There used to be a time when a game critic such as myself would complain that there are too many 2D action games and not enough new ideas. They would whine and moan that these cookie cutter games didn’t offer anything new and were simply rehashing a proven formula. They would point their fingers at companies like SNK who would flood the market with me too arcade games that would ultimately be forgotten only months after they were introduced.
These days game critics complain about generic 3D games that add nothing to their genre and ultimately seem like a waste of everybody’s time. Perhaps that is why this is a perfect time for Metal Slug 3, a game that was everything the critics once complained about wrapped up in one of the best games to grace the Xbox this year.
In case you missed it in the arcade, Metal Slug 3 is an action/shooter along the same lines as Contra or Gunstar Heroes. You take control of a squad of warriors ready to uncover why strange things are happening around the world. But don’t worry, there isn’t any actual exploration … this game is all about shooting your way through an endless amount of foes, nothing any deeper than that.
Right from the get-go Metal Slug 3 is set to impress, no matter if you’re a fan of the franchise or are not normally into 2D side scrollers. A lot of critics complain that these kinds of games are too simple, but there’s nothing simple about the graphics and animation here. They are perhaps the most detailed lot you will find on your Xbox. Each of the characters, no matter how large or small, has a unique look and set of animations. Combined with the frenzy of bullets and on-coming foes, Metal Slug 3 is easily one of the best looking 2D games of all time … even if the competition has all but dried up.
What sets Metal Slug apart from all the other 2D shooters is its use of wacky, yet interesting levels that continue to change and become even more wacky and interesting. In one level you’ll land on the beach and have to battle large shell fish, only in the next to be pitted against what seems like thousands of mindless zombies. There are underwater levels, air born levels, aliens, Nazi-wannabes, and even a few things I probably shouldn’t spoil.
Looking back at this four-year old game, it’s surprising to see a few game play devices that should be employed in today’s 3D titles. It’s always funny, and even a little shocking, to see your soldier balloon up to 400 pounds after eating too much food or being turned into a snowman by a yeti. And how can you forget being turned into a flesh eating zombie whose only purpose is to spew a fountain of blood and find the medicine to regain your humanity. The game is filled with these little splashes of character all the way through making it one of the most entertaining side scrollers since the original Earthworm Jim.
And when you’re tired of running around the levels, you can enjoy the comforts of one of many vehicles. No matter what your fancy, chances are Metal Slug has at least one for you to test drive. Early on it’s tanks and submarines, but soon enough you’re giving helicopters, jet planes, and even animals, like a camel and elephant. Some of the vehicles have some aiming issues, but more than anything they do a good job of breaking up the action and adding some diversity.
A lot of the vehicles are used to access new paths throughout the level, offering variety to what is generally a pretty linear experience. Many of these shortcuts are right out in the open and easy to stumble into, but there are a few that you may not even notice even after beating the game a few times.
In the arcade Metal Slug 3 was an extremely difficult game that required you to use a number of continues in order to fully complete the game. Unfortunately the same seems to apply here with this Xbox version. Problem is SNK only gives you four continues to work with. And since you continue at the beginning of the level (as opposed to where you died) it only makes the experience that much more frustrating. The early levels won’t take much to blast through, but once you hit level four and five the difficulty goes up exponentially. It’s not impossible, but SNK certainly didn’t make it easy on the average gamer.
The Metal Slug series has always had a number of small flaws that, while simple to fix, have never been addressed and are readily apparent in this Xbox port. It won’t take long before you realize that none of the characters can aim diagonally, something just about every other game of the genre has featured since 1993. Aiming is nearly impossible since you can only shoot side to side and up and down, but yet the enemies come from all sides and directions making this flaw noticeable in just about every level of the game.
I also don’t think it’s too much to ask for a few more moves for the character to be able to perform. No matter which soldier you end up with, the most you will ever be able to do is jump, duck, shoot, throw grenades, and use your knife when things get close and personal. It’s a shame this port couldn’t have added a slide, a dash, or perhaps other techniques common with the genre. Those little things could go a long way to stave off the game’s eventual repetition.
Thankfully SNK has given more attention to Metal Slug’s fire power. Not only does Metal Slug 3 come equipped with ten devastating weapons – from lasers to rockets to homing missiles – it manages to spread them out so you are still finding new items even late in the game. Each of the weapons comes with brand new character animations, and a few may even make your jaw drop when you see their devastation for the first time. Metal Slug 3 packs enough huge explosions to impress even the most ardent 3D gamer.
Although there’s a lot to do and see, Metal Slug is a relatively short experience. To add some replay SNK has added a few bonus features, includes a simple, albeit fun, multiplayer level called Fat Island. The object is simple, by killing the soldiers you collect an assortment of food, whoever breaks the scale first is crowned the winner. In a lot of ways this mini game reminded me of the spirit of the original Mario Bros., just with a lot more of the ultra violence.
There is also a brand new remix of level 5 called Storming the UFO Mothership which allows you to take control one of the Morden soldiers, be it a shield dude, rocket guy, or just your average trooper. This is one challenging mission that will take even the most seasoned Metal Slugger a few tries to complete; ultimately, though, it’s a nice extra that many long time fans will get a kick out of.
SNK has gone ahead and added scoreboard accessible through the Xbox Live. This feature is so bare bones it’s barely worth mentioning at all, and feels like it was added only so they could have the Xbox Live logo on the cover. Being able to play two players over the internet would go a long way to boost the games replay.
Even though I loved every second of Metal Slug 3 I do wince a little at the steep $40 asking price. The game may be difficult and bundled with some cool extras, but it’s still a port of a four year old arcade game. In this day and age it seems unfortunate SNK couldn’t have gone one step further and offered a full-on Metal Slug collection featuring the previous titles. With companies like Midway releasing collections of 20 games on one disc for half the price, it’s hard to justify paying the $40 for a game like this, no matter how good it is.
SNK’s games have flourished thanks to a large and devoted cult following; the same people who will more than likely flock to this Xbox version. Of course, at the cheaper price (compared to the hundreds of dollars the Neo*Geo version would run you) perhaps more gamers will see what all the fuss is about. It’s not going to change the way you look at 2D action games, but Metal Slug 3 may be just what you need after all those generic first person shooters and sports games.
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