Does the new handheld Slug leave a trail of slimy goodness, or has the little bugger dried up?
The Metal Slug series started in the arcades but slowly slithered its way onto home consoles. For those unfamiliar with these games, it can best be summed up as a Contra clone, but with its own unique flare. Over the top explosions, big guns, and wonderful hand-drawn sprites have made the Slug series a cult favorite. Metal Slug has not been on a handheld console since the two games on the Neo Geo Pocket Color; but, unfortunately, the transition to the GBA was not a pleasant one.
The game play is similar to any other title in the series. The player for the most part will travel through each level scrolling left to right, killing all who stand in your way. Hostages can be saved by touching them and freeing them from their binds. Once set free, hostages will drop new weapon power-ups. The standard gun that never runs out of ammo is a simple pistol; but automatic machine guns, shots guns, missile launchers, and much, much more can be found. Each stage usually ends with a boss battle that takes up most of the screen. If the player manages to save hostages and defeat the boss at the end of the level without perishing, then those hostages are unlocked in the main status screen. Saving all the hostages will certainly keep perfectionists busy for a while.
The game play ideals remain the same in Metal Slug Advance, but many key ingredients have been altered. First, the player now has a health bar. In all the other Metal Slugs, if the player was hit once whether by a bullet or explosion, he would die. Immediately after the dying animation, the player would be respawned in the spot where he perished. Once you lost all of your lives, the game was over. Mercifully you didn’t need quarters to continue at home. However, Metal Slug Advance changes this great style of play by adding a superfluous health bar. While it usually took about four to five hits to deplete the heath bar, the game immediately ended if you fell down a hole. This increases the difficultly as well as frustration.
Also, enemies immediately return once the screen has shifted. For example, running left to right while shooting numerous enemies, if you jump back to dodge (and thus change screens), the enemies are back again. It’s the MegaMan X effect–even if you killed an enemy less than a second previously, once you go off screen, they return. This adds too much difficulty, especially when trying to jump over holes, missiles, and enemies at the same time.
Unlike the other Metal Slugs, Metal Slug Advance has jerky controls. Moving the character onscreen just isn’t smooth. This product of choppier animation and a reduced frame rate, ultimately leads to frustrating, inaccurate control; and it is still impossible to shoot on an angle. To add to the frustration; everything seems to take tons of bullets to kill. Even on the Normal difficulty, getting through each level is a challenge. Difficult levels later in the game are one thing, but it’s a problem when veteran players have trouble getting past level two.
Not only did SNK change a good game play formula, they removed the key characters from the game. Marco is nowhere on the selection screen so you’re left to play as one of two new characters: Walter or Tyra. Also, there is no 2 player option of any kind. Playing this game co-op would decrease the difficulty and add to the fun factor. There is only one good reason why this game was made to be so hard. There are only five levels. Yes, collecting cards and saving prisoners will make gamers play through some of the levels again, but beating a stage without dying is a tremendous feat.
On the plus side, the game has some nicely composed tunes. The music and sound effects are clear and catchy. The same narrator that was in all the other Metal Slugs once again announce which gun you just collected.
On the other hand, the graphics are a mixed bag. The game almost looks like it did on Xbox’s Metal Slug 3, with its hand drawn sprites and detailed backgrounds; but everything isn’t as smooth as it once was. As previously stated, the reduced frame rate resulted in seriously choppy character animations – to the point where the game play itself suffered. But it is still fun to watch enemy soldiers screaming in terror and diving out of the way when a grenade is thrown. Before each mission, a nicely rendered high res image greets the player; nice enough to wish that there were more of them in the game.
The Metal Slug series has always been fun and very entertaining. Sadly, Metal Slug Advance is the worst game in the franchise with the stupid health bar, insane difficulty, shoddy frame rate, unknown playable characters, lack of a co-op link mode, and merciless respawning enemies. Longtime fans of the series will be massively disappointed in this new handheld edition. It’s definitely time to go play Metal Slug 2 on the Neo Geo Pocket Color.