The 2D shooter is now a rare creature on the video game landscape. The genre has steadily shrunk down to a few key franchises after dominating gaming for so long. However, SNK has proudly continued to keep the genre alive with some stellar games, such as its Metal Slug franchise. The latest entry in the franchise, the mighty Metal Slug 3, is a white-knuckled offering set to evangelize the virtues of 2D in a big way on Microsoft's powerful console. While the game has already been released in Japan, we recently had the chance to take a look at the US version of the game, which reminded us about the joy and pain to be found in old-fashioned 2D shooting.
You'll find three gameplay modes to choose from in the game, including arcade, storming the mothership, and chubby isle paradiso (although only arcade is initially playable). You'll also find a level-select mode that will let you choose your starting area. When you first start the game, you'll only be able to choose from the first three levels, so if you want the rest of the levels, you'll have to clear them in arcade mode. Finally, players looking to see how good they are can check out their high scores, which are tracked in the combat-evaluation option.
As far as the gameplay goes, Metal Slug 3 is all about fast-paced insanity and carnage, in addition to a solid helping of goofy humor. That quirky mix has been one of the staples of the franchise since it debuted in arcades, and it remains one of its most appealing features. The Xbox version of the game handily lives up to its predecessors and serves up a solid re-creation of the arcade game. The end result is tight shooting experience on the Xbox that separates the men from the boys...which brings up the other element to Metal Slug 3's appeal--its masochism. The game's default difficulty places it firmly in that echelon of games where the action is hard but ultimately satisfying. Metal Slug's core mechanics are dead simple and follow the classic template set by the early Contra games. You'll guide one of four selectable characters through a series of five massive levels that will throw everything but the kitchen sink at you--and we mean everything. You can plan on assorted enemies of varying sizes, genders, and species, along with massive bosses who will try to impede your path, on the way to rescuing the innocent.
While your foes will be numerous and ridiculously well armed in Metal Slug 3, you'll find a solid arsenal of weapons to use to clear your path. You'll start the game with a pistol and a limited number of grenades, but as you rescue innocent folk along the way, you'll gain access to all sorts of deadly, explosive fun. When weapons won't cut it, you'll find a veritable lot full of vehicles to use that come packing some impressive firepower. You even get an armed helper monkey! But, despite your arsenal of weapons, vehicles, and simians, make no mistake: The odds are stacked squarely against you. However, for all the white-knuckled destruction and madness, you'll find the experience to be addictive. The one caveat to bear in mind, though, is the fact that the game will make short work of poseurs. You can say you're a fan of 2D shooters, but Metal Slug 3 is a fine litmus test for whether you've got the skills to back it up.
The graphics in the game are a pleasing assortment of smoothly animated sprites and hand-drawn art. Metal Slug 3 makes the most of the Xbox's power and throws a ton of large, heavily animated characters on the screen. The visuals are complemented by an unholy assortment of explosions that help add to the madness. While there a few elements to the visuals that aren't arcade-perfect, we're pleased to say the slowdown found in the arcade game doesn't appear to make many appearances on the Xbox. The audio is good, albeit a bit too faithful to the arcade game, so it's not as crisp as it could be. Still, the collection of explosions and voice samples all work nicely together.
Metal Slug 3 is shaping up to be an outstanding shooter for the Xbox. It looks good and offers a meaty challenge that walks the fine line between addictive fun and frustration. The only hitch to the package is the save system, which forces you to start from the beginning of the level you died on if you choose to continue. While we'd like to see it brought more in line with the arcade game, which lets you continue from where you die, the system helps bump up Metal Slug 3's hardcore appeal by several notches. Metal Slug 3 is currently due to ship for the Xbox late next month, so anyone looking for some old-fashioned fun should check it out.