Metal Slug Advance: SNK plays 52 pick-up

A few cards short of a full deck

At first glance, Metal Slug Advance is an effective facsimile of SNK's beloved run n' gun series. At first glance.

Nobody could expect the GBA to push out the customary full animation of the coin-op games, but it does a damn good job. Metal Slug Advance looks the part, and while frames are cut it's still very impressive visually. The feel is spot-on too, with movement, jumping and shooting all matching the rest of the series. It's missing the geysers of blood, but that's hardly surprising. All told, it's a Metal Slug game at its core. And that's what it delivers. Until it shows its hand.

Get it? Shows its hand. Because there are cards in the game now. Yes! Because this is a handheld game on a Nintendo system, there are collectable cards to... erm... collect. But rather than just being an arbitrary set of images to unlock, these cards actually have effects on the gameplay. You can activate basic enhancements like larger clips for your weapons, utilise optional modifications for your "Slug" tanks (variants that fire rockets, transforming them to the Slug Gunner mecha) or even shift the very terrain of earlier missions allowing access to alternate routes and more cards.

This makes the game's five missions (and a secret, unusual sixth one) much more replayable, with many cards (as well as the traditional P.O.Ws) hidden away in classic Metal Slug invisible hotspots, some of which are only accessible using card effects from other levels. It's a runaround, and you'll be playing the admittedly limited content on offer repeatedly if you want to get 100%.

And that's the problem with Metal Slug Advance. It's good, but it's repetitive by design when if it had dropped the cards and focused on more memorable linear missions it'd be something of a classic. As a result of the collectathon structure the game sabotages itself, offering up something that nobody could possibly want more than, you know, a proper Metal Slug experience.

You don't even play as Marco, Tarma, Eri or Fio! You play as Walter or Tyra. I know, right??