SNK masterpiece Metal Slug 3 is a side-scrolling shooter that, despite being twelve years old, possesses an expressive level of detail and animation that most modern 2D games can only hope to match.
Apple’s mobile platform, iOS, features a touchscreen-based interface that, when used as a conventional button-based controller, offers a level of control that makes the Xbox 360’s d-pad seem precise in comparison.
With this veritable Odd Couple now living together in what is known as Metal Slug 3 for the iOS, let’s hop into this Metal Slug and see if it’s even possible to steer the thing.
Metal Slug 3, much like Metal Slug 1 and 2 before it, is a run-and-gun arcade game that has you shooting wave after wave of wildly emoting soldiers with a variety of weapons handed to you by the bearded men you rescue.
In addition to a wide assortment of tank-like vehicles available (the Metal Slugs), gameplay in Metal Slug 3 is augmented by an array of transformations that remind me a lot of those from the Wario Land games (in fact, two of the new conditions are zombification and morbid obesity). The zombie one stands out as one of my favourites here – despite the fact that being undead severely inhibits movement, the protagonists’ bizarre hobbling animations and distorted background music make the transformation far more entertaining than it should be.
In fact, I found myself, on occasion, jumping in the path of the zombies’ projectile vomit intentionally to become infected. This desire to hinder myself for the sheer entertainment value is something I’ve not experienced since touching the Fuzzies in Yoshi’s Island.
While the game is quite short, there are multiple paths to take in each level that keep things interesting, as well as four different difficulty settings. Another thing that extends the time you’ll spend with this game is the fact that you’re limited to five continues, so you will be restarting this game from the top quite a few times before reaching the final level.
In this regard, the severe limit on continues is a gift and a curse; when waves of soldiers, giant crustaceans, and aliens are firing at you from all angles, and the game’s controls don’t exactly… um… let you decide which direction you’re facing, it’s quite easy to die a lot. Overcoming the learning curve that comes with a hardcore SNK arcade shooter like this while simultaneously scaling the far steeper learning curve of the touchscreen controls is an experience that may have you wishing that the game offered more (or unlimited) continues.
As expected (and feared), the controls for the iOS version of Metal Slug 3 put a damper on what is an otherwise wonderful game that I would instantly recommend otherwise. Mapping buttons onto areas of the touchscreen has never worked that well, and Metal Slug 3 is not the game to change that. That being said, SNK Playmore made a valiant effort to make these controls bearable. The virtual joystick and trio of buttons can be placed anywhere on the screen, so whether you’re a purist who wants to line up the A, B, and C buttons in alphabetical order, or if you want to push everything into the corners to minimize the amount of the screen constantly covered by your thumbs, the options menu is sure to accommodate. The controls will still be pretty bad, and enemies will still likely take cover behind your thumbs and kill your erratically moving soldier, but to lesser extents.
There are other ways available to change the game’s appearance, aside from tinkering around with the overlay of fake buttons. The aspect ratio can be changed, the pixel-smoothening video filter can be toggled, and it is even possible to add arcade-style scanlines with varying intensity.
Other extra perks include added achievements and an art gallery that reveals itself as the list of achievements gets completed, though realistically, there is no way in hell that most people are going to get remotely close to completing all the achievements, given the controls. Lack of buttons aside, though, the hardware is capable of running such a frantic game; even on my iPhone 3GS, the game ran somewhat smoothly.
Overall, Metal Slug 3 is a faithful port of an arcade classic, wrapped up in a nice little package of bonus content and customization.
Unfortunately, it’s a package that you must open while wearing mittens and a blindfold. With the game already having been ported to so many platforms that have real buttons and offer a full view of the screen unobstructed by your own thumbs, it is really hard for me to recommend downloading this version, unless you absolutely need to play it on the go and don’t have a PSP – on which it is a part of the Metal Slug Anthology.