Metal Slug Advance makes an impressive debut on the GBA. Those familiar with the NeoGeo console games will marvel at how accurately the essence of the game has been capture in terms of graphics, sound and gameplay. Those unfamiliar with the series are in for a nice surprise - as long as they like action - and lots of it.

Metal Slug Advance is not a port. This is an entirely new game specifically designed for the GBA. It uses multiple layered backgrounds for an incredible 3D look. The characters and graphics have a Heavy Metal cartoon style to them, rich in thick, shiny, metallic gear. For an action-based shooter it's got a unique look and feel.

Each level consists of numerous enemies which stand between you and boss. This is not an easy game as there are many times you will get killed. Expect some trial and error in some areas. Fortunately there are unlimited continues which will let you progress without starting over and the levels are divided into sections with checkpoints which means you don't have to start back at the beginning of the level or thankfully the beginning of the game.

Weapons and vehicles abound. The gameplay is frenetic but it's not very deep. Yet, the level designs, the variety of enemies and weapons, all help to keep it interesting. You literally don't have time to be bored.

You begin the game with a pistol and a few grenades. With the ability to accumulate more weapons and ammo from defeated enemies and bosses you'll be looking at machineguns, flamethrowers, rocket missiles and of course the Metal Slug tank which is armed to the teeth with machineguns and explosives. Enemies will come at you with similar weapons in addition to similar vehicles as well as choppers. There will be many occasions where you're no match for the bad guys and you will have to take defensive actions such as ducking, jumping and taking cover.

Missions include rescue, search and destroy and the location of specific items. A health meter lets you keep an eye on your life. Cards are hidden throughout the game which you will be advised to search for. Some are even relinquished by fallen enemies and rescued POWs. There are 100 cards in all, some of which act as power-ups giving you cheat-code style attributes such as permanent health. Other cards help you unlock new areas or paths while some will grant you more ammo. It's not necessary to collect all the cards to beat the game but it might be an incentive to replay the game since you can take new paths and use different weapons. If you get killed, you lose all the cards that you collected in that level. It really gives you a vested interest to stay alive while offering fresh gameplay elements your second time through.

Environments include the jungle, beach, mountains and desert. All of the locations benefiting from the layered graphics which gives them an incredible sense of depth. Although you can't explore the 3D areas the 2D levels are large enough to keep you satisfied. The animations are excellent whether it's the enemy death scene or the Metal Slug crossing crevices like a metal-legged spider. Unlike the NeoGeo version there is no bloodshed - but it's implied.

Metal Slug Advance proves that great things come in small packages. This is an ideal Christmas gift. It might even top the list of best GBA games in 2004.

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System: GBA
Dev: SNK
Pub: SNK
Release: Dec 2004
Players: 1
Review by Dean