Now that Kojima has left Konami, it is a time to fear for his flagship series, Metal Gear. Konami, showing a distinct lack of foresight, have announced a Metal Gear Solid 3 themed pachinko machine and a 4-player co-op zombie game called Metal Gear Survive. These ideas do not make me confident the series is in good hands. This made me think back to any other Metal Gear games that were handled without Kojima’s involvement. There was Metal Gear: Ghost Bable (2000) for the Gameboy color, however that game was still made by people who had worked with Kojima on previous games, and he did give his approval to the project. There were the turn based Metal Gear AC!D (2005) games, but those were produced by Kojima himself.
There was one game though, that was produced without Kojima’s knowledge, and was so bad that it drove him to revitalize the series with his own sequel.
This game is often considered the black sheep of the series, and has historically been despised by Metal Gear fans. The game is Snake’s Revenge (1990) for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
When Metal Gear first came to the US, it was ported by the Konami shell company Ultra Games. Despite the many translation errors and bugs, Metal Gear on the NES was a huge success. With interest brewing for a sequel, Konami quickly commissioned the same team from Ultra who ported the original game to produce a new installment.
This game follows the story of the NES Metal Gear, whose story is very different from the series cannon. After his defeat at the hands of the FOXHOUND operative Solid Snake, General Vermon CaTaffy flees to Ishkabibble, the capital of Teristan to seek the aid of Higharolla Kockamamie to build a new Metal Gear, the super tank that can launch a nuclear strike from any surface on the globe. FOXHOUND kicks into action and sends Lt. Solid Snake into Teristan with a small support team to infiltrate Kockamamie’s base and destroy the new Metal Gear.
This story is bonkers. The goofy names are in tone with the abysmally translated version of the first game, but that doesn’t count for much. Even if you were constructing a game intended for children, the names are patronizing, and the political commentary (like CaTaffy instead of Gaddafi) would be lost on the target audience anyway. However the game is consistent with the original in another regard. The original NES game made no in-game mention of any of these crazy characters or locations and retained all the dialogue from the Japanese version. So too in this game is no mention made of these parodies, with the ultimate villain being Big Boss, the previous game’s evil mastermind. It all makes very little sense.
Gameplay is just the same as the first Metal Gear with a few additions. Like before this is a top-down, action adventure game with a focus on stealth. You start the game with very little health and ammo, so getting caught by the enemy is almost certain death, but as you progress you will find new weapons and equipment, and saving captured soldiers increases your rank giving you more health and ammo. On the whole, the gameplay is perfectly serviceable and still gives off that old school Metal Gear feel… until it is rudely interrupted by the new side scrolling segments.
These portions of the gameplay are very broken. Since everything is on a linear path, you are almost certain to get caught. Enemies will then swarm you from all sides practically guaranteeing a quick death. Most of these stages also include segments where you must crawl underwater and take out obstacles that block your path. To do this properly, you have to farm oxygen tanks and plastic explosives from the rest of the level, which becomes mind numbing very fast. If not for these segments, the gameplay would have been just fine.
Snake’s revenge manages to have a great deal more variety than the pervious game. There are several new locations to sneak through, new bosses to fight, and new equipment to play with. Each new level has a distinct feel and set of challenges to overcome that are on the whole challenging, but not unbeatable. The music is very well composed and fits the game nicely.
One of the more criticized aspects of this game is the redesign of Solid Snake (right). In the original (left), you had a small sprite of a man in green camouflage. Now Snake decides that the best way to blend into a dense jungle is to wear a day-glow orange jumpsuit. His figure has also changed to the proportions of an Arnold Schwarzenegger. These are some pretty baffling changes for a character that is supposed to be stealthy and subtle.
Snake’s Revenge is not the best sequel Metal Gear could have had, but it still had some good aspects. The game still plays like the real deal (for the most part) and manages to have more variety than the first game. The trouble comes in the form of the poorly designed side-scrolling segments, which kill the game’s pacing and make the experience nearly unplayable. But with all that said, it is by no means the worst Metal Gear game. It is flawed, but any Metal Gear fan worth his salt could beat it in spite of unnecessary challenge, and even though it’s story is redonkulous it still manages to have the feel of a true game in the series. However, this was the game that annoyed Hideo Kojima so much that he made his own Metal Gear sequel to replace this one. In a strange way, it is responsible for the series going on as long as it has. Given how badly Konami has decided to handle its IPs, we could only hope that Metal Gear Survive turns out as well as Snake’s Revenge. A low bar to be sure.
Screen captures from mobygames.com