Metal Slug 3
It's Metal Slug 3 - the, er, fourth in the series. Yet it's only the second non Neo-Geo home console version to reach UK shores. Was it worth the wait?
I've got a slight problem with crabs, and no amount of topical shampoo is going to shift these giant crustaceans. I'm going to need some serious firepower. Just as well then that Metal Slug 3 has recently made a beach landing on these shores to deal with those aforementioned arthropods, as well as a whole host of other troubles - zombies, aliens, mummies (as in the embalmed dead), killer plants and the evil forces of General Morden.
Aside from the expensive Neo-Geo originals, the only Slug game to previously get a home console release outside Japan was Metal Slug X on the PS1, which is a bit of a shame considering their quality. Happily now though, SNK Playmore has given European publishing rights to Ignition, so we'll be seeing a lot more old SNK favourites over here including other Slug games. For many though, Metal Slug 3 is the best in the series, is here now and at a budget price too. Hurrah.
For those who have not heard of Metal Slug, it is a traditional 2D platform shooter. The Slug in the title refers to a mini tank which you can pilot to dish out some extra carnage on screen. Indeed this game includes lots of different 'slugs' (Mech, Helicopter, Fighter Jet, Submarine), and some great 'Animal Slugs' (Camel, Elephant, Ostrich). Each of the five levels has multiple roots to the end so it will take some replaying to see everything. Due to its arcade roots this is a credit munching-ly hard game.
I relish the challenge of a difficult shooter, that's kind of the whole point - to know your skills are improving as you learn the game and its attack patterns - but I've always personally found platform shooters to be less precise than more traditional scrolling shooters. But when they play as good as this game, it isn't a problem. What is a problem are the infinite continues - it just takes the challenge out, and some players might just choose to breeze through once and be done with it.
The thing for me that makes Metal Slug 3 stand out from its siblings, is the amount of variety it contains. Along with the bulk of platform shooting there are nods towards both vertical and horizontal scrolling shooters. The range of different Slugs and enemy types, and as a result, variety in the level designs, creates a wonderfully rich graphical buffet. It is obvious how much care and attention has been paid to the games visuals. When it comes to looks, this is as traditional as 2D gaming gets. None of your 3D scaling and rotating tomfoolery here, it's all hand drawn sprite goodness; and the animation is both detailed and humourous (you'll still be discovering things on your tenth play through).
This is the heritage of an SNK game; don't get me wrong as I'm certainly not an SNK zealot (the whole King of Fighters thing is lost on me), but the simple fact that whilst most other companies happily moved on to creating 3D worlds, these guys were continuing to refine sprite based games. And it shows. Happily, this conversion has been handled well with no noticeable slowdown even when the screen is chock full of enemies and bullets. The Xbox iteration has smoother graphics giving it the edge over the PS2 version, but otherwise there is little difference between them.
The only real problem with this package is a lack of depth. Aside from all the high-score chasing, and 'perfect play' replay value, there are two bonus games. 'Chubby Island' (as in overweight, not aroused) is a race to collect as much food as possible. The second bonus, 'Storming the Mothership', lets you control one of Mordens' troops in an attempt to rescue the dictatorial leader from the clutches of aliens. They are both welcome additions to round off the package, if a little on the short side, but if you take in to account the P.O.W. rescuing and two player co-op hi-jinks in the main game it is worth the budget price tag being asked. Only just though, as I can't help but think that a compilation of more Slug games on one disc would have been a nicer package. Also, considering the amount of love pored over the graphics some sort of bonus artwork gallery would have been a good idea too. There was one in Metal Slug X so why not here? Still, you can't really argue with that price.