Metal Slug 3 blasted into Google Play last week, complete with a tankload of nostalgia and old-school graphics. Don't let the pixel art style fool you, though - Metal Slug's animation is buttery smooth, explosive, and full of character.
In a nutshell, Metal Slug 3 is Contra with a goofy cartoon twist. The side-scrolling shoot-em-up action is pretty much exactly the same - use the joystick to aim a weapon and move, and buttons to jump, shoot, and use special abilities. Enemies can kill your character in one shot, which quickly turns the game into a test of survival; three lives and three continues will only get you so far. Everyday bad guys drop quickly to a hail of bullets, but prolonged boss fights can be particularly harrowing. Power-ups pepper levels and provide access to limited-use bombs and bigger guns to clear a path to the end.
There are a variety of gameplay modes to pick from. On the single player side, there's the classic arcade mode that simply gets players to plow as far ahead as possible with a limited number of lives. The mission mode allows players to skip ahead to one of the five chapters, so long as they've been unlocked through previous playthroughs. There's a Bluetooth multiplayer mode so that two buddies can open fire in co-op mode. You might end up fighting over power-ups, but that's half the fun. The multiplayer screen shows two iPhones - a sure sign of a lazy port from iOS. Gree (previously OpenFeint) is plugged-in for additional in-game socializing and achievement tracking, though I wasn't able to get it to work on a Galaxy Nexus running stock Android 4.0.1.
The biggest problem I had with Metal Slug 3 was the controls. It's easy to drag and drop a joystick and a few buttons from an arcade or console game, but they rarely translate well. Though Metal Slug 3 offers a few options for repositioning control elements, the joystick doesn't feel quite as responsive as it needs to be for such a twitchy game. Even if the joystick is plopped right in the middle of the left side of the screen for maximum access, there's a lot of action being blocked by your thumb.
My other complaint is that Metal Slug 3's difficulty curve is just a bit too high. Maybe it has to do with the controls, but even on easy, I found it was pretty difficult to get past the second chapter. Gluttons for punishment will be happy to hear that difficulty modes climb up to medium, hard, and very hard. An unlimited continues option would be a great addition to keep more casual players interested. It doesn't help that there aren't particularly great incentives to coming back other than leaderboards - the only real unlockables byond the next level are concept art pieces in the gallery, which aren't exactly exciting. Unlockable characters or power-ups would be a nice addition to keeping players motivated. Due to the steep challenge, I ran out of patience long before developing any ambition to climb high score rankings.
Graphics and audio
Metal Slug 3's graphics are true to the game's Neo-Geo roots, complete with smoothly-animated pixel art. Pretty much every part of the art style is over the top and exaggerated, resulting in goofy-looking tanks, characters, and bad guys, which is great; a game that takes itself too seriously is a big turn-off. The menu system uses polished high-res graphics, though it's ultimately very simple with little flash. Video options are actually pretty extensive, allowing players to switch between 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios, or turn on scanlines for that old-school CRT TV feel. Players can chose one of four characters, each with their own unique flavor. Sound effects, voice clips, and the soundtrack are all high quality while still maintaining the arcade vibe.
Metal Slug 3 doesn't handle multitasking particularly well, as I found the game crashed regularly when switching over to something else.
- Excellent, smooth, retro art style
- Fast, tense action
- Bluetooth multiplayer
- Few unlockables
- High difficulty curve
- Spotty controls
Metal Slug 3 certainly manages to deliver solid nostalgia to those that were into the series, but it had a hard time making the trip over to mobile. Even with a few control fixes, it's hard to shake the feeling that these kinds of arcade games simply aren't going to thrive on mobile without a complete overhaul - they were designed with real, physical controls in mind, and worked on the assumption that players would be able to see all of the screen all of the time, not have portions of it covered by thumbs.
That said, it's hard to justify spending $6.99 on Metal Slug 3 unless you have a long, storied past with the franchise, for whom the ridiculous, fast-paced, non-stop action will be more than enough of an attraction.
Download: Metal Slug 3 (opens in new tab)