground. Slimy creatures emerge from nests built along the roof and creep toward you with murderous intent. You know you've got it rough when even glowing worms want a piece of you.
Just when you imagine that things can't get any crazier, you reach the boss. It's a two-part machine that will try to charge you from the left while its second portion pelts you with spread shots from above. Sometimes the screen is absolutely riddled with bullets and it seems like there's nowhere to hide... but there is. As you stand hemmed into a corner with another explosive blast headed your way, you pump a futile flurry of shots at your opponent and brace for the worst.
That's when you realize that something has changed. Somewhere between the first two dull stages and the end of the third frenetic round, you started having fun. Lots of it. Somewhere during that series of jumps and explosions and the escape from the steel ball and slimy worms, the pieces fell into place and Metal Slug 7 stopped feeling like a pale imitation of past glories. The “been there, done that” haze dissipated and suddenly you care.
Amazingly, the remaining stages never give you a reason to look back. It's like the developers wanted to get all of the dull stuff out of the way so that they could delve into the goodness fans rightfully expect. Subsequent missions ditch the repetitive passages in favor of a variety of backdrops--from a massive waterfall to a ruined city to a snow-covered mountain pass--and foes that offer several unique types of resistance. You'll parachute from one building to another, face off against an insectoid machine as it crawls up a water-soaked chasm, take control of the largest vehicle you've ever controlled in the series and much more, all in time for an intense battle with a familiar acquaintance in the final stage.
The whole time, the DS hardware never threatens to break under the pressure. Even when the screen is flooded with so many enemies and so much shrapnel that you can barely see each gorgeous background, the action remains fast and furious. Explosions tear across each environment with all of the beauty you've come to expect and your chosen hero moves with the usual grace. Whether tanks are crashing down from above as you pass in front of a waterfall or airplanes are bombarding you while you cross a barren wasteland in your mech, you'll never have any real reason to complain about Nintendo's handheld.
The only real downside in Metal Slug 7 actually has nothing to do with technical aspects at all and instead comes in the form of uneven difficulty. There are three available settings. Though 'Normal' is just fine for the first half of the game or so, things grow increasingly complex until it's all you can do to survive. You'll need to memorize every wave of enemies and some impatient or busy gamers just won't want to bother. Dropping down to the available 'Easy' setting is almost insulting, though, because your stock of continues practically doubles. That wouldn't be so bad, but enemies also perish much more swiftly and your default weapon is the heavy machine gun. If you can't clear the game with those settings, you might as well just stick to checkers. As for 'Difficult,' good luck getting anywhere unless you're an elite Metal Slug player!
Such quirks might hold Metal Slug 7 back from true greatness, but they don't stop it from being something special. Indeed, it's arguably the best in the series since Metal Slug 3. The level of adrenaline it induces is definitely higher than it was in the most recent few installments and the variety on offer really kicks in with a vengeance once you clear those first two stages. While the whole experience doesn't last as long as you might like, what you get here is every bit as satisfying as the content in the previous installments. That means that even if the franchise has jumped the shark, it at least did so with guns blazing and left a dead fish behind. Call it a victory.
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 19, 2008)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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