SNK Playmore's Metal Slug franchise, which began back in 1996 in the arcades, has graced numerous consoles and handhelds ever since. The frantic run-and-gun side-scrolling gameplay, complete with tongue-in-cheek humor and highly-detailed 2D hand-drawn sprite-based graphics have made the series a fan favorite. While this formula might work in the arcades, on home consoles and handhelds it makes for a hit-and-miss approach due to their lack of depth and grueling difficulty. Is Metal Slug XX a game that everyone can enjoy, or does it cater solely to the most hardcore of Metal Slug fans?
For those who are unaware, Metal Slug XX is a PSP remake of Metal Slug 7, which was released on the Nintendo DS back in 2008. The story involves General Morden, who is the main antagonist from many of the previous titles in the series. After defeating the General in the first level, a futuristic army comes through a portal and saves Morden, providing him with advanced weaponry to accomplish his goals. While the story is simplistic in nature, this isn't much of an issue, since people don't play Metal Slug for its plot - Metal Slug is played to shoot down everything in sight while evading enemy attacks and saving POWs. And in this case, the core twitch reflex-based gameplay is fully intact in Metal Slug XX. There is a ton of on-screen action in the form of bullets, grenades, dynamite, tanks, helicopters and much, much more that are constantly firing, all while players are trying to hit them back and take them down.
Metal Slug XX emulates an arcade joystick by mapping the movement and aiming controls to either the directional pad or the analog stick on the PSP. However, in the heat of battle this can become difficult, as either control scheme fails to work as fluidly as an arcade stick. For those who remember top-down 2D SNES game which only allowed for eight directions of movement, aiming in Metal Slug works the same way. So if an enemy is slightly off one of those eight directions, one will be forced to move around to shoot them, increasing the chances of getting hit by enemy fire. This gets compounded in some of the later sections, where the developers simply piled on the enemies without taking this issue into consideration, making the game much more frustrating than it needs to be.
Once players gets used to this slight issue, the game becomes much more enjoyable. In combat, Metal Slug is known for two distinct abilities: a variety of special weapons and a variety of drivable mechs, known as "Slugs". Metal Slug XX features almost every weapon imaginable, including rocket launchers, a gun that can shoot lightning bolts and laser guns. Up to two weapons can be stored at a time, which can be switched between using the R button on the PSP. These weapons are obtained by saving the various POWs that are placed in the game's stages. Besides weapons, these POWs can also replenish grenade stock, which are useful for clearing out groups of enemies at once, as well as items that boost total score for the level. The other feature, the Slugs, makes the player invulnerable for as long as the mech's health lasts, which is drained by enemy attacks. These Slugs also increase the players' power by over double, making the more hectic parts of the game much more manageable.
Three difficulties are available, each with unlimited continues. Easy mode is great for those who aren't used to Metal Slug's brand of hectic gameplay, while Hard mode gives the most hardcore fans an experience that feels just like the arcades. Even with unlimited continues, Metal Slug XX is still quite challenging, so don't be surprised if multiple continues are used while playing through the game's main campaign. Regardless of the difficulty that is chosen, Metal Slug XX is quite short, with only seven levels in all with a very underwhelming final boss. For most, even on easy Metal Slug XX will be too short and difficult to get into. Hardcore fans, however, will probably enjoy the short levels and brutal difficulty, especially on Hard, making them feel right at home.
The Combat School, a new addition to the PSP version, includes over 70 challenges to complete, wrapped around a ranking system which gives players points depending on how they complete the challenges. While this in itself isn't much of a problem, many of the challenges are simple rehashes of the main campaign's levels with extra criteria added on such as not getting hit or only using the most basic weapons. Some of the challenges, such as evading falling debris before the time runs out is quite fun, so seeing that the developers simply rehashed existing content for most of the mode is quite disheartening.
Metal Slug XX isn't a bad game by any means. One can tell that SNK Playmore put a lot of work into the sprite-based graphics and fine-tuned the enemy placement for the most part. However, this being the seventh game in the series, more of the same old isn't enough. Metal Slug XX is still stuck in the arcade mentality where control issues and a lack of depth are considered "features". Because of this, only the hardcore fans and those with nostalgia for the Metal Slug series can truly enjoy the game.