Metal Slug XX has a curious title. Have I really paid so little attention to this Contra-clone that they've managed to release twenty of these games? Is this a brand new Metal Slug spin-off that I should know about? It turns out that Metal Slug XX is actually an updated version of Metal Slug 7, the two year old Nintendo DS action game. The name (pronounced "Double X") is a call back to the original Metal Slug X, which in turn was an updated version of Metal Slug 2. Name confusion aside, SNK Playmore have crated yet another solid shoot-em-up that will immediately remind you of everything you love AND hate about this series.
Although the Metal Slug series is now fourteen years old, you would never know it based on this PSP game. This is still a traditional 2D shooter, along the lines of Contra or Gunstar Heroes. You run from left to right shooting at soldiers, collecting power-ups and battling gigantic bosses. The graphics, sound and gameplay haven't changed a bit in all this time, which is either endearing or frustrating depending on who you ask.
There's not much of a story here, you play one of six familiar characters (seven if you download the optional content) fighting through a bunch of levels and rescuing prisoners along the way. In other words, it's exactly like every other Metal Slug game. You start out fighting Nazi-like soldiers through dangerous mine shafts and junkyards, only to realize that there's something more supernatural at play here. Although you are essentially doing the same thing in all seven levels, the way the "story" plays out keeps you involved enough to see the game to the end.
The draw to this series has been the gorgeous hand-drawn graphics. Instead of switching to 3D polygon graphics, SNK stuck with the sprite-based look. Because of this, Metal Slug has a timeless look that makes the ultra-violence a little easier to stomach. All of the characters in the game are expressive and the backgrounds are constantly changing around you. This series has a definite art style, and as far as I'm concerned it's Metal Slug's greatest asset.
Unfortunately, the fourteen year old gameplay is starting to wear a little thin. There's no reason that seven games in we can't shoot diagonally, it's something fans have been begging for since 1996. It also wouldn't hurt the franchise to add some diversity. I know this is a standard 2D shooter, but take a page out of Gunstar Heroes book and give us more to do than shoot, shoot, shoot. Don't get me wrong, Metal Slug XX is a fun action game with an incredible amount of character. I just wish the game would evolve a little.
As an arcade game, Metal Slug XX is there to steal your quarters. The bullets are purposely hard to dodge and there are far too many enemies to kill, the idea is to keep popping in quarters until you beat the game. Well, nothing has changed in this PSP port. There's no real penalty for continuing when you die, so I found myself playing the game a lot more recklessly than I normally would. It's not like you're going to lose any ground, when you die you come back in where you died AND have a full set of grenades. Purists will likely want to play with as few continues as possible, but the fact that you can use hundreds and even thousands of continues without consequence just feels like bad design.
Because of the disregard for my own life, I was able to play through the game in around 40 minutes. While that's on par with past Metal Slug games, it feels incredibly short for a $20 game. There's no reason this should cost the same price as the Metal Slug Anthology, especially when this game feels no better or worse than any of the games in that thorough compilation. At most this should have been a $10 game, there simply isn't enough content in this package to warrant anything higher.
Perhaps this review is not the venue for this, but Metal Slug XX reminds of why I'm always a little let down by SNK's efforts. I wish that in the past fourteen years the Metal Slug developers could have figured out a way to keep this franchise fresh. Instead all they're doing is recycling levels, weapons, enemies, bosses and everything else associated with this series. Even when I jumped on the back of an ostrich, I felt like I had been there and done that before. Metal Slug XX feels interchangeable with any of the games in the Metal Slug Anthology, which is bad news for the seventh installment in a fourteen year old franchise.
It's time for a chance. I suggest you look at your strengths, such as the expressive characters and weapons. Create some over-the-top weapons that you can only pick up when you beat bosses, a la Mega Man. Or give these characters a real reason to fight. And spend that extra day developing a proper ending, it's the least you can do. And while we're at it, if you're going to make a 2D shooter in the 21st century, then let me shoot diagonally. If you do nothing else, just let me shoot diagonally!
But I digress; I hate to simply complain about all of the things Metal Slug does wrong. Behind the staleness of this franchise there is a fun action game that will keep you going for close to an hour. I'm not sure how many times I'll want to come back to it, but I suspect I'll revisit the game with a second player sooner than later. With its great presentation and solid action, it's hard not to love Metal Slug XX. I just say that there's no reason to buy this when you already have Metal Slug Anthology.
Metal Slug purists may hate me for saying this, but it's time for this franchise to evolve. Metal Slug XX is a fun action game that simultaneously reminds me why I love AND hate this series. The great graphics and expressive characters aren't enough to make this two year old port worth $20!