Metal Slug Advance
Metal Slug Advance is the best possible realization of SNK's run-and-shoot series on the GBA. It is a technical marvel; the rich, over-exaggerated animation that made the series stand out in arcades is achieved with vastly inferior hardware. This portable entry in the series suffers only rare slowdown and a few lost frames of animation.
While the game looks like the early arcade entries, the gameplay is modified to fit a handheld. A health bar replaces the arcade's one-hit death system. The arcade versions of Metal Slug can be conquered in less than an hour given a few pockets full of quarters. (Or a PC capable of emulating the hardware.) Metal Slug Advance addresses the inherent brevity of their rich worlds with an adroit card collection system. Cards are hidden throughout the game worlds. Most of the cards are trinkets, but others provide benefits like increasing the armor for your vehicles or doubling your ammo supply for a weapon. The catch is that in order to keep the cards you collect in a level, you must complete that level without continuing. For the first time in the series I'm forced to consider the best approach to surviving levels and I end up appreciating the game mechanics more than my virtual quarter-munching practices allowed before. Less obsessive-compulsive players can abandon card collecting and leverage an infinite number of continues to power through the game, but the benefits from the power-up cards can make an aggressively challenging experience more approachable.
Metal Slug Advance is the best console iteration of the series yet, but it has some aggravating flaws. The health bar is a welcome addition, but falling into a pit still causes an automatic death; it feels particularly unfair when you're "juggled" into a pit after being bounced back by an enemy attack. The frequency that the enemies respawn can be quite troubling when you're dodging enemy attacks by moving to the left and right, only to re-introduce defeated enemies as you scroll the screen. Some areas require careful maneuvering to avoid facing a never ending barrage of foes.
Metal Slug Advance does not stray far from familiar ground, but it is the only handheld version of the series that approaches the wacky, chaotic bliss of the arcade editions. SNK demonstrated with the Neo Geo Pocket Color that it understands handheld game design at least as well as Nintendo. Metal Slug Advance is their first title on Nintendo hardware to continue that legacy.