Bulging biceps, luscious hair and guns galore: I finally know what it is like to feel like a man, even when playing as the female characters… I first played Metal Slug 3 on an original Xbox demo disc in 2004, when all I could focus on was the pure mayhem and cartoonish art style. Fourteen years later, I am glad to report that my understanding of the game has not changed.
Metal Slug 3 screams classic action hero and nostalgia complete with subtle nods to pop culture, such when your character gives a thumbs-up sign when sinking into the river to their demise. Through choosing to play as four different characters each a one-person army. Just like the action hero films from which it draws inspiration, Metal Slug 3 is endlessly straight forward, the same simplistic run and gun game I thought it to be all those years ago, comprised of five missions filled with bullets and explosions.
To say that Metal Slug 3 is as formulaic as 2D side-scrollers can get, would be an understatement. However, this isn’t a bad thing. There is a reason 2D side-scrollers were so successful throughout the 1980s and 1990s: accessibility. The controls are simple enough that anyone could pick up and play. It controls incredibly well and for a vintage game. Aside from the directional buttons there are only three buttons: shoot, jump and bomb, along with the occasional stab when you attack a foe at close proximity. Nevertheless, the simplicity and chaos adds to the charm of the game. To help you on your warpath, you have access to a plethora of weapons, spanning from pistols and machine guns all the way up to flamethrowers.
You start with a pistol, but unlock these bad-ass bonkers weapons when you save the scraggly bearded POWs (one of whom is, inexplicably, a businessman in a suit). The gunplay is primitive but it does have a defining feature, in that you can shoot in all directions, useful when enemies can attack from all angles. Multi-directional shooting is also amusing when you spam all your ammo and bombs. This concoction of explosions and a distinctive smell of manliness is a total distraction to the complete bat-shit level design.
I have no idea what this game is about. The story is a mystery. There was no exposition in the version I played and no text on the screen to explain what was happening. You start on a beach where you have to kill mutant crabs followed by what I can assume are members of the Viet Cong. It then takes a sharp turn as you end up in a boss battle against a giant mutant crustacean. If that’s not disorientating enough, in mission two you have to kill zombies. If you’re struck by lightning and turn into a zombie who has a gun but your bomb ability is you puke blood that wipes out enemies. Strangely that was not a problem, the story didn’t seem like a priority. So much happens on screen and it is so fun that you don’t care about the why but the how. When you play this game, you don’t really take in the character models or the enemies. I didn’t even see the HUD because it is so much fun that you just forget.
Metal Slug 3 is a formulaic 2D side scroller to the point, but it does well to mix it up with quirky mechanics, design and a dose of preposterous manliness and testosterone – to the point where it’s possible to stab bombs. It lacks in story but that doesn’t matter because the gameplay is engaging enough to keep you focused and you are too busy having fun to focus on a story. Metal Slug 3 comes highly recommended, and its influence can be seen filtering all the way down to contemporary games such as Broforce.