Game Reviews

Metal Slug Defense

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Metal Slug Defense

If you listen to the Pocket Gamer Podcast (or, indeed, if you watch it), then you'll know that I have one big question before I start playing Metal Slug Defense: who the hell asked for a Metal Slug-themed tower defence game?

Not me, that's for sure. I wanted another frantic and gorgeous side-scrolling shooter. It doesn't look like SNK Playmore has cast me as the lead character either. Did they even read my letters?

Anyway, a tower defence game is what's just been released, so I suppose I should spend the next seven days finding out whether it's any good.

Here's hoping it manages to make good use of a great licence, tying Marco, Tarma, Morden, the Mars People, and all the other beloved characters and vehicles into a game that feels authentic within the Metal Slug universe.

First impressions

You know what? So far, it absolutely has managed to feel like the real deal: Metal Slug Defense captures a good amount of what makes the Metal Slug games special.

The game takes almost all of its visual and audio assets from the main series of games, and they're still damned impressive, almost 20 years after the first game in the series was released.

Set in "20XX", Metal Slug Defense sees the Rebels and Mars People once again attacking civilisation, and it's up to you to defend multiple stages from their beastly ways.

After the iconic "Mission Start!" voiceover fades, you must send out troops to destroy the opposing enemy's base. Troops cost points, which slowly build up and are doled out by Rumi Aikawa - the girl with the backpack from various stages of the main titles - and the more powerful the unit, the more points it'll cost you.

If soldiers are on the battlefield for long enough, they'll be surrounded by a blue aura, which when tapped initiates their special move (such as throwing a grenade).

By the end of a successful stage, you'll have destroyed the enemy HQ, rescued POWs, fought tanks, laid defences, and probably banged your head along to the rocking soundtrack.

So far, I'm loving it.

Day 3: Slugging through

Being a free-to-play game, your progression in Metal Slug Defense is artificially slowed, in this case by the need to improve the troops you have so that they become more powerful and can best the harder enemies that lie in wait.

You can also improve your base, so that you are able to create troops more quickly, take more damage, can field the Metal Slug more quickly, and so on.

You do this using money, and you earn enough of it through normal play to proceed quickly through the first set of levels. But around the end of the second set, a pile of metaphorical sandbags are placed, impeding your progress. You then have to head back to earlier levels for more moolah, and to hopefully rescue more POWs.

I'm still digging Defense though, and it's not just for the presentation. The tower defence gameplay requires fast reactions and quick thinking from the player, much like the core games it's based on, and though you definitely become stronger through play it's always possible to lose a battle.

If there's one element I'm not enjoying, it's that my army is exactly the same as it was a couple of days ago. It consists of a chap who builds defences, some soldiers, and Marco. I'd like to add to my team and customise it a little, but that costs Medals, and as yet none of them have been forked over in the single-player.

Apparently you can win these Medals in multiplayer, but I'm yet to be able to get a match online going to nab some. Hopefully that'll change before I'm done with the review.

Day 7: Slugging it out

Multiplayer throughout my week with Metal Slug Defense has been iffy. I frequently couldn't get a match going in any capacity, with the game returning an error message.

When I could connect with others in the ranked game, I found the matchmaking to be woefully poor, and I was always matched up with opponents who had progressed much further in the campaign than I had.

Because of this, I didn't stand a chance. You bring your team from the single-player into the multiplayer, and as you can imagine, if one player has inherently more powerful troops than another, that player has a distinct advantage, regardless of performance.

The mode also suffers from severe lag, resulting in the game forgetting commands you've made. In the case of the special powers, this is troublesome, because so many of them rely on getting the timing just right. Consequently Tarma's short range shotgun blast becomes almost useless online.

I did acquire some medals through this mode, though (and by returning to the game to receive my log-in bonus), and I'm slowly gaining more units because of this.

I just bought the motorcycle and sidecar troop type, as it's quick to produce, fast moving, and has a powerful special attack. New units bring with them new strategies for play, and keep things from getting stale.

You're also given a new character for each set of levels you complete. These tend to be the named heroes from the series, though you can also unlock the Mars People this way.

After one week I'm remarkably impressed by Metal Slug Defense. It takes the core ideas of the Metal Slug series and applies them thoughtfully to the tower defence genre. Spotty online and the game's slight reliance on grind aside, this is a very strong casual strategy game.

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Metal Slug Defense

A surprisingly faithful recreation of the tone of the Metal Slug franchise, transposed to a tower defence game. Shame about the unstable and unfair multiplayer