Metal Slug 3 (Arcade) review
"Metal Slug 3 marks the series' evolutionary peak in a number of areas. In terms of raw game quality, it is unmatched; not only in the series, but in the genre at large. The addictive, pulse-pounding action the series is renowned for is injected with gallons of pure ludicrous variety, resulting in a mind-blowingly unpredictable adventure. MS3 is pretty much the best side-scrolling shooter there is. "
Metal Slug 3 marks the series' evolutionary peak in a number of areas. In terms of raw game quality, it is unmatched; not only in the series, but in the genre at large. The addictive, pulse-pounding action the series is renowned for is injected with gallons of pure ludicrous variety, resulting in a mind-blowingly unpredictable adventure. MS3 is pretty much the best side-scrolling shooter there is.
It is also the series at its most insane. If Metal Slug 3 was a man, he would be curled up in a shallow pool of his own liquids, hugging a Kalashnikov for dear life and whispering about monsters and monkeys and foreigners and fish. Nothing short of madness.
Metal Slug 3 is of course the fourth iteration in the caricature-warfare action series. The 4 adorably-hardcore heroes - gents Marco and Tarma, and ladies Eri and Fio - return for another series of exquisitely-drawn, enemy-packed levels. While they're still cleaning up the remnants of the previously-defeated General Morden's armies, the crew's primary troubles at the moment concern the aliens from the second game; those intergalactic warmongers are causing all sorts of interesting mutations...
MS3 pits you against these deviants from the start. Choosing your character and parachuting into the opening beach assault level, the simple, responsive controls will be familiar to Metal Slug veterans; the marauding giant crabs slightly less so. Since they all feel identical, the only influence your character choice has is on which sprite battles its way up the debris-littered coast (and how they scream when they die). This is easily excusable, because blowing your enemies away (be they human, or crustacean) is so damn satisfying. Unloading your infinite handgun payload into the vile arthropods and watching them scream and melt is immensely gratifying; getting up close and tearing into them with a combat knife or hatchet, even more so.
Carving your enjoyable way up the beach and into the gloomy jungle, you'll soon find yourself encountering Metal Slug's other trademarks; most common of which is the vast range of armaments. Like before, weapons are usually granted by the various P.O.Ws sitting around the levels - this time, they've got a bigger range of deathbringers hidden in those stripy boxers than ever before. From the classic slightly-sweaty heavy machinegun to the new pubis-scattered laser rifle, each weapon gives you a reasonable advantage (and a fun toy), without unbalancing the difficulty. Their pickup is heralded by an announcer who mispronounces words with a contagious enthusiasm; many have tried to put his screams into a textual form, but none have succeeded.
RAWKET LOW - no. No, it's just not possible.
An even greater boost to your offensive might is granted by the discovery of the Metal Slug tank itself, and the other vehicles strewn across the levels. Be they mineral or animal, submarine or aircraft, all the vehicles are both intuitive and great fun to ride. They're implemented well; while they make your life significantly easier, they're usually only found during the most enemy-heavy sections, and even then, their meaty weaponry is often a tad too sluggish to hold off the massed hordes that assail you. 3 hits, and your character is left to cartwheel from the machine as it detonates. Useful, but not unstoppable, then.
Fighting ever onwards, you now have your weapons, and your vehicles. In this case, a vulcan cannon, and the submarine that it's mounted on. Halfway through the first stage, the crabs seem a million miles (or a medical shampoo and a fine comb) away, as you delve into a submerged valley. Enormous, mile-long eels thunder from cages in the rugged walls, snatching equally-enormous jellyfish. According to the signs above their holdings, the eels have names like 'Linda,' and 'Barbie.'
See? Insanity, and variety.
These side-scrolling shooters thrive on variety. Their game mechanic is so simple that, without constantly changing scenarios and activities, they can quickly get exceedingly boring. Metal Slug 3 never gets boring; this is because before you can even begin to tire of any given activity, that activity will have changed into something completely different. Another battle, another theme, another atmosphere: nothing lasts.
Take the second level; you'll reach it after resurfacing from those ocean depths and beating the first, and most-crab-like, of the game's superb bosses. Completely changing the pace and style of your adventure in the blink of an eye, the game tosses you into a moonlit snowfield. Among the wreckage of a crashed jet liner, zombies lurk; the Predator-esque jungle atmosphere of the previous level gives way to a shlock-horror B-movie one. As you battle through the rotting hordes, survivors flee in the opposite direction; many of them fall, and join the ranks of the living dead themselves. Even you are not invulnerable to the disease. Catch a zombie's vomit, and you'll collapse, only to lurch back to your feet as a zombie yourself. You've got a bullet-absorbing body and a great blood-vomit attack, but at the price of your very soul!!
Other games would leave it there, and let you run through a whole level of these brilliant undead hi-jinks. But this is Metal Slug. Ten minutes after encountering your first zombie, you might find yourself in an icy cavern. Riding bareback on an elephant. Shooting yetis. While a monkey in a nappy covers you with an uzi. These are not exaggerations.
There is no way in any hell you could have seen these events coming.
Careful, though; I said you might encounter that elephant. You might not. You might find yourself in a different scenario: deep inside a dark forest, playing the odd-man-out in a battle between Morden's soldiers and the zombies. In a series first, MS3 features multiple paths through its lengthy levels. The first stage alone allows you to go diving past those eels, but you could also have boated downriver through the jungle, or entered a dank storage facility. These kind of choices make the game feel a lot more chaotic and adventurous than before, as well as providing some much-needed replay value that doesn't concern score.
Let's recap. Crabs, yetis, monkeys, eels, zombies, jellyfish, and elephants. All these and more are featured in the first two levels alone, and the other three are filled with an even wilder menagerie of beasts and vehicles and weapons. 5 levels may not sound like much. However, the branching paths, the lure of the high-score table, and the epic, glorious rush of superb bosses and adrenaline-fuelled battles that is the mind-blowing finale make the game last.
It all comes back to variety; it's what makes the game endlessly fun to experience. There's masses of hidden prisoners and easter eggs to find. There's a million different things to collect for points - from fruits (eat too much and you'll get slow and fat, fighting off enemies with a dinner fork) to teddy bears to live shellfish. Zombies may be just one of many types of enemy, but there's at least a dozen types of zombie, each of which projects it's bile at you in different, icky ways.
There's just so much to see.
A great deal of the allure is down to that token visual charm that all the Metal Slug games share. The game's beautifully-animated sprites are, in various measures: charming (the Metal Slug's animal-like leaps and recoils), funny (simians in babywear), violent (soldier fails to dodge rocket; hilarity ensues), and cute (Eri is turned into a snowgirl; retains bandana). They cavort and battle to and fro across lovingly-painted backgrounds that, while being less interactive than those of the first game, make up for it with detail and style. Complimenting the graphical splendour is an appropriate and, yes, varied soundtrack; operatic strings for aliens, nasally flutes for Arabs, wailing guitars for zombies. In sensory terms, MS3 is flawless.
It's also pretty much perfect in game terms. I could perhaps highlight the fact that boss difficulty fluctuates somewhat, as that's the closest thing the game has to a flaw; it's cancelled out, though, by the fact that they're universally awe-inspiring and great fun to fight. If you are doing battle with a 5-storey-high robot juggernaut who shoots lasers from his staring eyes and missiles from his mighty chest, it's unlikely you will stop and think 'Ooh, the learning curve's a bit steep, eh?' Chances are you'll only have to press the 5 key a few more times than usual, anyway. This is only a tiny hiccup in an otherwise perfectly-balanced game.
Yes, I think MS3 can comfortably be called flawless. No matter how anal you are about it, there is not one other game with so much energetic charm or vigorous style. It's a maelstrom of pulse-pounding carnage and inimitable insanity, packed into an expertly-tuned, endlessly addictive adventure.
You could play Metal Slug 3 a million times and not discover everything there is to smile at. Fed up with Contra's endless alien goons, Gunstar Heroes' production-line robots, and Sunset Riders' stupid cowboys?
Community review by autorock (October 21, 2004)
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