Review: Metal Slug 3 (Playmore/PS2)
by brandon sheffield
06232003


Open your arms and let the Metal Slug in.

I’m sitting in front of my TV playing this thing. I’m agitated, and I’m not sure why. My right foot is jiggling, crossed over my left knee as it is. I’m pounding that fire button like my grandma’s life depended on it. What the hell is wrong with me??

Out of the blue –

“You’re damn right Metal Slug 3!!!”

I calm down a bit. Why did I say that? I put the game on pause and think. It’s an answer to a question nobody asked. My zombie blood-vomit is frozen in process, dissolving a helicopter. I flip the input on the TV and glaze over Jenny Jones’ overweight pregnant crack-addicted southern accent underage parade of fantasy.

I’ve said that phrase before. It was when I came upon the marquee in the semi-local Family Arcade – I looked at the thing, and quite pleased to see it there, exclaimed those very words. It had only been out for a few weeks at the time.

I played it for a few quarters, but was not overly excited. I didn’t think it was quite so damned right as I’d previously shouted. It didn’t feel good to me at that stage…I’m not sure what I wanted out of it, but it didn’t grab me just then.

Back here in front of my TV, I recognized the catalyst for my outburst. The game, after only 1.5 levels, had fulfilled that anticipation of several years prior. Well holy hell. What a pleasant conclusion.

The game had arrived not 15 minutes before this event. The UPS man came and dropped the thing off – I tore the company brand plastic off the package on my way inside. I was more excited about KOF 2002 than anything. I get the box open, forgetting Play-Asia.com’s eight million packing peanuts per game policy. Those things are still all over my floor, even now. I looked at my newfound spoils. KOF 2002 was there, leering at me with its atrocious box art and promise of just-okay gameplay. In my other hand, I’ve got myself a lovely cutout-style rendering of the Metal Slug 3 world, in a satisfyingly weighted box. I decide to open it.

There’s a supplemental pamphlet within the well-designed green/black/gold manual, in Chinese and Engrish. It appears as though I am a proud owner of the ‘asian’ version of the game. Not a bad deal. So I opted to play Metal Slug 3 first. And so it was.

I figure I’ll be a gaijin today, and use this helpful paper to guide me.

Arcade Mission
You can play the arcade version “METAL SLUG 3” from the beginning. Please try to dodge your way through the bullets and succeed a mission

I think I will, and thanks for being so polite about it! Though the bullet-dodging business didn’t work out quite how I’d hoped, I was succeeding a mission in spite of it. And having a fantastic time of it, I might add.

The multi-linear paths this game has to offer, they didn’t really present themselves to me in their full grandeur when I played it in the arcade. To be frank, I wasn’t getting very far. Metal Slug is equal parts twitch-reaction and level memorization. My first time playing any Metal Slug game tends to be slightly disastrous, due to a gaping lack of the latter.

So given free reign, sans 25 cent-increment budget constrictions I’ve more leeway to explore. And there’s quite a lot of that to be done. It’s not quite as clever about the branching path thing as Metal Slug 1st Mission for NGPC, but it’s done so tastefully and unobtrusively here. There are secret items everywhere, and hidden paths and junctions within other hidden paths and junctions. The fact that there’s often little-to-no indication of their existence makes me wonder what else could be out there?

It’s an action-packed shooting game, and I want to explore it. I want to know where everything goes, see each screen, fight every enemy, free every prisoner and obtain every hidden item. It implements a powerful feeling of nostalgia…bringing back something I haven’t fully felt since playing Ys for the first time some years ago.

It’s powerfully engaging. I truly am instilled with a sense of wonder as I encounter a Shinto shrine underground. It feels like a discovery – as though I personally found this place. And there are people inside who move about regardless of my presence, though understandably alarmed once I come into view. Everything in this game is alive, and begging to be interacted with.

Thus it feels a bit strange that my ‘interaction’ is to kill or destroy everything I come across. The feeling of being an archeologist coming upon lost ruins tends to be shattered by the fact that while everything in the game may be alive, it’s my job to make sure that these live things become inert. And there’s more to it.

In the final stage, as in Metal Slug 2 and X, you wind up fighting alongside the Moden Army against an army of aliens. So, your one-time foes become your allies, in several ultra-gratifying scenes. There’s much more drama and personal connection this time round. Sure makes you feel guilty for having killed so many of them. And uh…I’m not used to their blood being so red. It’s…disturbing. The zombies actually seem to have a lot of blood in them, which spurts out with every bullet that strikes their leprous bodies. They’ve also an unlimited supply of vomit to either toss at you, shoot out of intestines, or open their ribs and expel. Yowza.

The killing-guilt comes in waves – when they knock you off your camel, you suddenly stop feeling so bad. And by the way, you can configure your pad such that any time you enter one of these vehicles, camel or otherwise, you can fix the position of your vulcan gun by holding the fire button down.

Beat the arcade mode, with all of its elephant-riding, jetpack wearing, vertical space shooting, monkey befriending quirkiness, and you’re treated to some extras, helpfully illuminated by my Engrish guide:

Mission select
Select an optional mission and you can play arcade mission from the mission.

…mission mission. Given obscure locations of items, paths and P.O.W.s in the game, level-by-level replay is utterly necessary. So here I am, completely in control of my explorer-destiny. There’s nothing new about level select options, but…there’s a reason for it in this game. If you want to catch ‘em all as it were, there’s just no other logical way. The functional need it meets is what impresses me. Granted, level select has been in every console port of Metal Slug, but no other has had this much call for it.

The second time through level four, I found the aforementioned underground shrine. The denizens of the shrine are…ambiguously ”Arabic” people. Horribly stereotyped in the inimitable Japanese fashion[1]. They wield swords, suicide bomb, speak gibberish, and have planes on rails on the ceiling. These planes kind of roll by, shooting down at you. Then they crash into a wall instantly killing the passenger. It’s…a little damaging to my ethical pride.

Just like archeology though – racial profiling a-gogo.

Another mission 01 (aka UFO game)
When you clear arcade mission, you can play this mission as an additional mission. A player becomes a member of Moden army and rushes into the UFO mother ship to rescue your fellows in caught.

Dear god. Ever since Sunset Riders on the Genesis, I wanted to play as the bad guys. I didn’t want to kill the main characters or anything, I just wanted to use those fancy techniques, wear the vibrant ponchos and sport a handlebar mustache. I used to scour the Game Genie booklets for Genesis and NES alike, searching for ‘play as boss’ codes in my favorite games. None for the titles I owned.

I had forgotten about this wish. It had been so palpable for a time, but age had erased the childish longing.

Metal Slug 3 brought it back and fulfilled it in one fell swoop.

Rescuing those fellows in caught proved difficult at first. As a Moden military man, you only get your one measly life. In the normal game, these guys never come back the way the MS characters miraculously can. Once they’re dead, they stay dead (zombies excluded). So it is in this mode. And there are lots of ways to be killed here. First time through I lasted only a few seconds.

You’re given a choice of grenade-guy, bazooka-guy and shield-guy, when playing through this shortened version of the arcade mode’s final stage. Each has their particular strength, but bazooka is far and away my favorite. Strong, fast, commanding profile…can’t go wrong with that gent.

Once you figure out the patterns, it gets easier. You’ve got allies to help you; a host of soldiers who will only attack the right side of the screen, but are rather useful nonetheless. They are just as fragile as you are, and in fact often act as shields for you, absorbing bullets with their expendable bodies. Once you advance to certain points, reinforcements show up. Rescuing the fellows in caught increases your army even further – there are a total of 12 prisoners, who may be released by shooting their invisible location. It’s guesswork at first, but is easy to remember after you’ve beaten it a few times.

And you can manage these soldiers to a degree. They group themselves around you, and if you use your attack to fill in the holes in their patterns, you can be a nearly invincible force. I’ve gotten through the game losing only 10 men, having a massive group of 30-or-so by the end.

I did this because…I feel bad when they die. It’s utterly bizarre. This is a game about shooting and killing. But I feel bad when the soldiers die, and in several contexts. Is this intentional?? Is it a critique?? What’s going on here?

This mode is nothing short of brilliant. I can’t get enough of it. If you’re not convinced, try this; you may recall the bald, shirtless fellow who shows up in each game, toting a gigantic machine gun. “Go home to momma” he says. Well – he’s your ‘bomb’ action in this mini game. He comes out, laughing maniacally, shooting everything within his line of fire. Not bad, not bad at all.

There's one almost bad element though. The control is slightly sluggish for these fellows, and an action will sometimes take a split second to engage after the button press. It's easy to tiptoe around, but shouldn't be there in the first place.

Another mission 02 (aka Fat Island)
When you clear arcade mission, you can play this mini game as an additional mini game. Defeat enemies and get food and make a character fat.

A salute to gluttony. This is designed for two players, though there is a single-player training mode. You begin as a fat version of yourself, and must eat as much salvaged food from downed enemies as possible, beating out your partner once the time runs short. You can freeze your buddy, having somehow gained the ice power from the 2nd stage yeti characters. This takes some weight off of them, as well as leaving them ripe for the killing (by Moden soldiers), which drops about 30 kg off of your portly frame. Get too skinny, and you return to normal size – even less, and you become a mummy. Different food has different weight value - the things that disappear quicker (live animals, for instance) give you greater poundage. I guess fast food really is fattening. OH!

It’s got a very unsubtle NES quality to it. It’s a game the likes of Bubble Bobble, Rainbow Islands or Mario Bros. That sort of ambiguous competition within a one-screen arena. I played against good old Chris Woodard, who wasn’t having a good time of it. I mummified him right quick. Rather ironic, considering the fact that in real life, he could beat me in a contest of eatery any day of the week. Even on Ramadan.

--

These are extras worth having, and bespeak the beauty of this more-than-a-port. The slowdown present in the original game is gone, there's no loading time at all, you’ve got more modes and more game…it’s a good time to be an SNK fan.

There’s so much feeling to it, and the fantasy of exploration is very inspiring. The score matches this epic theme, being the most serious ever for the series. Well perhaps not serious, but…fitting. Nothing feels out of place here. Not even an elephant shooting a fireball.

The one small trouble is the interlaced graphics, which are resized from the MVS resolution. It’s not overly noticeable, but there’s a bit of a ‘shimmer’ to some static scenes. It’s not enough to influence your appreciation of the game, particularly. It’s otherwise a fantastic revision of an already fantastic game.

Chris Woodard is not much of an action-shooting man. But we also played through the arcade mode at his house recently – one day later he emails me at 2:00 am - I want to play more Metal Slug 3.

That’s a good sign. When an action game, and a difficult one at that, can win over a gentleman who’s more about the RPGs, the item management and the PC adventure games, you know you’ve got something.

I’m going to be premature here, and call this Brandon Sheffield’s Ported Game of 2003. You go buy it. If you can play imports, that is. This is the most likable game I’ve come across in a long while.

brandon sheffield is a Fio fan.

Leave it to me to kill myself in an area where there are no enemies. It's a gift.


Pros: Extras, branching paths, brilliance.

Cons: Interlacing, sluggish control in the UFO minigame.

Graphics

9.4

Sound

9.0

Music

9.6

Gameplay

9.7

Control

8.9

Extras

9.9

Total

9.7

 

Developer
SNK

Publisher
Playmore

Release Date
June 19, 2003

Buy it at Play-Asia.com

 


Brilliant!

(0:21 - 1.41 MB)

The Cave

(0:36 - 3.46 MB)

FAT!

(0:30 - 2.83 MB)

Planes and Planes

(0:08 - 766 KB)

Into The Shrine

(0:33 - 2.43 MB)

The Final Frontier

(0:43 - 3.29 MB)

Alien

(0:38 - 3.48 MB)

Aliens

(0:28 - 3.18 MB)

Zombies!

(0:33 - 2.36 MB)