Metal Slug 3 review for PS Vita, PS4, PS3

Platform: PS Vita
Also On: PS3, PS4, PC, Xbox 360
Publisher: SNK Playmore
Developer: SNK Playmore
Medium: Digital
Players: 1-2
Online: Yes

Even though I’m a child of the ’80s and I spent a good amount of time playing video games throughout my youth, I can count the number of times I’ve been in an arcade on one hand. (In fact, you only need one finger, since I went to an arcade precisely once.) Consequently, I never developed much of an appreciation for arcade-style games.

This is relevant to Metal Slug 3 because it’s about as arcade-y as a game can get. It may have originally been released in 2000, but it feels like a relic of an even earlier time. It’s got run & gun gameplay. Graphics that look like they came straight out of Double Dragon or Streets of Rage. An over-the-top military plot that feels like it was born out of an ’80s action flick. A high score list that allows for three letter names. And, in its most arcade-y twist of all, levels that feel like you should be playing them on a cabinet rather than a console.

Metal Slug 3_2

What does that last one mean? For one thing, it means you always start a new game at the very beginning of the first level, rather than having the option to pick up where you left off — no save slots here. For another, it means that every time your player loses all his or her lives, you get a continue screen.

(Let’s just pause here to be grateful that SNK Playmore didn’t make concessions to modern gaming economics and attach in-app purchases and real money to those continues.)

While the latter is kind of neat (I can’t think of many other retro-inspired games that have borrowed that from the past), the whole “starting over at the beginning every time” thing does absolutely nothing for me — which is where my lack of time spent in arcades decades ago comes into play. Try as I might, I just can’t enjoy sinking a whole bunch of time into the game, and then turning around and playing the exact same levels the next time I boot it up. I don’t get any sense of accomplishment from it. Sure, there are slightly branching paths in certain spots that help mix things up a little, but they hardly branch enough to make it seem like you’re playing a different game each time. That said, I could see how people might enjoy it, particularly if it hits them in the right nostalgic mood. I mean, I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into various sports games, and what are those if not the same thing over and over again?

Metal Slug 3

I have a lot more trouble understanding how people could enjoy Metal Slug 3’s controls, though. To be blunt: they’re kind of lousy. As far as I can tell, you can only shoot in four directions, which makes attacking enemies diagonally opposed to you virtually impossible — kind of a big deal when you have enemies constantly coming after you. Similarly, the game makes it difficult on you if you want to run in one direction and shoot in another — again, not ideal when the game expects you to simultaneously run away from certain baddies and also shoot at them. Whether this is a holdover from the age of arcades, I can’t say — since, as I said, they weren’t a part of my childhood — but I can say it makes the game feel creaky and archaic.

Which is a shame, because otherwise…I can’t say I would’ve loved it, because I don’t think that would’ve been true, but I think I’d have had a much better appreciation for why this game has been so enduring. As it stands, Metal Slug 3 on the Vita is a pretty lousy entry point for anyone new to the franchise, and only worth getting if you’re able to overlook a whole lot of flaws.

Grade: C