Seven only works if you go to Russia.
If Police Academy taught us anything, it’s that re-using the same formula time and again equals cinema gold, and Ignition Entertainment have caught on to this with the release of Metal Slug 7. Metal Slug is a series of arcade-style shooters that is basically Contra, if Contra were sprayed with a fire hose full of anime box sets. You choose from six playable characters with no discernible difference and fight tooth and nail through legions of baddies, racking up a body count to rival John Rambo's.
The controls are fairly simple: move with the D-pad, shoot with one button, and jump with another. You can use the touch-screen to view your map, although if you can‘t figure out where to go, odds are you‘re having this review read to you while you struggle with your juice box.
I find that, in writing this, any review of Metal Slug 7 will be a retrospective of the series as a whole because if you’ve played one Metal Slug, you’ve played them all. But if you felt the first game needed to be about an hour longer and you really needed more character choice than “Player1” or “Player2”, then perhaps Metal Slug 7 is the game you’ve been waiting for in between Ritalin doses.
The only significant additions are the new vehicles called "slugs" - a tank, a plane, a robot on a radio flier wagon, the trouble bubble from GI Joe, a bipedal shopping cart with guns, and a giant robot - but even they (except for that last one) are kind of boring. Metal Slug is also one of those “realistic” shooters where you can’t take a bullet to the chest without flinching and where you can get run down by a tank and come out smelling like roses.
While in one of these “slugs”, left and right control movement, and up and down control your aim. But as simple as this sounds, this can be frustrating to the point of throwing your DS out the nearest window. You will also be attacked from both sides, which won’t aid in the grounding of any airborne DSs. This kind of design would be okay if it was for an arcade game, but it’s not, so there’s no need to bilk players for quarters. Fortunately, you have the option to forego the vehicles in most cases, and in the parts where you are required to use one, it’s not so bad. In fact, one of them has you piloting the aforementioned giant robot and going toe to toe with a similarly sized fellow.
In addition to DS-hurling-difficulty levels, the frame rate is surprisingly low. Sometimes when you’re killing tons of dudes, the game will start to lag. And since you’re never not killing tons of dudes, this happens with vexatious frequency. And this is a cheapo 2D game! The DS can handle this caliber of game with ease, so the blame for this falls squarely on the dev team. What did they use the rest of the space on the cartridge for? Did they surgically remove it and put it under their collective pillows for the Good Idea Fairy?
I realize that Metal Slug wants very much to be Contra but continuously aping it is getting a bit old. I understand that Contra tried the full 3D route, and it was about as fun and interesting as a trip to the DMV; but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done well, as nearly every Nintendo property has proven. And before I get too tangential, I’d like to point out that aping a Konami game (Konami, a company that has tried and failed to take some of its best franchises 3D) is probably a worse idea than not changing the formula.
The Metal Slug series has always struck me as a rather lazy franchise, constantly releasing cookie-cutter sequels, which is often referred to as “Madden Syndrome”. The game’s obnoxious difficulty harkens back to the olden days, when games only had four colors and could only be mastered by the obsessive, and it only seems to serve as a way to lengthen gameplay. But it all begs the question: Why bother? Why bother trying to get a high score when no one can see it? Why bother with the vehicles when the same result can be achieved on foot? Why bother releasing a port of an arcade game with no major changes or additions?
The complete omission of multi-player is perhaps the most perplexing of all. Part of the fun of arcade-style shoot`em-ups is playing with your friends (or at least some other friendless obsessive). Without it, players are forced to take a uncomfortable trip down Memory Lane and remember how they squandered their childhood in the dark noise of the arcade alone, memorizing the exact order they fought the bosses in Mega Man 2.
There’s a story somewhere amid the constant gunfire of Metal Slug 7, but frankly, up yours if you came into this for Metal Slug’s story. Here’s all you need to know: shoot whoever isn’t you. If you really need to know the story, it involves taciturn heroic archetypes (or “silent bad-asses”, for you simpletons) fighting Saddam Hussein, who has now teamed up with aliens, proving that game writers are getting their ideas from 2nd graders playing make-believe.
For all of my bitching, I don’t hate Metal Slug 7. It’s fun enough, functional, and perfect for short bus rides, but I enjoyed playing it more the last six times it was released. Metal Slug 7 proves that shaking down a series for a seventh installment only works if it stars Ron Perlman.