Metal Slug 3 (Xbox) review
"Before I begin this review, you should know that I have never played a Metal Slug game in my life. Ever. Metal Slug evaded me on the Saturn since I only recently modded mine, and both Metal Slugs for the PlayStation were said to be abysmal ports. Then Metal Slug 3, considered by fans to be the apex of the series, was announced for the X-Box. This piqued my interest, as the Metal Slug games have always been compared to Konami's Contra series. And god damn..."
Before I begin this review, you should know that I have never played a Metal Slug game in my life. Ever. Metal Slug evaded me on the Saturn since I only recently modded mine, and both Metal Slugs for the PlayStation were said to be abysmal ports. Then Metal Slug 3, considered by fans to be the apex of the series, was announced for the X-Box. This piqued my interest, as the Metal Slug games have always been compared to Konami's Contra series. And !@#$! have I spent more than my fair share of time playing Contra games. Supposedly, they picked up the ball that Appaloosa let Contra drop, although said ball has since been recovered by Konami's spectacular PS2 effort, Contra: Shattered Soldier. So does Metal Slug 3 stack up to that phenomenal game? Not quite, but it does a damn good job of trying.
Unlike most of today's action games, Metal Slug 3 eschews both complexity and the third dimension. Yup, Metal Slug 3 is a 2D game, and like the best action games of yesteryear, its simplicity works to enhance its mania. As you parachute into the shallow waters of the first mission, you won't be fumbling around with pressure sensitive analog bump mapping or anything of the like. In fact, your movement consists of looking up, crouching, running, and jumping. Once you make your way up to the shore, you'll be assaulted by your first foe... an enormous crab. Your fire button shall be mashed, and a mix of shots and knife slashes shall be made depending on thine range. As you progress up the beachhead, you may become overwhelmed by giant crabs. Take note that you have a set of ten grenades that can be thrown at opportune moments like this one. Movements, shots, and bombs. That's about it.
Well, at first. A short way in you'll meet your first prisoner of war. Free him from his bonds and you'll be rewarded with a power-up, in this case a heavy machinegun, complete with an awesome announcer who says things like ''Rawkit Launchar!''. Yeah, Metal Slug 3 has an array of weaponry that ranges from ground-hugging ice missiles to the simple yet effective boomstick. Hail to the king, baby. Anyway, collected powerups can range from special weapons to more bombs for your arsenal to items that give you points, like a soft, cuddly teddy bear. These always seem to appear in the right place at just the right time. Situations like the one after getting your first HMG, wherein a multitude of giant crabs assault you from above and below, really let you put your item to good use, and are a testament to SNK's level design. I think the only problem is that should you forgo certain powerups along the way, your luck can drastically change, as some situations feel inescapable with the basic pistol.
Then again, if a certain section of a level is troubling you, there's a good chance you can just go a different way. Metal Slug 3's five missions have multiple paths to them, each of which take you on a wildly different tour of the level. In the third mission, for example, you can travel on the main path through the ocean depths, descend into the murky caves and blast your way through with a submarine, or move along a wooden path in the sky on an ostrich. Wait, submarine? Ostrich? You heard me right. The various vehicles, or slugs, play a large role in the gameplay, making appearances in every mission. They range from a helicopter with twin Vulcan cannons to an ostrich... with twin Vulcan cannons. As cool as they are, though, there's a nasty flaw. Aiming the cannons and moving are the same thing: to aim left, you have to move left. Also, the cannons take their time moving. The combination is deadly. Let's say you're aiming left and want to shoot right. Since this will take you about two whole seconds, you'll have moved a third of the way across the screen by then. Would a ''lock movement'' button a la The Alien Wars or Shattered Soldier have been so hard to implement?
Your mind will quickly be taken off of this flaw, though, as those wacky funsters at SNK have packed Metal Slug 3 full of personality. Resident Evil Outbreak may let you turn into a zombie after you get hit by one, but did it make your enemies scream and run away from you? And did it let you vomit blood at your enemies as a special attack? Thought not. The little things are what give this game its atmosphere. I never expected a hostage to give me a bird's nest for points - or a huge lump of feces, for that matter. Speaking of the prisoners, a couple of them even flip out when released and start slaughtering your enemies for you. The animation excels at having personality, too. I just love when a soldier kills you, starts laughing, and then screams when he sees you come back. In fact, the only things that seem to lack charm are the bosses. All they consist of are simple attack patterns, and honestly, floating aliens, a big dome, and a giant sippy cup fail to get the adrenalin flowing. You know something's wrong when your favorite boss was the giant robot.
Another annoyance comes in the form of Metal Slug 3's continue system. Although SNK mercifully included a mission select (who knows how many times I played through four levels of Shattered Soldier for another crack at Archipelago), SNK totally screwed up the continue feature. If you run out of your alloted amount of lives, you're forced to restart from the beginning of the mission. The very beginning. Although playing through fifteen minutes of level to get another crack at a boss bothers me, I can tolerate it. What I can't tolerate, however, is how this adversely affects the two-player mode. Remember in Shattered Soldier how the two-player was no fun since the memorization heavy gameplay made it boring for newbies and frustrating for veterans? And remember how The Alien Wars' more freeform gameplay lent itself to jumping in with anyone and having fun? In theory, Metal Slug 3 should be like that, as it's not a pattern based game. In practice, however, the weaker player having to be protected at the risk of not being able to play for fifteen minutes is boring for the newbie and frustrating for the veteran. Damn yous, SNK, damn yous.
At least SNK didn't destroy the graphics in this port. Actually, they look quite nice. Despite the low resolution, the sprites look sharp and fluid. You'll find no cut frames of animation here. As said before, the characters are packed with motion, as well as color and fluidity. I think the Metal Slug series' soldiers are the best looking game enemies ever. Special effects are crisp and beautiful, whether they be a drill bit tearing through a giant bug or your machinegun ripping bloody holes in your foes. Yeah, bloody, no more of that sweat crap. The backgrounds, too, look spectacular, and have details like dripping water and stalactites to really make you feel like you're in that murky cavern. The sound design is also top-notch. The music always fits the level, from the heroic theme of your opening mission to the ominous guitar riffs of the zombie mission. The sound effects are fantastic, from the nice ''rat-a-tat'' of the Vulcan cannons to the ''boom'' of your bombs connecting with their target. Plus, you gotta love the announcer, and the soldier screams are the coolest yelps ever recorded onto silicon. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait for another entry in the series to hear the lamentation of the women.
Metal Slug 3 is an excellent game in the same style as all your favorite SNES and Genesis action games. Whether you grew up weaned on Contra 3, Mario World, Revenge of Shinobi and other classic action titles or you recently enjoyed games such as Contra: Shattered Soldier and Strider 2, don't hesitate to pick this baby up. Even if you've become accustomed to playing the Metal Gear Solids and Halos of the world, you should give this game a shot. Despite the questionable vehicle control, uninspired bosses, and a continue system that only a true masochist would enjoy, this game is a shining example of the inherent quality of 2D games and graphics. Besides, you get to ride an ostrich. What other damn games let you ride ostriches? Exactly.
Community review by bluberry (June 13, 2004)
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