I love the Metal Slug franchise. SNK’s long-running action series is one part Contra, one part luxurious hand-animated film, and many parts fun goofy nonsense. It started out way back in 1996 on the powerful Neo Geo arcade hardware, before spawning numerous sequels and ports across different platforms all the way up to the three current machines.
Metal Slug 3 was perhaps the first entry in the series to gain significant notoriety in the US, thanks to a heavily-marketed premium-priced port that released on the original Xbox. The notion of paying 40 dollars for a conversion of a single old arcade game on a disc seems rather absurd now, but in 2004 it was good enough for an astounding 76 average on Metacritic. I like Metal Slug 3 just fine, and I’ll admit I owned that Xbox disc at launch, but it’s shocking to see what passed for value 16 years ago.
Perhaps more bizarrely, this same now-crusty arcade game from the year 2000 has been released on the PS4 three different times in three different unique conversions. Here they are, ranked from worst to best.
In 2016, thanks to the PS2 classics program, the PS4 got a shiny new release of the Metal Slug Anthology. This 20 dollar package includes nearly every major entry in the franchise, and when it first released on the PS2 and Wii in 2006, I thought it was a great emulation of the original arcade games. However, now that I’m equipped with more knowledge about the way the Neo Geo worked, and the way the arcade originals should play, I can see this collection for what it is: a haphazard port that’s not running the original code at all.
It comes close to matching the splendor of the original games…on the surface. The frame rates of the conversions in Anthology often hold up better than the arcade originals, though purists would argue that not maintaining the original slowdown means the games aren’t properly preserved. Indeed, the higher speed of several sections makes this Anthology harder to defeat than the originals. The processing of controller input is also all wrong, lending a laggy feeling to play that compounds the issue of the increased visual speed. Also, the artwork doesn’t use the right aspect ratio for the pixels, giving everything a slightly-too-tall look.
Sound is as much of a mess as the visuals. Metal Slug 1, 2, X, and 3 all had breathtaking stereo mixes for the music, running in real-time off the Neo Geo’s built-in FM synthesis hardware. However, in the Anthology those games use terrible mono rips of the original songs. The mixing for general sound effects is also in mono, robbing the games of much of their dynamism. Metal Slug 4, 5, and 6 all had mono music originally thanks to using digital PCM music instead of FM synthesis, so their mono sound here is at least a more accurate representation.
Hilariously, the new intro movie made for this collection has loud, dynamic stereo audio, thus making the opening two minutes of Metal Slug Anthology sound better than any of your following time with the game.
All of the included games have weird and lengthy load times, both when starting each title and when transitioning between levels. I understand that the PS2 and Wii weren’t the most powerful systems, but I still feel like they could have handled competent emulations of the originals, instead of these load-screen-filled janky ports.
There’s no real “elbow deep” options in the Anthology either, outside of a couple of basic settings. You can turn on a scanline feature to better mimic old displays, but it also filters the opening logos and menu screens of the collection, not just the individual games. In spite of some nice new trophy support in this version, all of the issues add up, making this the worst way to play Metal Slug 3 on your PS4.
The second-best release of Metal Slug 3 was the first to launch on the PS4, back in 2015. This 15 dollar standalone release was ported by Code Mystics, and it’s a fair bit better than the Anthology version. It has the right sound, the right pixel ratio, additional options and visual filters, and it’s free of load times or other strange performance issues. Indeed, it performs near-identically to the original arcade game, and it’s obviously running on a competent emulator. It has full online play as well, and if you still have a PS3 or Vita kicking around, buying the game once also gets you those versions.
Its only real issue is price. It’s currently included as a free download through PlayStation Now, but if you don’t have Sony’s subscription service, then I can’t recommend paying $15 for the game especially when the cheaper version mentioned below exists. This version has a fun trophy list and solid online play, but I still feel like the price came in too high.
In 2018, the arcade-port-obsessed company Hamster released Metal Slug 3 as part of their Arcade Archives series. This newest port is just $8, and also the easiest to recommend. It matches the arcade experience perfectly, and I’d even give its emulation quality a slight edge over the more-expensive Code Mystics port. It includes both the Japanese and US versions of the game, a one-credit hi-score challenge mode, and a “Caravan” mode where you score as many points as you can in five minutes.
Like all other Hamster Arcade Archives releases, the emulator has plenty of options for screen filters, screen size, and more. You have the same amount of back end control you’d have over the original machine, and you can tweak the difficulty, starting lives, and more. The trophy list isn’t as fun as the trophy list in the Code Mystics release, but I don’t mind that so much.
The only major drawback here is that there’s no online multiplayer support, technically. However, you could always use PS4’s SharePlay feature to stream the game to a friend and play fake couch co-op together. I’ve tested that feature in the past and it works better than you might think. Otherwise, standard local multiplayer is available.
Is it worth paying double the price to get the online multiplayer of the Code Mystics release? Probably not. While Metal Slug is a fantastic franchise, and 3 is a solid game…it’s not such a timeless classic that I’d recommend paying more than $8 for it.
I don’t know how this particular arcade game managed to get three unique releases on the PS4. I’m sure die-hard fans of Metal Slug 3 will scream “because it’s that good!,” but I’d wager it’s just down to happenstance. SNK seems like they’re ready to license their games for just about any project, so perhaps Metal Slug 3 will continue to get ports for years to come.
If you need to own the current console with the most ports of Metal Slug 3, then the PS4 is the right machine for you. The Xbox One features a mere two different ports of the game: the Xbox 360 release (through backwards compatibility) and the Hamster version. Meanwhile, the poor Nintendo Switch only has one edition of Metal Slug 3, but thankfully it’s the superior port from Hamster.