Metal Slug 3 (Xbox) review
"Press toward the right, mashing the button furiously as livid crustaceans emerge from ramshackle shanties. If they get too close, swipe your knife across them and return to your main quest: survival. Buildings explode into flame and melt away as if they never existed. Prisoners of war thank you heartily as you cut loose their ropes on the way to shoot a bubble-blowing goon ahead. But wait, thereís a weapon pick-up!"
Choking on flames and spewing banners of gray smoke, a military jet crashes roughly to the ground as its heroes burst forth, spinning mid-air before they land on the ground and begin peppering a post-apocalyptic landscape withóOops, wrong review. This isnít Contra. Itís Metal Slug 3, a long-overdue port of the arcade classic, this time brought home to the Xbox. But before you start laughing at me for my apparent gaffe, thereís one thing you should know: the two franchises are very similar but for one difference: Metal Slug is better.
A major reason for this difference is the light-hearted approach SNK took with their pride and joy. Your entrance to the first stage is perhaps less memorable than the protagonistís debut in a game such as Contra: Shattered Soldier, but itís every bit as fun. Parachute onto land and youíll find things begin every bit as furiously, only your foes are giant lobsters, not gun-toting goons.
Press toward the right, mashing the button furiously as livid crustaceans emerge from ramshackle shanties. If they get too close, swipe your knife across them and return to your main quest: survival. Buildings explode into flame and melt away as if they never existed. Prisoners of war thank you heartily as you cut loose their ropes on the way to shoot a bubble-blowing goon ahead. But wait, thereís a weapon pick-up! You snag the icon and suddenly your shots become rapid fire. A volley of yellow bullets streaks toward a stone tower while the ĎArmsí meter at the screenís top counts down the number of shots remaining.
Dissatisfied with the slow progress, you chuck one of your grenades toward the right. It bounces against enemies and suddenly thereís a poof as crab legs fly and ooze spreads over the ground before evaporating in the balmy air. Youíre a machine of destruction, deterred by none of these impediments, and soon you reach a pile of wood and dirt and grass. The question must be asked: do you crawl under the wood and to the waiting hatch of a submarine? Or do you instead hop up the ledge and continue past another gang of oversized sea life?
Youíre not yet very far in the game, and already you know why Metal Slug 3 rocks the house so soundly. Thereís seldom a moment where the gameís visuals take themselves seriously, yet you know youíre in for a good time as you start sweating and your fingers work the controller like your life depends on it. It likely does. Or rather, Marcoís life (heís the guy I pick, though thereís another guy and two ladies to round out the crew of selectable characters).
To say that Metal Slug 3 is difficult would be to make a hideous understatement. You can pick your options from the starting menu, give yourself more lives and weaken the enemies, but at the end of the day this game is going to kick your ass. The laughable deviants that greet you after your airborne entrance are soon replaced by soldiers of the more recognizable variety, and then there are massive eels that torpedo from their holes to catch you off-guard, electrifying jellyfish, and even giant dragonflies that will remind you yet again of Contra. Thatís just the first level, and I havenít talked about the boss encounters.
Ah, the bosses. Theyíre actually quite memorable here, whether itís the boardwalk-smashing tank early on, or the alien beings that rise from their lair after youíve cleared the path of its zombie infestation. None of these opponents are terribly difficult at a glance, and there are even simple patterns you can put to use that will simplify matters. Let their cartoon presentation lull you into a false sense of security for even a moment, though, and youíll be gritting your teeth at the ĎContinueí screen. Then itís back to the start of the stage for you!
Speaking of the stages, there are seven total. The first five are a replica of the original arcade game. Youíll traipse through the ocean-front opener, along a snow-covered mountain pass, through an underwater laboratory, along the walls of a desert fortress and more. Then, if you beat that part, there are two Xbox-only additions for your consideration. Wasnít that nice of SNK? It most certainly was. Unfortunately, these missions are just mini-games, not outright additions to the gameplay you no doubt love in the arcade version. Not only that, but you may not survive to see them.
The main reason for this would have to be your gunfire, which tends to be rather limited. When you have special weapons seeking out your enemies or pelting them with laser beams or whatever, all is good. But when you must rely on standard shots and grenades (as happens if you take a hit or donít monitor your supplies well), things get downright hairy. You can fire only in four directions: up, down, left and right. Firing down often requires that you be jumping through the air, a dangerous proposition when itís quite likely youíll land on a rolling mine or flesh-eating zombie or whatever else the developers see fit to throw at you. In later areas, youíll be tempted to make like a Shakespearean monarch and shout ďDiagonal shots, diagonal shots, my kingdom for diagonal shots.Ē Or something.
Still, the limitations on your weaponry canít keep Metal Slug 3 from being one of the most enjoyable shooters youíve ever played. Itís fun, itís frantic, itís fresh. In short, itís everything the genre needs more of. Grab a friend and two controllers, grab an Xbox, and play this game.
Staff review by Jason Venter (October 28, 2004)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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