Metal Slug XX
There’s something strangely comforting in SNK’s Metal Slug series. A reliable standby for old-school gamers, the franchise hasn’t changed a bit since debuting in the mid-90's. Other franchises have made the jump to 3D and added different gameplay elements, but Metal Slug has stood stoic in the face of time and technology. Sure, new characters have been introduced -- along with new weaponry and even bigger bosses to take on -- but by and large each addition to the franchise has had the same 2D sprite-based graphical frantic action we’ve been enjoying since the first Metal Slug hit arcades and pizza parlors worldwide.
Metal Slug XX represents the latest iteration in the long-running shooter series, and delivers what you’d expect. As a matter of fact, if you picked up Metal Slug 7 for the Nintendo DS when it launched about a year and half ago, you can stop reading now, as this is little more than a port of that game, albeit on Sony’s handheld and with added co-op play through ad-hoc. If you’re a hardcore fan of the series and PSP owner who missed out on the game’s DS version, then this game could be right up your alley.
If you’ve never heard of Metal Slug (which would mean a) you don’t like pizza b) are new to gaming or c) have been living under a rock for the past 14 years), the series is a run and gun shooter in the vein of Contra. You take on herds of enemies with a variety of weapons and several vehicles sprinkled in like tanks, planes, and the occasional bipedal mech, rescue POWs, and blow gigantic bosses to kingdom come. The action unfolds exclusively on a 2D plane, and you’ll run from one end of the stage to the other laying waste to anything that gets into your path. Your character isn’t terribly strong and the game works on a one-hit-kill mechanic, meaning that you’ll die. A lot. There is certainly no shortage of action in the Metal Slug franchise, which has always been its main appeal.
And, boy, what action it is. You’ll face off against myriad foes, ranging from run-of-the-mill foot soldiers to heavy weapons like missile launchers and crazy mechanical bosses. One section of the game has a waterfall raining tanks on you as you avoid them in order to get to the next section. You read that right; tanks! The gameplay controls well too, never laggy or overly frustrating.
While the challenge level may be ramped up substantially from other action games on the market (the game also offers up a few different difficulty modes), even newcomers should have no problem completing the game even on their first playthrough, due to unlimited continues. Continuing will pop you right back into the action where your character died off, with the only difference between losing a life and using a continue being a slight delay in the action the chance to change to another character.
The game boasts several different characters, allowing you to switch between six soldiers on your mission, each one with their own specific boost to bring to the table. Depending on who you choose, you’ll get such perks as special melee attacks for when enemies get too close, increased grenade capacity, or even invulnerability to one shot. However, considering the fast pace and overall intensity of the game, these additions are fairly negligible, and the “shoot anything that moves” strategy will be your go-to one regardless of who you choose.
One added bonus over the DS iteration of the PSP game is the addition of ad-hoc co-op play, a feature sorely lacking in the former. This is how the game is meant to be played, as adding in a buddy adds to the fun substantially. However, the lack of full online play via infrastructure is a bummer.
Aside from that, the differences between this and Metal Slug 7 are modest at best. The PSP game doesn’t fully support the added real estate of the PSP’s 16:9 screen, and playing in fullscreen mode results in the graphics appearing too stretched for some gamers' tastes. Fortunately, there is an option to play the game in 4:3, which allows the aesthetic to appear as it was meant to look, but you’d think with the year and a half gap between this and the DS version that the developers would’ve been able to beef it up properly to the wider screen.
Metal Slug XX is a fine addition to the franchise, giving hardcore legions of fans what they’ve come to want and love from the series. However, those expecting to see the franchise branch out and change up the formula will be disappointed.