I have waited a long time to write this review. As a kid, one of my favorite games on the NES was the stealth-based, military themed Metal Gear. Despite it’s funky translation issues, this was one game that hooked me from day one. So much so, that I would daresay this game is what sparked my interest in other military-themed games and even films.
Metal Gear was not your typical NES game. It was not a side scrolling platformer, nor was it a fast paced action game. Instead it is a screen-by-screen overhead stealth-based title. In some respects, the play controls and style are a bit like The Legend of Zelda. Except, in this game, instead of rushing into an area headfirst with guns blazing, you want to sneak by undetected if possible.
The story of Metal Gear is actually pretty involved. But you’d never realize that by reading the game manual that came with the North American version. For some reason Konami (publishing under the name ULTRA), had a bad habit of turning many of their serious games into a comical mess during the localization process. Why the felt the need to do this, I’ll never understand. The North American instruction booklet gives goofy names to all of the villans, etc. If found it to be completely pointless and ridiculous.
In this game, you play a black-ops Special Forces agent code-named: Solid Snake. Snake is a member of a secret unit known as FOXHOUND. in the game, he is sent on a search-and-rescue mission. His goal is to free another FOXHOUND agent known as Gray Fox, who is being held in a secret military installation called “Outer Heaven” somewhere in the jungles of Africa.
Gray Fox was previously sent to infiltrate the base and determine the validity of reports regarding a superweapon known as Metal Gear. However, during his mission, Gray Fox was captured and imprisoned.
The game itself begins with Solid Snake sneaking into Outer Heaven. It’s the player’s job to try to avoid detection while collecting intelligence needed to locate Gray Fox. One really neat feature of the game is the “Transceiver”. This is essentially a radio that will sound off from time to time to give the player hints and background information. Initially, the only person you can contact on your radio is your commander, known only by his codename of “Big Boss”. However, as you progress through the game you will make contact with other team members.
Eventually, it becomes clear that the Metal Gear project is real. Metal Gear is a heavily armed walking tank, equipped with a nuclear arsenal. Thankfully, it has yet to be completed. As this information is uncovered and Snake dives deeper into the secrets of Outer Heaven, it becomes clear that he was never intended to succeed in his mission. The whole thing was a smoke screen. Despite this, Snake manages to destroy Metal Gear. But as he escapes the compound, he is confronted by none other than Big Boss. It is revealed he was the mastermind behind Outer Heaven all along. He had been using his connections to steal military intelligence, establish his own mercenary force, and fund his activities. His goal was to send a rookie in, hoping to have him captured and feed misinformation to authorities, but he underestimated Snake in the long run.
What a great story right! Sadly, if you’re playing the NES version of the game, you get a really watered down version of the above events. The translation team did an absolutely horrid job on the localization. Not to mention the various spelling errors and senseless text littered throughout the game.
Oh.. “have” it?
In fact, the NES version of the game is in reality a very poor port of a much superior version. The original Metal Gear was actually released on an obscure home computer system known as the MSX. Thankfully, the original version of the game has recently been made available in the USA. Having played thru the NES version countless times, I decided to experience the original MSX game for the sake of this playthrough.
Several differences were immediately apparent. First of all, believe it or not, the music in the NES version seems to be vastly superior in my opinion. The Nintendo port of Metal Gear is packed with a great in-game soundtrack. While the MSX version seems really weak in comparison. But aside from the soundtrack, the MSX version is without a doubt the definitive Metal Gear experience.
In it, Snake infiltrates the compound via an underwater channel instead of parachuting into the jungle. Also, in the NES version, you never actually battle with Metal Gear itself. Instead, you have to blow up the super computer that controls it… what sense does that make? There’s certainly some very weird decisions that were made for the NES version of the game.
This puts me in a weird position. I still like the NES release for many reasons, but I have to admit that the original version is definitely the one that a new player should pay attention to.
Difficulty: Medium – Once you have mastered the art of sneaking around and you’ve managed to earn a little gear, the game is not overly difficult. However, until you reach that point things can be pretty tough.
Story: This game features an EXCELLENT plot and it’s told very well in the original version. It’s like playing through an action-packed spy novel. Really incredible stuff.
Originality: The whole concept of “try NOT to fight” was something completely new at the time. When playing the game, you have pay attention to which direction guards are facing. Walk in front of them, and they will see you and attack. Patience is key, you have to learn to hide behind walls, and only to move at the proper time. This was really some great innovation at the time.
Soundtrack: As I stated earlier, the NES version wins this hands down in my opinion. The MSX music is appropriate, but it doesn’t seem to be very inspiring.
Fun: It doesn’t matter how times I play this game, it’s always fun. As I said earlier, patience is key. If you intend to storm through this game “Leeroy Jenkins” style, you won’t have a very good experience.
Graphics: For the most part, both ports of the game are similar graphically. The MSX version does seem to win here. I feel that either one could have looked a little better with more effort, I’ve seen better art in 8-bit titles. But in a weird way the gritty, dirty look of the game is actually quite fitting.
Playcontrol: As far as response goes, there’s no issues at all. Sneaking around takes bit getting used to, but the game handles well.
Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Even though I’m officially reviewing the canonical MSX version, both games get four stars from me. Metal Gear is one of those must have games. I highly recommend it.
Original System: NES, MSX
Currently available on: PS3 and Xbox 360 (MSX Version is included in the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection and Legacy Collection, as a bonus game)
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