Recycling isn't just for environmentalists anymore. Add SNK Playmore to the list of groups trying to save the planet through salvaging, although what the developer is doing with Metal Slug XX is far from admirable. This Xbox Live Arcade addition to the venerable series of 2D side-scrolling shooters is actually a retread of Metal Slug 7, released for the Nintendo DS at the end of 2008, so be aware that you might have played this game before. And while the action is insanely intense and boasts a great co-op mode, like all good side-scrollers that trace their family trees back to the 1990s, the game is very short and the price is awfully high at 1,200 points.
If you know what you're getting, Metal Slug XX can be a hell of a ride. As in the rest of the franchise going back to its debut on the NeoGeo in 1996, the action is all about running and gunning. In both the seven-level solo/co-op campaign and the single-player-only combat training mode where you fight dozens of quickie one-off battles, you go up against the evil General Morden's regular troops plus his new cadre of future soldiers wearing helmets with antennas. Not that you need to care about any of this story stuff. All you have to understand is that you've got to kill everything in sight while jumping around and activating the odd platform.
Gameplay is identical to the previous Metal Slugs, which in turn ripped off earlier scrolling shooters, such as Contra. The only real difference between the Metal Slug series and its predecessors is a reliance on murderous tank vehicles called slugs. Whereas something like Super C forced you to mostly blast it out on terra firma, here you frequently get the chance to wreak havoc while driving tanks, mechs, and even giant mechanical ostriches. Difficulty in the campaign is just brutal when going it alone, even if you play on beginner with unlimited continues, because the levels are geared for co-op play either locally or over the smooth and lag-free Xbox Live connection. One enemy shot takes you out, so you can easily find yourself stuck in a rut of getting killed over and over again in difficult sections of levels.
Despite this level of difficulty, it can be hard to walk away, especially when buddying up with a friend to take on the campaign as a team in co-op. Everything gets a touch monotonous at times, because Metal Slug XX doesn't mix up enemy assault waves as much as it should, but the pace is always snappy even when the never-ending stream of enemy soldiers, tanks, mortars, and choppers makes you want to cry uncle. This is one of those nutso shooters that hit you with so much running and gunning that you never get the chance to think long enough to decide to stop playing. The game's brevity also keeps you going, as you can finish the seven brief levels in a single 60-minute session as long as you're playing on easy or in co-op. So you just keep going until you're done, which is long after you realize that you're doing the same thing over and over again.
Virtually nothing has been done to update Metal Slug XX for the Xbox 360. So you get an old game with a new (misleading) name. The visuals look a lot like those seen in handheld versions of the game, simply blown up to fill a TV screen. Well, almost fill a TV screen. The graphics haven't even been adapted for widescreen presentation, so the game is shown in 4:3 with buffers filling in the gaps on widescreen TVs. At any rate, the visuals are plagued by big pixels, blurry backgrounds, and many head-spinning scenes where so many jagged projectiles fill the screen that you never see the bullet with your name on it.
Yet the game manages to retain a fair amount of its cartoonish charm. Commandos still look more like Saturday-morning cartoon heroes than real soldiers, and enemies go through High School Musical theatrics in their death throes. Even the way the game dishes out power-ups is cute: you obtain rockets, lasers, and the like from rescued POWs with Rip Van Winkle beards. And announcements, such as when you acquire power-ups, are broadcast in '90s-era arcade voices--brassy shouted slogans in front of what often sounds like 16-bit sound effects and music. None of this is anything close to cutting edge, but it does establish a quirky old-time console atmosphere.
For 1,200 points, you should get more than just this rough port of a year-old DS game that can be finished in one sitting. Metal Slug XX is still a playable side-scrolling shooter with a fair number of good points, most notably the great co-op, but the disappointing nature of the port and the fact that it offers little replay value make it tough to recommend.