Metal Slug Tactics is equal parts complex and silly

After a long wait, we can finally try out Metal Slug Tactics!


I’ve been looking forward to this game, and stubbornly drafting it on my Fantasy Critic brackets, for what feels like years. It almost feels weird to say it, but now I have played Metal Slug Tactics. This is a game I never would have guessed, never would have thought to ask for, and in some ways have a hard time believing is real. Metal Slug has been one thing for decades, and now it’s something else. And that something else is pretty interesting, turns out. Without compromising the silly style and arcade vibes of SNK’s run and gun classic, Metal Slug Tactics finds a new angle for Marco and the crew to blow stuff up and get blown up themselves.

Combat in Metal Slug Tactics
Source: Dotemu

Metal Slug Tactics is a bit of a hybrid. For the most part it’s a truncated turn-based tactics RPG that utilizes small boards and specified mission objectives. It’s also a roguelike, with each run presenting the player with different choices for temporary power-ups, staggered unlocks, and runs that can go south very quickly. In-between missions, while largely unavailable in the demo, players can buy new upgrades to add to the pool, test out units and loadouts in the Barracks, and more. There’s a lot of game here, despite the presentation often feeling crammed into a small space.

The biggest aspect of Metal Slug Tactics that stood out to me is how complex it is. I was expecting something parallel to the original shooter games, which are pure-blooded arcade games that value brevity and simplicity on top of airtight gameplay and over the top animations. But there’s a ton of depth here in the basic mechanics.

Choosing an upgrade in Metal Slug Tactics
Source: Dotemu

For one, there’s a cover system that's more complicated than that of, say, X-Com or those Mario/Rabbids games. Not only can you get cover points to absorb damage by standing next to obvious cover points, there’s also a sort of natural cover (Dodge) that builds up depending on the number of steps your units take before acting. You also earn Adrenaline points that fuel special moves each unit has that can replace basic actions. This encourages an unfamiliar cadence in games like this, having you think far more about making sure you actively move around the board instead of being cautious about staying safe.

The Barracks screen between missions in Metal Slug Tactics
Source: Dotemu

This sense of movement is paired with Synchronization, which lets characters use follow-up attacks if the unit being attacked stands within range of each character’s basic weapon. Most of the characters you start with use guns, which fire in straight lines. But some abilities and weapons (like grenades) have more area of effect or different range patterns. So not only are you encouraged to move around the map, you also have to think about what kind of chain reactions you can set off, or even if it’s possible to do so while chasing your objective and surviving the map.

As you play (and lose), you’ll unlock additional features, such as a limited number of revives for your team. Much like in the arcade titles, there’s an expectation you won’t get through a stage unscathed. Meanwhile, bonus mission objectives can refill your special weapon ammo, restore your revives, or simply earn you additional abilities. There’s a lot to pay attention to, and it was overwhelming at first. But there was a point when everything clicked, especially the stuff with movement and Dodge/Cover protection. At that point the game got a lot more manageable, and I was clearing stages more quickly and effectively. Then the boss fight started and I had to relearn my approach once again! Even after just a few levels, it was made clear over and over again that Metal Slug Tactics is full of surprises.

A boss fight in Metal Slug Tactics
Source: Dotemu

I’m still reeling from even playing Metal Slug Tactics, much from the dense, layered experience that totally subverted my expectations. I love the series’ arcade roots, and from that perspective I was definitely overwhelmed. But the ways in which Metal Slug Tactics weave all its mechanics together are impressive, and I can’t wait to dive into the full game and get a better understanding of how the unlockables fit into the equation. That includes all the additional characters, and every piece of menu that asked me to come back later. If you’re a fan of classic SNK flavor, tactical RPGs with lots of depth, or are a true sicko who relishes in both, check this demo out while you can.

Metal Slug Tactics is set to launch in late 2024 for PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and 5, and Xbox one and Series X|S. A code for the PC version demo was provided by the publisher for this preview.

Contributing Editor

Lucas plays a lot of videogames. Sometimes he enjoys one. His favorites include Dragon Quest, SaGa, and Mystery Dungeon. He's far too rattled with ADHD to care about world-building lore but will get lost for days in essays about themes and characters. Holds a journalism degree, which makes conversations about Oxford Commas awkward to say the least. Not a trophy hunter but platinumed Sifu out of sheer spite and got 100 percent in Rondo of Blood because it rules. You can find him on Twitter @HokutoNoLucas being curmudgeonly about Square Enix discourse and occasionally saying positive things about Konami.

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