While arcades had already gone the way of the dodo by the time I reached my prime gaming age, I still fondly remember the Neo Geo machines that would invariably find their way into pizza parlors and donut shops. Thus my nostalgia kicked into high gear when I saw SNK Playmore was bringing Metal Slug 3 to the various PlayStation consoles as part of the ongoing Spring Fever promotion. So, saddle up your laser elephant and pop a fresh clip in your monkey’s Uzi; it’s go (GO! GO!) time.
Two words come to mind when it comes to how the game handles: simple and limited. Regarding the former, you’ll be able to walk, crouch, shoot, jump and toss grenades; all utilizing the d-pad/analog stick and face buttons. It’s all rather responsive, even if there are plenty of moments during the game where it feels like there’s no way to avoid getting hit.
As for the limited designation, Metal Slug 3 only allows firing in three directions (at least on foot as there are some vehicles with rotating weaponry), making airborne enemies rather annoying. Those below you, meanwhile, can only be dispatched by jumping and shooting down. Also, there’s no way to drop down from an elevated position so if you start travelling one path or climb some boxes you’re stuck up there until you can find a break to fall down.
Originally released in 2000, Metal Slug 3 still has a pleasing appearance thanks to its clever sprite-based visuals that emphasize unique (and outlandish) design over realism. This creates a carefree charm that is in stark contrast to the game’s difficulty. It’s also patently absurd with a diverse cast of peculiar creatures that inhabit the world.
Unfortunately, the framerate gets bogged down when too many enemies and/or projectiles begin to fill the screen — and I’m talking about local single player or co-op action, not online. It’s surprising when you consider this is a 15-year-old game running in a letterboxed aspect ratio on a current-gen system.
There isn’t a lot to the soundtrack or accompanying effects, but what’s there is fine. Odds are you’ll get sick of hearing your death screams before too long, though.
Given its roots as a quarter muncher, it should come as no surprise that Metal Slug 3 is designed to kill you in all kinds of creative and rage-inducing ways. Projectiles fill the screen, enemies absorb differing quantities of bullets for no discernible reason and bosses pretty much force you to choose between inflicting meaningful damage and avoiding their broad attacks. Oh, and there’s no life bar here; one hit and it’s game over.
By default you’ve got three lives to work with, but the game generously allows you to tweak that up to 99 if you’re so inclined while also offering the option of unlimited continues and adjustable difficulty. While these items may not be in the spirit of the arcade, they help keep players of all skill levels involved and are a welcome addition.
If you’re never played Metal Slug 3, expect lots of running and gunning (with plenty of completely whacky enemies) across the game’s five levels. You should be able to finish the whole thing in under an hour, and though that may not sound like a lot, each level contains branching paths to provide some variety and additional incentive to keep revisiting the game.
Along the way you’ll rescue hostages, who will reward you with either weapons (yay!) or score boosters (not so yay). There’s a respectable assortment of guns — machine gun, flamethrower, rocket launcher, laser rifle, etc. — but most of your time will be spent with your pistol. More interesting than the guns, however, are the “slugs” themselves, which is the term used to describe the game’s assortment of vehicles, be it a walking mech or a well-armed ostrich.
There are two modes: arcade and online. The former is definitely the preferred way to go as it’s a much closer approximation to the spirit of the original release. Either way, co-op definitely makes the game more fun to play, even if it’s a little too easy to lose track of which character is you amid the constant dodging and shooting.
Although $14.99 feels a bit steep for what is essentially a 15-year-old port, the frenetic pacing and intense action of Metal Slug 3 still holds up quite well. If you’re looking for a quality arcade shooter it’s worth pulling the trigger (again and again).