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Metal Slug 3 (Xbox)


By: Michael Palisano

SNK's long-running cult favorite shooting series has arrived on the Xbox in the form of Metal Slug 3, an excellent conversion of the arcade hit. Featuring five levels of frenetic action, impressive boss designs, this game is the definition of thumb candy. As you might expect, the game is decidedly old school, with 2D graphics, straightforward levels and an simple controls. The tight controls and solid gameplay make for an addictive and challenging experience. While it doesn't push the technical boundaries of the console, this solid arcade conversion will definitely please old school Metal Slug fans and is a must-have for any Xbox owner looking for an action fix.

There are two basic types of game companies out there: mainstream developers that offer the latest graphics technology and eye-candy and want their releases to have the bleeding edge, 3D effects common in today's titles. Then there are the hardcore companies, who release niche titles that seem prize gameplay above all else. Falling squarely into the latter category, SNK's revived American branch has finally reemerged after several bleak years and is once again making the hardcore gamers its small but loyal fanbase have come to love. They've apparently had a few ups and downs getting this released stateside but has landed on their feet with the long-awaited release Metal Slug 3. The game is appearing, surprisingly enough, on the Xbox. While Microsoft's console hasn't been associated with hard-core 2D titles, this conversion shows the hardware more than able to deliver a solid, nearly arcade perfect translation of the popular series. It's true that the series hasn't reached critical mass amongst the mainstream gamers out there, but the appearance of Metal Slug on more accessible and commercially popular hardware should hopefully introduce the series to many gamers who haven't experienced it yet.

Metal Slug 3 doesn't diverge significantly from the formula that's made the previous games so successful but adds a few unique twists of its own. For those who may have missed the previous games, Metal Slug's concept is similar to Konami's classic Contra series. This is a side-scrolling shooter in the classic tradition. As you begin, you select from one of four characters at the beginning of the game, each brings a slightly different style to the gameplay, making your selection an important area. Initially, Metal Slug 3 gives you a decent amount of default ammo at the start, but you can find more powerful weapons such as flame-throwers and missiles later on. During each mission, you shoot the enemy soldiers, tanks and creatures for bonus points. While the majority of them just disappear off the screen, occasionally some will drop a power-up which you can grab. There are also several hostages on each level, ranging from soldiers to civilians. When you rescue them, they'll "thank you" and you can earn bonus points and additional items. There's also a captured monkey who appears from time to time, who will help you when released.

One of the coolest features of the series has always been its trademark "Slugs" which are vehicles the character can jump into and use. This time, in addition to the standard planes and tanks, there are several new animal Slugs such as camels and horses that you can ride. The advantages of using Slugs are two-fold: you have greatly increased firepower and more protection from enemy fire. However, when the Slug takes too much damage, you have to jump out of them quickly or risk being killed in the explosion. Metal Slug 3 also introduces many new enemy types and several new attacks. These include a new enemy class of monsters that throw poison at the player, which causes them to morph into a zombie or a mummy. When this change occurs, the player's speed and attacks are dramatically reduced. Getting hit with a second splash of poison will cause the character to die. However, in this undead state, you are invulnerable to standard bullet attacks, and can change back to human form when you collect antidote pills. This definitely makes Metal Slug 3 more challenging, adding a new element of strategy to an already great game.

Metal Slug's classic gameplay emphasizes skill over strategy, and the challenge is playing the game to perfection, which isn't as easy as it sounds. Many other modern games make things too easy for today's casual players and throw mindless enemies at you. Metal Slug 3 is refreshing change of pace, and hardcore gamers will be happy to learn that it challenges you every step of the way. The boss-confrontations are tough and challenging. It's likely that you'll go through your lives like water and quickly end up at the continue screen if you don't know what you're doing. Making things even harder is the fact that the game throws you back to the beginning of the level when you lose all your lives. Since the game's levels are quite long, this can be a tad frustrating but with persistence and skill, most players should be able to prevail eventually. The first three levels are relatively easy, but the difficulty ratchets up immensely in the final stages. However, once you've beaten a level, Metal Slug 3 allows you to select it at the starting screen. This is an excellent feature that allows you to start without having to reclaim areas you've already mastered Players can also use the level select to explore each level and find the many hidden paths and secrets the ingenious designers at SNK have hidden in the game. In addition to the single-player mode, Metal Slug 3 also includes several bonus modes that allow you to play certain levels within parameters. These modes include several boss battles and a weird food-eating mini-game. They aren't available until you beat the game but unlocking them adds plenty of replay value. In additional you can log onto Xbox Live and post high scores to the central scoreboard.

Metal Slug 3's graphics engine is defiantly retro, players won't find globs of polygons, light-sourcing or bump mapping. Instead, the visuals consist of beautifully rendered sprite-based graphics and backgrounds in keeping with the character of SNK titles for the past 15 years. The game takes place on a strictly 2D plane, which gives it a nostalgic feel. The Xbox conversion seems nearly flawless, and the speedy load times almost make you think you're playing an AES cartridge, though not quite. The old-school approach doesn't make for a drab experience, with colorful backgrounds, silky smooth character animation and impressively long levels that showcase the advantages of Metal Slug 3's traditional approach to game design. The soundtrack is also a bit retro, with its synthesized soundtrack giving things a classically video-game feel. From an aesthetic standpoint, you can't really fault a classic game like this for what it isn't, but instead have to appreciate the game for what it is. Hardcore SNK fans will be delighted by the game's lack of pretension and impressed by the vivid hand-drawn 2D graphics.

This is a welcome addition to any Xbox owner's library. Metal Slug 3 is an excellent side-scrolling shooter with the traditional SNK feel very much evident. It doesn't stray too far from what players have come to expect, but the new 'monster' enemies and Slug types add enough to the play to keep things fresh. The game's tight controls are easy to understand and the frenetic gameplay makes for pure mindless fun that will keep your thumbs busy for hours. It's a solid title on its own merits, and effectively fills the 'hardcore' void for Xbox fans. Metal Slug 3 is an excellent release that should please the faithful, while hopefully bringing in many gamers who haven't experienced the joys of the series yet. Metal Slug 3 is welcome change of pace from the 3D barrage on the system and comes highly recommended for gamers of all types looking for a more traditional gaming workout.

Grade: B

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