Only a few years ago, console and arcade games were comparable graphically. In fact, it wasn't until the Dreamcast and the amazing Soul Calibur
that console games began surpassing the quality offered in an arcade cabinet. Over the past couple of years, we've entered a gaming era where developers feel they must make use of every button on the controller and offer gameplay gimmicks to sell their products. Most Xbox games are the antithesis of the arcade classics, so seeing a good old fashioned shooter come to the 'box is a delight. However, the problem with porting arcade games to Xbox is that the graphics, sound, and depth rarely translate well. But if not for arcade ports, mindless shoot-em-ups -- where two buttons are all you need to survive -- wouldn't be available to hungry gamers who just want to stay on the couch and not go to the arcade.
So comes the problem with reviewing Metal Slug 3 a four-year old arcade shooter. Not only is it not the latest Slug (4 and 5 are out in the arcades), it offers only marginal improvements over the arcade version with some extra modes, but little else. This is an arcade game, but I'm not reviewing an arcade game -- I'm reviewing this as an Xbox title. I have to judge Metal Slug 3 against the rest of the Xbox library. With that in mind, does Slug 3 equal its $40 value?
Make no mistake, Metal Slug 3 is about as complex as 2 + 0, but it's a lot more fun than any math equation. This is a balls-to-the-walls 2D side-scrolling shooter. Taking place across five missions, you choose from one of four heroes (though don't expect any different gameplay experience between the four) and spend all of your time shooting and dodging. Though you begin with only a basic hand gun (you'll have to tap X constantly to keep up your rate of fire) it's easy to come across new weapons by defeating enemies and freeing hostages.
Some weapons, like the Heavy Machinegun, offer a steady stream of gunfire, but others are more inventive, such as the Enemy Chaser missiles, which track down onscreen enemies and deal devastating damage. There are also 10 vehicles you can hop into throughout your journey, though "vehicles" is a rather loose term as you'll be hopping on the back of elephants and camels along with riding a mini-sub, helicopter, and jet fighter. The controls, even in the vehicles, never really change. It's basic, but that's the beauty of Metal Slug 3. You shoot, toss grenades, and jump. That's pretty much it outside of the Metal Slug attack, which is performed from a vehicle when you want to send it into a suicide ram with an enemy.
The Xbox version of Slug 3 allows for both Thumbstick and D-Pad aiming, which is helpful, with the Thumbstick the better alternative. Though many of your shots are done straight ahead (you can shoot lower by crouching) there are enough times where you'll need to aim diagonally up or straight up that the ability to quickly swivel your aim is a solid asset.
The five separate missions offer different settings and each has its own feel to it. While the initial desert mission may be a bit plain, the others pick things up. My favorite is the second level, which pits you against zombies. If you're hit by their mutant loogies you turn zombie yourself, unable to jump and barely able to move faster than a snail with asthma. You do earn an interesting grenade function, which has you projectile vomiting a line of blood at your enemies. It should be noted that unlike the arcade version, the blood is red and plentiful on Xbox -- so hey, that's one big improvement.
Metal Slug 3 is f'ing difficult, just as tough as in the arcades, so it helps that you can play co-op with a buddy, even if it's on the same machine. Xbox Live or even System Link support would have gone a long way to adding to Metal Slug 3's value. As it is, even the most tried and true arcade gamer will have trouble waltzing through Slug 3. While the first four missions are tough, they can be beating with just a few plays through. It's the fifth mission, which is as long as the first four missions combined, that will give most folks fits. Of course the endless alien space ships, suicidal zombies, and giant metal spiders, make it quite tough to beat this long mission, but it's the change SNK Playmore made in the continue system that really hurts. In the arcade, if you get toasted, you plop in another quarter and start from where you lost your last life. Not so on Xbox. When your last life expires, the continue takes you all the way back to the start of the mission, forcing some incredible skills in order to beat the end of the game. SNK Playmore would have done better creating some sort of continue earning system for freeing hostages, with continues starting from where you last died, rather than forcing players through the entire level gain from Point A.
Beating Metal Slug 3 is not an easy feat. This is an MDK 2 type of feat. It's hard. Hard, hard. Even on easy it's all kinds of tough. On Hard difficulty, well, good luck chap. After finishing the game a second time on Normal, my hand ached, my finger tip was blue, and I was ready for a smoke -- but I didn't smoke, because smoking is bad for you. Very bad. The good news is, it was damn fun. Painful for my shooting digit, but fun nonetheless.
Once the game is beaten, you unlock two new modes, Storming the Mother Ship and Fat Island. One, Storming the Mother Ship, is basically a new mission and the other, Fat Island, has a nice twist, forcing you to play competitively as fatties. There's also an Xbox Live Scoreboard, but the system isn't implemented well. You have to manually upload your scores to Xbox Live and to view scores you have to log into Live in a separate menu (after a load time). Did PGR 2 spoil me with real-time Live Scoreboards? No, I just think SNK Playmore threw it in without really thinking about good implementation. The stats themselves are pretty unimpressive too. It's just scores and times. Why not things like "Hostages Rescued" or even an "Accuracy" rating?
Two things have been updated graphically for the Xbox. First, there's red blood and more importantly, the framerate (which was pretty ass in the arcades) has been smoothed out. There are no frame hitches here, which is pretty much a requirement if that's all a developer is going to do with the graphics. The 2D Sprites have a lot of variety, if relatively limited animations, and the hand-drawn backgrounds work nicely as a backdrop to the action. But this is an Xbox game now and to have nothing popping out visually is a real shame. Look at Viewtiful Joe on GameCube or Guilty Gear XX on PS2. Those are 2D games with pop. Metal Slug 3 preserves the arcade appearance, which wouldn't be so bad if they weren't charging $40 for the game.
The music is pretty cool and throughout the numerous times playing, it never felt repetitive, or rather, it never got on my nerves. And I'm a nervy type of person, so that's saying something. The sound effects are pretty basic, nothing very spectacular and forget about MS 3 making use of all Xbox has to offer in the sound department, it ain't happening here. Again, it preserves the arcade version perfectly, but this isn't the arcade anymore.
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