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Metal Slug Tactics Impressions

Metal Slug Tactics Screenshot 008

Gamers haven’t had anything new to savor in the Metal Slug universe for quite a while. The frantic run-and-gun action was most recently available in Metal Slug XX, a revised version of Metal Slug 7 from all the way back in 2008.  Now, after a series of delays and a conspicuous silence, retro-publisher Dotemu and developer Leikir have finally given us a new entry, Metal Slug Tactics. And it looks and feels very exciting indeed.

For those with even a passing recall of the series from the late 1990s, Metal Slug Tactics hits every marker when it comes to the graphical themes, detail, and animation of its predecessors. Right from the off, the detailed spritework looks and moves smoothly, with many little details that the game depicts just right. Like the successful revisions of Streets of Rage 4 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, Dotemu and their partners know how to bridge the nostalgia gap. The demo presents battles in the fictional Argum Palm Desert, with plenty of gorgeous sand tones and brightly colored drapes and market stalls decorating the urban areas. I’m eager to find out where the rest of the art direction goes and just how many small details and callbacks are in the full-game experience.

As promised from the start of the game’s development, the big shift for this new entry is to a turn-based, roguelike approach that, mechanically, is a long way removed from the original arcade action. Some things never change though: the Peregrine Falcons return! This crack team of special troops is once again on the trail of General Morden after he stages a coup to wage war from behind the protection of countless gun troopers, grenadiers, sword-wielding bravos, and oversized bosses. Marco Rossi is the nominal leader of the Falcons, and he and the squad make their way across small tactical maps as they seek to foil the General’s plans and eliminate the Rebel Army elements protecting him.

Squad members on a desert battlefield map, with many enemies dotted all over in Metal Slug Tactics.
Just another day at the office for the Peregrine Falcons.

Eri and Fio join Marco quickly, and the number of returning characters and callbacks is sure to increase across the full game, with a nice surprise on completion of the demo. Each member has two initial action choices: a basic weapon attack with an infinite supply of ammo and their ammo-limited special weapon attack. The team also gains passive abilities or additional actions as they level up across a run. Each of the crew has their signature special weapon, with Fio’s machine gun doing massive damage in a line and Eri’s grenade launcher exploding into a wide cross-section from the point of impact.

Although most aren’t available for the demo, there are many further weapon options, each with varied areas of effect and passive abilities. This is important for the game’s Synchronization system. Squad members synchronize when one of the team makes an attack action within another’s basic attack range. Eri can make a grenade launcher attack from behind cover while another squaddie who’s closer to the action can follow up with a basic attack. In this way, combat damage accumulates quickly. There’s no cap on how many team members can synchronize in Metal Slug Tactics, so it’s possible for a three-way combo to do massive damage in one turn.

Characters can’t generally move after they take an action, so the game absolutely nails the Metal Slug theme of constant movement before action. It’s not just about offense, either. If a character covers a longer distance in a turn, they gain increased Dodge (for reducing incoming damage) and Adrenaline (for powering special abilities). For both attack and defence, full team movement into areas of overlapping attacks or into cover feels like a good starting strategy on many maps. It seems a great idea for the developers to craft a turn-based system inspired so much by the frantic, movement-based nature of the original games.

We also saw confirmation this game gives you access to your very own SV (Super Vehicle) at times; Dotemu and friends wouldn’t miss this opportunity! Although only a small example, the demo Metal Slug tank has its own game systems, such as an increased pool of health points and a Fuel measure. The Fuel drives the vehicle’s propulsion and weapon systems, and while there’s enough gas in the tank, so to speak, all weapon systems are available in the same turn. As can be expected, the careful application of these vehicles can lay waste to large swathes of enemies. However, you need to keep an eye on the vehicle’s health and eject before it falls apart under enemy fire.

A large explosion damages several enemies in an urban village map.
That looks like it hurt.

Metal Slug Tactics’ begins at the Peregrine Falcon base, where the player can select their squad and a map zone to travel to. From there, the squad has a choice of interconnected nodes. There are multiple maps and scenario nodes to unlock and complete on any given run, and they offer plenty of variety. Sometimes the team will need to eliminate key enemies, or perhaps eliminate a moving convoy before it escapes. On other occasions, they might need to survive an enemy onslaught for a given number of turns. For every mission, optional objectives await. These are more challenging, such as leaving a marked enemy for last or ensuring none of the team falls in battle once.

As well as the varied objectives, maps have a range of additional features. Cover assets reduce the amount of damage to any character adjacent to it, making you immediately scan the map for the little blue asset decals indicating these areas. Terrain elements can be destructible too, so cover won’t last forever. On some maps, you need to keep moving to avoid terrain getting destroyed under your feet. There are even different heights to consider, as most attacks only function on the plane characters are standing on, and moving between these levels takes time.

After a successful run, characters gain experience to level up. This offers a choice of new abilities and a random weapon mod or tactical asset. Characters are pretty squishy (reminders of the original again!), so having a random mod and ability is important. Special weapon ammo also doesn’t replenish between missions on a given run, nor do the few “One-Ups” you have for reviving fallen squadmates, and this is where the game’s roguelike qualities add further tactical considerations. Do you use your special weapons sparingly during early missions or leave some ammo for the inevitable boss encounter? It’s not like you can plan each run out that easily either, as maps and scenarios vary from one run to the next. One run might begin with a relatively straightforward assassination mission, while another might begin with an escape mission thronged with a dozen baddies. It’s all good fun.

Boss fight against a battleship with several  guns and the party on a nearby dock.
That’s a lot of ordnance.

The game has a nice range of enemies in the demo. Grenadiers throw grenades from a distance and often stick to any cover they can find. Sword troopers come after your squad from the get-go and can make a final strike even after they fall. After so many nodes have been completed, the demo contains a boss fight with one of the series’ signature mechanical monstrosities. Without giving too much away, the battle against a hulking battleship bristling with turrets serves as a juicy morsel of what else is to come.

As well as the opulent visuals, the sound design is just as bouncy and as oversized as you’d expect. The jazzy mission base themes rub shoulders with a more Asian-influenced soundscape for the demo zones. The pointed use of larger-than-life voiceovers for selecting characters and on mission starts and ends only adds to the comfortable feeling of nostalgia done well.

My time with Metal Slug Tactics was fun and thrilling. There are many additional systems, including mods for weapons, skill upgrades, and unlockable items that weren’t fully available in the demo. Alongside the promise of new map areas and biomes and more gorgeous art to fawn over, I can’t wait to get back into the thick of the fray with Peregrine Falcon Squad. You want to report for duty for this one!

In case you missed it, the most recent trailer for the game is embedded below. Keep checking our website and keep reading, RPGFans! We will keep you posted with updates on Metal Slug Tactics and plenty of others over the next few weeks!

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Mark Roddison

Mark Roddison

Hi, I'm Mark! I've spent most of my life in the education sector, but away from this world I like nothing more than to slip into a good fantasy or sci-fi setting, be it a good book film, TV series, game, or tabletop option! If it is a game, you won't find me too far from the turn-based games. From Final Fantasy, to Shadow Hearts, to Baldurs Gate, to the Trails series, all have me hooked. When not indulging in cerebral turn-based nirvanas, I enjoy soccer, fitness, and music where I tutor keyboard and guitar professionally, as well as having an unhealthy obsession for progressive metal as well as some 80s synthwave. I nearly forgot I also have a lovely wife and little boy who also make great co-players! :-p

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