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Metal Gear (NES) artwork

Metal Gear (NES) review

"If you can go into this game with the knowledge that itís a flawed version of the original game from the outset, it can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience."

The Metal Gear series is one of the most important gaming franchises for me. I greatly respect and admire Hideo Kojima, the creative force behind this video game juggernaut. With that out of the way, I must confess that Iíd never gotten around to playing through the original Metal Gear on the NES. And now that I have, Iíve got to say that I may have been fine just sitting this one out.

You control the Special Forces soldier, Solid Snake, who is tasked with infiltrating Outer Heaven, a military complex controlled by the terrorist leader Colonel Vermin CaTaffy. CaTaffy has built the Ultimate Super Weapon, known only as Metal Gear. Snake needs to get in undetected, free the captured members of Fox Hound (or is that Fox Hounders?), and destroy Metal Gear.

You might have guessed that the premise for Metal Gear is rather different in the English version seen on the NES. This game underwent a lot of content changes from its original MSX release in Japan, and as was the norm for the early days of the NES, the Konami localization team had some fun with the script. Unfortunately, the translation of the in game text is downright horrendous, which makes an already difficult to penetrate game a muddled mess to understand.

Metal Gear is played from an overhead perspective, and even though this is a vastly different take on the game that Hideo Kojima actually designed, itís easy to see the creative threads that would come to define this series on display here. Getting spotted by a guard will alert him, and reinforcements will arrive if heís not silenced in time. Taking him out from behind will allow Snake to continue without incident, although itís usually easy enough to retreat to the previous screen to negate the alert phase.

Thatís a handy skill to learn, because Metal Gear is touchy when it comes to triggering alarms and guards. One sneaky trick has to do with the way enemies are placed on the screen, oftentimes popping up right in front of Snake as he transitions from one room to the next. The binoculars can be used to take a look at whatís in the next room, but using them is cumbersome. Still, since enemies reappear once you leave and come back to a room it can be quite annoying to go into a covered truck to look for items only to leave and get pelted with bullets from an alerted soldier.

It can be a real pain to see Solid Snake go down in a hail of bullets, because continuing the mission will send him all the way back to the infiltration point at the beginning. He keeps all of his items and weapons, which make things a little faster, but thereís nothing quite as annoying as trudging over familiar ground just to get back where you were.

Even given how annoying and unforgiving as this game to be, though, it still captures that special something that only Metal Gear games have. Thereís something very rewarding about going deeper and deeper into a secure facility, acquiring weapons and vital items as you go. Finding a silencer for that pistol you scavenged makes dealing with enemies a lot easier, and I like the way areas are restricted until you find the right piece of equipment for the job.

If only the in game text werenít such a garbled mess. Youíre probably familiar with the famous ďI feel asleep!Ē line if you follow retro gaming at all, but it goes way deeper than that. When Big Boss calls and says ďThe windows have bars on them. Get a bomb blast suit!Ē Iím left scratching my head. The room seems to have a wind gust that blows Snake backwards, so why would a bomb blast suit help in that situation? Rescued friendlies will sometimes provide Snake with some intel, but its quality is of a similar caliber. Simply put, if you want to tackle Metal Gear on the NES, youíd best do so with a walk through, because even the most poorly written FAQ will be easier to understand than the in-game dialogue.

At least Metal Gear looks great for a 1988 release, though. The graphics are realistic and do a remarkable job of communicating information to the player. Security cameras are instantly recognizable for what they are, as are pitfalls and electrified floors. The characters are a bit lacking in the animation department, especially when it comes to Solid Snakeís pitiful little punch, but the game is also capable of displaying a lot of people on the screen at once. Overall, if you put this game in front of a player who has only experienced the Metal Gear Solid titles, he or she is very likely to recognize this one as an ancestor to that series, which is pretty impressive 25 years later.

If you can go into this game with the knowledge that itís a flawed version of the original game from the outset, it can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. However, that takes a lot of work on the part of the player, and you might be better off tracking down the actual MSX version of the game, which has been released in various Metal Gear Solid collections over the years. This is a curious piece of history, but a lot of patience is required to get anything meaningful out of it and, as such, I would recommend it only to hardcore fans of the series.

AlphaNerd's avatar
Freelance review by Julian Titus (July 15, 2013)

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