2004 may just go down in history as the year the Xbox resurrected the word challenge in the lexicon of gamers. That’s right, I’m calling out some of you soft players out there who’ve never faced down an onslaught of never-ending foes; who’ve mysteriously bypassed the shooter phenomenon; who’ve never needed to pack a full roll of quarters to get through two or three almost impossible levels. Earlier this year, Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden came back from the mists of gaming time to terrify action players with its ramped up difficulty levels and pattern randomizing bosses. Well, taking a page from their book, SNK has brought one of the biggest quarter munching monsters from the arcades home to the Xbox. Grab your gun and your grenades, because it’s time to launch Metal Slug 3.
Metal Slug is evolved from the side scrolling shooter where one or two heroes squared off against a horde of opponents launching a barrage of projectiles, energy weapons or explosives at them. While the instruction manual implies a detailed backstory behind the Metal Slug series that ranges from governmental and military conspiracies to alien abductions, players don’t particularly need any experience with the previous titles to enjoy this game. In fact, the plot never actually affects the gameplay, and acts as more of a setting for the mind of the player than a progressing game element. In reality, players simply choose from one of four soldiers and leaps into the fray to destroy anything in sight. At first, the soldiers are equipped with a handgun that fires an unlimited amount of ammo, and a limited number of explosives. To protect themselves from closer attacks, the troops automatically break out knives and slash their target.
These won’t be the only weapons they’ll receive as they traverse the five game levels. Some enemies or rescued hostages will drop a myriad of weaponry that will give you stronger attacks. These include heavy machine guns that spit bullets out at a rapid pace, lasers and the creatively named Iron Lizard, a missile that crawls along the ground and blows up obstacles. Your soldiers will also stumble upon abandoned vehicles scattered around levels, the eponymous Metal Slugs, which provide extra firepower from a number of platforms such as tanks and the back of elephants. Believe me, you’ll need it, because the screen will be swarming with the most eclectic group of enemies you’ll ever see. From giant crustaceans to numerous foot soldiers to shambling zombies, the screen will sometimes crawl with a dozen enemies or more, each targeting your soldiers.
Metal Slug 3 is easily one of the most faithful ports of a title from an arcade machine. Not only have the original graphics and sound effects been preserved, but they’ve been improved in a few noticeable ways. First, graphics are much sharper and cleaner looking than the arcades, which give a somewhat better presentation to the game. This extends to the sound effects, particularly the mission announcing voice over, which feels like it was cleanly ripped from the game cabinet itself. Similarly, the massive amount of slowdown that occurred rather frequently in the arcade version has been significantly fixed up, so the game runs at a consistent frame rate. However, the largest, and perhaps most disappointing thing about the graphics and sound is that they don’t take advantage of the full processing power of the Xbox. To that end, you wish that the environments and 2D character models were more detailed and the sound was much cleaner, but unfortunately this just isn’t found in the game.
A little bit of this disappointment carries over to certain aspects of the game itself. First of all, Metal Slug 3 claims Xbox Live support, but all it merely supports is an online scoreboard and time ranking for players. This isn’t really a feature to tout as much as an afterthought of programming. It would’ve been better to include online co-op play or even newer features that the arcade didn’t have, but this isn’t the case. In fact, online co-op play makes more sense considering the extreme difficulty level of the game, even on normal settings. Gamers often need the additional firepower that a two-player game provides. Through each stage, the enemies and their weapons attack you constantly, forcing you to competently dodge an inhuman number of obstacles. Running out of the allotted lives given to you and taking a continue doesn’t resume your progress at the spot you died though. Instead, you return to the beginning of that level and are forced to slog through all that carnage all over again, which can be heartbreaking to someone who’s died at the hands of a boss. For some reason, the designers thought they should remove that one feature of the arcade machine to give players a greater challenge. Instead, they actually wound up forcing upon their players lessons of patience. Better hope you can achieve a level of enlightened calm playing this title, because otherwise your gaming space will become contaminated with negative language of the worst kind.
That’s right, this game will kick you in the teeth while you’re down. And this is merely on normal. This is especially noticeable considering that there are only five levels to the game itself. Although the levels are quite large, and there are a number of paths that can be taken to resolve the same mission, (thereby imparting minor replayability), once finished, there is very little to do outside of ramp up the difficulty level. However, once you start stepping up the difficulty levels, the game ramps up accordingly, pleasing only the demented and sadistic gamer alike. Your only other recourse is to play either the Fat Island level, which tasks you with eating tons of fish and other items to keep your soldier overweight, or Storming the UFO Mothership, which lets you play a bad soldier trying to free your comrades. Fun and enjoyable diversions, this doesn’t make up for lost levels, additional gameplay or sensible control structures that would’ve helped out significantly.
Overall, my fellow gamers, we’re looking at the glorious comeback of a dying breed, and with it, a challenge to stand up against insane odds with only a few continues separating us from gameplay and game over screens. Metal Slug 3 is a faithful representation of that old school gaming experience, but the extremely high difficulty level, continue flaw and lack of additional features or levels past the original arcade game hinder this from restoring faith in the side scrolling genre. If you’ve never experienced this kind of game before, you should probably take a look at this to understand the nostalgia we older gamers have for titles like this one. Fans of the genre might also want to pick this one up; otherwise, you may go looking for a longer, more replayable game experience.