Metal Slug 3
East and west differ on many points, not least of which is game design and affections for certain genres. Over in the west we love our gritty FPSs and domineering RTS titles. In the east there's a greater tendency to try unusual approaches to game genres and to focus on gameplay over technical finesse. Unless you get into importing, as a western gamer the best system for playing eastern games has always been the PS2. Even then, many successful eastern games never get a foreign release, especially in the wastelands of the European market. So to see the Metal Slug series make its way to the Xbox, which in Japan has sold in numbers roughly equivalent GWB's IQ, is a pleasant surprise.
Metal Slug 3 is about as old fashioned as the wind. A deceptively simplistic horizontal and vertical scrolling shooter, to the uninitiated it looks like little more than a child's game. I mean, who wants to play a side and vertical scrolling shmup with fugly sprites and cheesy music in 2005? The simple answer to that is anyone who values gameplay over looks, a person who can appreciate the lure of beating high-scores and besting the patterns of some truly wild bosses. I lost the manual not long after getting the game, so I'm afraid I can't give you an explanation as to the plot or the life story of any of the characters. It shouldn't bother you as it's all irrelevant. The disappearance of the manual didn't affect the learning curve of the game either as with only three buttons to master it's by far the most uncomplicated game I've played on the Xbox.
Ghosts'n'Goblins. That's the game that kept wandering into the active parts of my memory whilst I was playing this game. Both games are side-scrollers. Both include zombies. And both feature player characters that look as though they have endured a nasty bout of childhood rickets. And both have the whiff of the undead about them. Metal Slug 3 is old-skool, as old-skool as it gets with more than 16 colours that is. It's pure blaster action all the way from start to finish. Dotted along the levels there are hostages to rescue, who usually drop either weapon power ups or score bonuses. But in an indication of how demanding the game is, the rescued hostages are only taken into account for the level score if you haven't lost a life since they were freed. This is not the simplest thing in the world to do. There are a wide range of vehicles which you get to go stomping around in every once in a while, including some bizaro things like camels and ostriches. There's also a range of different play styles influenced by the varying level environments. For example, there are a few underwater sections where it becomes tricky to shoot directly up or down and grenades become more like depth charges. There's also a smattering of secret areas and alternate routes to take which add a little more girth to the five substantial levels on offer.
Up to two people can crowd around the telly and fight their way through the levels together. A frantic orgy of explosions, gore and curse words, it's a lot of fun to take the chaos on with a pal. It's almost as much fun watching a couple of people play through the game, especially if they are excitable youngsters, although you may want ear protectors to help deal with the squeals of pleasure.
Is Metal Slug 3 one of those easy to learn, difficult to master type games? Well, to a certain extent. Your reflexes have to be on top form and your sense of spatial awareness should be coupled with an adept mastery of the controls. To be really good at MS3 will take a lot of perseverance and commitment. Yet even if you find yourself able to breeze through the game while reciting the weekly shopping list in your head, the fundamentals of the game are such that you won't be doing much different from the newbie player, just with more precision and awareness of the game's design.
There's a minimal Live element to Metal Slug 3 in the form of online scoreboards. As Metal Slug 3 is one of those games which derive their replay-ability from racking up the highest possible score, this stretches out the game's life span, especially as the highest scores require a monumental level of concentration and skill. Even without Live there are plenty of different game modes to try out. You can play the arcade version right from the start, or select which level you want to play. There are also a couple of survival-style levels where you have to hold out against an onslaught of baddies for as long as possible. There are enough additions made to this arcade port to give it a rightful place in the home as it's not something that will lose its appeal after it's been completed a few times.
Metal Slug is not a deep or complicated game, nor is it the kind of game which you go to sleep thinking about. Instead, Metal Slug 3 concentrates on delivering the kind of thrills that you only seem to be able to get from arcade blasters. Trying to avoid bullets which seem to have a vector on every area of the screen; desperately praying that your heavy machinegun doesn't run out of ammo before you've taken out the submarine or you laser doesn't run dry before you cut apart the last wave of flying saucers; hopping around, letting off grenades and bullets like fireworks at the birth of the universe while avoiding any peril that will rob you of the last drops of your health bar, these are the kind of experiences that define Metal Slug 3. It's the kind of game which you can dip into for a short time for a quick blast or you can lose yourself in for an evening as you try to show the game who's the boss. And unlike many of the more sensually stunning and mentally involving games that are the norm these days, Metal Slug 3 is likely to slither back into the DVD drive every once in a while. It's a great way to let off some steam while revelling in the power of pure, unbridled gameplay.