Metal Slug Advance GBA Review

For everything it did right, the Neo Geo Pocket never really got a proper "Metal Slug" game. While the two entries on the 8-bit portable were more than satisfying, the hardware limitations really hindered the feel the series was known for. Now, thanks to somewhat powerful GBA hardware, "Metal Slug" finally goes portable with very few sacrifices.

Here's a rare portable title that captures the essence, playability, and sheer fun factor of the home console version it's trying to copy. This is not a port, but an entirely new experience, one that works amazingly well on the small screen. The gameplay remains the same with a one-man army blasting away at an onslaught of enemy characters that never seems to stop coming. The only major deletion is the two-player mode, but things would likely get crowded very quickly on such a small screen.

The title of the game comes from the various vehicles one can pilot. These are strewn about in the levels and once inside, you pretty much become an unstoppable force until the enemy can counter with something equally as powerful. There are surprisingly few options in this regard for this on-the-go version, but they still add variety and some spectacular moments of destruction.

New and completely unique to the GBA cart are E-Cards. These are in game collectables featuring various items and characters from the game. There are 100 in all buried within the game and you'll have to stray pretty far off course if you want them all. Making things even more difficult is that when you die, you lose whatever cards you have collected in that stage.

Granted, staying alive is a bit easier here. Instead of the series rather harsh one-hit kills, the two lead characters can usually sustain four hits before going down. Some weapons will finish the player off quicker, but it makes the game far less frustrating for first timers or those who just can't handle the Neo Geo versions. Continuing is also far more forgiving as you start on the same screen died on (that's assuming you keep playing; turn the system off and you start at the beginning of the stage). A final service from SNK is the merciful auto-fire button, something that makes the originals downright painful to play without.

Though all of these features are nice, it can't make up for such short length. Only five standard stages are packed into this cart, a ridiculously short number anyway they are presented. Sure, there are plenty of secret stages to be found; some people just like to breeze through their games. These gamers will be shocked when the credits start to roll after the final (and absolutely brutal) boss battle. Why not just include an extra stage or two and cut down on the hard to find secret areas?

That nearly trademarked look this series is known for has been perfectly translated here. There are no fancy scaling or rotation effects here; the game doesn't need them. This is art in motion, plain and simple. These are intricately detailed sprites down to the last detail and splendid animation gives the game life. It's a real shame the blood has been cut, but it's hardly something that effects gameplay.

The same can be said for the music that blares through the meager speaker of the console. The classic theme is of course present along with all the priceless screams of dying adversaries. Gunfire can be a bit annoying to listen to (especially the standard issue handgun), but it's usually taking a backseat to the other sounds of battles being fought anyway.

Though there are some who may disagree, this is the best game to play for those who do not have experience with the series. No, it's not the best (not by a long shot), but the easier difficulty level combined with the short length provide an excellent glimpse into what these games have been throwing at gamers since 1996. It's better designed than the Neo Geo Pocket versions, it looks fantastic, and most importantly, it's incredibly fun to play.

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