All the way back in August of 2012, Dotemu and SNK released an iOS version of the NEOGEO classic Metal Slug 3. For its time, it was about as good of a port as you could ask for, hampered only by the difficulty of playing such a precise game with virtual controls. But time marches on, and like the other NEOGEO games developed by Dotemu, that version of the game hasn’t seen any significant updates in almost a decade. I’ll go into why that’s a problem, but suffice it to say I can see why Hamster and SNK have decided to release an ACA NEOGEO version of Metal Slug 3 ($3.99) for iOS. What are the differences? Venture in and we’ll have some talkies.
I’ll go into my usual rigmarole soon, but I want to deal with the elephant in the room first. The old version of Metal Slug 3 is still on the App Store and it’s a buck cheaper than this one. Why shouldn’t you buy it? Certainly, it has a couple of features that aren’t found in this new one, in particular support for multi-device multiplayer via Bluetooth. It’s a bit difficult to play the mobile ACA NEOGEO games with other players, and that does make a difference for a game like Metal Slug 3. There’s also the Mission Mode feature that allows you to jump to any level you’ve previously reached. It’s a handy feature in a game as long as this, especially given the branching paths that characterize this installment.
But friends, take heed: very old iOS games that haven’t been given regular care come with some serious drawbacks, and Metal Slug 3 is no exception. The biggest issue comes from the virtual controls. The buttons in the old version were the right size for the displays of the era, but eleven years later things have seriously changed. The virtual buttons are now absolutely tiny and barely useable. The stick in particular is a real pain. The old version sported compatibility with the iCade, which was about as much as you could have hoped for at the time. That’s… not so useful now, and its support for modern external controllers is a bit spotty. Metal Slug 3 with touch controls was always dicey, but the ravages of time have made that old version extremely awkward to play in the current year. I wouldn’t recommend it, even if the extra buck might get you a delicious Snickers bar. Well, probably half of one these days.
Okay, that’s out of the way now. Don’t buy that old version. SNK should pull it off the store, frankly. This new ACA NEOGEO version has all the usual features. You can tweak a bunch of options, use some properly-sized touch controls, play with an external controller, use save states, compete on the leaderboards in a few different modes, and use as many continues as your little heart desires. And your little heart will desire many, because this game is a coin-guzzling pig. I think my singular greatest gaming accomplishment was finishing this game with one credit back in 2006. It took me a year of near-daily practice. It just keeps going. Unlimited continues! You’ll want them.
This whole review feels like I’m backing out of a tricky parking spot. So, let’s talk Metal Slug 3. This is my favorite Metal Slug game. Some others prefer one of the first few games, and I can respect that. A few prefer one of the games after this, and I’m not sure how to feel about that. Enjoy, I guess? This was the last game in the series developed by the original team, and in a lot of ways it feels like the developers knew this was the grand finale. It’s a massive game, perhaps too large for some. The last stage is almost as long as some entire games. Most of the stages have branching paths, and often more than one. Each leads to a completely different area, often with unique backgrounds, enemies, and bosses. This is disgusting excess, and I absolutely love it.
The usual four heroes are here, and you can choose whoever you like. It doesn’t matter much. There are tons of different weapons, lots of vehicles to commandeer, and fun transformations in some of the stages and branches. Metal Slug 3 is constantly throwing new things at you, so the run-and-gun action stays exciting from start to finish. This game came out in the year 2000, when things were pretty grim for this genre and 2D games as a whole. Metal Slug 3 had to keep the fires burning, and it brought enough firewood for all. If you haven’t played it before and have any love for the genre at all, you really should.
But is this version the way you should play it? If you have an external controller, that’s an easy choice. Yes, this is a fantastic version. It runs the way it should, and the suite of options fills things out nicely. The only downside is that you can’t play multiplayer unless you have a couple of external controllers and don’t mind crowding around a single display. As a single-player experience, it’s as good as any other option. Connect your controller, drop the necessary four bucks, and have a lovely day going through it all.
If you don’t have an external controller, it’s harder to recommend. This is a very intensive game and it requires a lot of precise movement if you want to avoid dying several hundred times. I’m a fairly deft hand with touch controls, but even for me this is a bit tough to deal with. Can you still have sixteen quarters’ worth of enjoyment? Sure. You’ll die a ton, but you have as many credits as you need. It’s a hefty enough game that you’ll get your value out of it even if you’re just touring it by throwing dead bodies at the bosses. But if you want to play it seriously, I don’t think the touch controls are going to do it for most.
If you’ve never played Metal Slug 3 before, this isn’t a terrible way to dive into it. Throw in an external controller and you’ll have a grand time. It’s also easily worth the upgrade over the old, now sadly outdated Dotemu version. This is one of the crown jewels of the NEOGEO, and I’m glad we have a fresh version on mobile. It’s a poor fit for touch controls, but the game itself is so good that it’s worth putting up with it to see everything it has to offer. Not every SNK mobile game is worth the double-dip, but I think Metal Slug 3 is.