The Slugs of War.
Despite the wealth of technological advances we enjoy in every facet of our lives, it's incredibly hip to be retro. Take, for example, cars. Modern automobiles are decked out with tons of fancy features, from GPS hookups to DVD players built into the dash, yet the chasse designs recall vehicular classics – just witness the Beetle, PT Cruiser or the Mini Cooper for a trip down memory lane.
Video games are no exception. Though games like Half-Life 2 and Halo 2 dominate hardcore gamer headlines, classics like Monopoly andRISK are just as popular as they ever were. Perhaps that explains why SNK's Metal Slug 3, a straightforward, four year-old arcade 2D shooter, somehow actually got released for the most powerful home console on the planet. Unsurprisingly, it still looks, sounds and plays like a game made in the mid-90's, but this old shooter has still some retro life left in it.
If you're not familiar with the Metal Slug series, just think Contra with goofy characters and vehicles. You'll choose from one of four soldiers - Marco, Tarma, Fio and Eri (it makes no difference) - and take on the forces of the evil General Morden while collecting power-ups from POWs along the way. From basic foot soldiers to crazy plant monsters and the obligatory giant bosses, Metal Slug 3's relentless assault will keep your thumb working overtime.
Metal Slug 3 spans a mere five stages, but multiple paths add some length. Rather than simply shooting your way from point A to point B, you'll be presented with warp tunnels, hidden caves and other opportunities to take you off the beaten path. All paths eventually lead to the same giant boss, but the different areas contain different obstacles. For example, traveling through the ice cave will pit you against frost breathing yetis, while climbing the desert pyramid will result in the attack of the aforementioned crazy plant monsters. It's not particularly innovative, but it does add some replay value.
The weapons are pretty generic. Machine guns, shotguns and rocket launchers make up every hero's arsenal. The only things remotely interesting are the Mobile Satellite and Thunder Cloud, both of which zap enemies from above. At least the vehicles are a little more creative. The Metal Slug tank and the Slugnoid Powersuit aren't the most interesting ways to travel, but the Camel Slug and the Elephant Slug make up for it. When was the last time you took an elephant toting a cannon into battle?
But even from the back of a war camel, Metal Slug 3 is a hard, hard game, due in part to its tough-as-nails continue system. Rather than pop you right back into the action, continues take you all the way back to the beginning of the level. The gameplay becomes a lesson in repetition as you repeat stages over and over in an attempt to memorize enemy patterns. There are far better ways to extend the life of a game than forcing players to endlessly replay the same bits.
The other problem with Metal Slug 3 is that it lacks the warning label, "May Cause Thumbs To Fall Off." The constant stream of enemies and the lack of automatic weapons mean you'll be mashing the fire button as fast as you possibly can from start to finish. Old-school pain, all the way.
When you do finally manage to complete the game, a couple of rewards await you aside from bragging rights. A pair of new modes open up, both of which are pretty interesting. 'Storming the UFO Mother Ship' puts you in the role of one of Morden's soldiers, letting you choose from one of three troop types. You'll need to rescue the others, though, since your specialization won't get you through every situation. The other bonus mode is called 'Fat Island'. The purpose here is to defeat soldiers and eat dropped food items like a half starved Fat Bastard. Get in my belly!
Metal Slug 3 does feature Xbox Live support, but only for online leaderboard posting. No actual Live play, sadly. Your best bet is to play through the main game or bonus modes co-op, which mercifully makes things a little easier.
The graphics are appropriate for an older 2D shooter, with nice colorful backgrounds and a steady framerate. It also sounds fine, provided you don't expect anything more than typical 2D shooting bleeps, bloops and cheesy themes.
Metal Slug 3 does exactly what it's supposed to do, and fans of the series or of old-school, side-scrolling shooters in general will appreciate it. However, it's a little hard recommending a port of a four year-old game for the full $40 price tag. Couple that with the ruthless difficulty caused by the continue system and it becomes clear that this is for hardcore shooter vets only.