Given that playing Metal Slug 3 involves punching a piece of plastic as quickly as possible while 2D space globes swirl on a screen protected by alien squid and what sounds like a camp, Teutonic man wailing, "Rocket lowncher!" at you every four seconds, it's appropriate that a sense of the ridiculous has been honed for the latest in SNK's seminal shooter series. And it all starts with a monkey and a gun.
The monkey and the gun are illogical. We don't understand it. Halfway through a level there's a cage with a monkey in it. You free it, and it runs around with a gun. It doesn't seem to shoot anything. Why? We don't know. We're pretty sure no one does.
What we do know is this. Metal Slug 3 is an exemplary piece of 2D shooting, however short. As with the rest in the revered set of games, you control a character with a gun. In MS3, there are four to choose from, all with slightly differing jumps, speeds and so on. Then you run from left to right, shooting everything. Then you fight bosses. You do this for five levels and an "ending" level, and it stops. But it's nowhere near as simple as it sounds.
You fight soldiers, exploding ninjas and huge plants that spit spores in the air, depending on how you kill them. Throughout the levels you ride armoured camels and use tanks, mechs, submarines, helicopters, planes and an awesome rocket/spaceship, all by just jumping on them. The have different aiming systems. You need to get used to them all.
You pick up teddy bears, apples, pigs and bananas as bonuses. You rescue hostages as you go along which give you machine guns, rocket launchers, flamethrowers and missiles. It's you against the alien threat, it turns out. And the boss battles, although not always sublime, do a fair job of drawing a tear delicately in the corner of the eye. It doesn't make a great deal of sense. It doesn't have to. It's "wacky" humour that actually works. It's stupid, but it really is funny. And hardcore. And thrilling.
It plays like this. You walk along shooting things. Sometimes they explode, sometimes they just die, and most of the time they shoot back. The attention to detail and sprite animations will make those at ease with the old school squeal with delight. The second level, a zombie-themed stroke of genius, contains animations and a special attack consisting of a rending stream of blood that's especially awesome. Humour is tightly locked down throughout the entire game.
Once you've beaten a level in arcade mode, you can start at the beginning of the next level in an attempt to finish it. You'll probably manage this in about four or five hours. The arcade game is an exact replica of... the arcade game. It's mirror-polished but very short. Extras come in the form of levels called Storming the Mothership and Fat Island (during the arcade game, some food bonuses cause your character to pork up - the extra level plays on this), and a movie for King of Fighter: Maximum Impact. And that's your lot.
So short, so sweet. Two-player spins it out for a while, and there are Hard and Very Hard modes, but at £15 if you shop around Metal Slug 3 arguably transcends the usual rental recommendation. No lie, you'll finish the lot in a day. You can try and collect all the extras (Japanese radish and Chinese cabbage are all there for the taking), but there's no getting away from the fact that there's not enough in here to warrant shelling out full whack, no matter how perfect a slice of arcade action it may be. Oh, and you can upload your scores to Xbox Live. And did we mention the German man shouting "Rocket lowncher!" all the time?