The Ninjabot

Retro Review: Metal Gear

Posted on August 12, 2012 at 5:59 pm by Stephen Janes

MG Title MSX2

By Stephen Janes (@stephenkjanes)

Most gamers were introduced to Metal Gear Solid on the Playstation back in 1998. In addition to stealth gameplay that was unrivaled at the time, Metal Gear Solid also incorporated brilliant voice acting, off-beat humor, political satire and lengthy cut-scenes that drove a semi-truck worth of backstory and character development. Many of these cut-scenes, however, mentioned incidents and characters that were not included in Metal Gear Solid, leaving some gamers confused if this was an original game concept or a sequel to something nobody had heard of.

The answer is yes. To both.

The original Metal Gear was originally released for the MSX2 home computer in Japan, then later ported (albeit terribly) to the NES here in America. Metal Gear served as the game that would later set the stage for future Metal Gear Solid titles with what unfolded. Now keep in mind, Metal Gear for the MSX2 and for the NES are almost two different experiences, so I will do my best to differentiate between the two. The story line is nearly identical in both versions with some minor differences, but the main changes are in how the game plays and the overall layout of the game.

The plot is the same in either game. You are Solid Snake, a military operative working for FOXHOUND sent into a mercenary base in order to infiltrate and destroy Metal Gear, a nuclear tank that can walk. When playing the MSX2 version, you start at the unmanned front door of the mercenary base, getting occasional messages from Big Boss (your leader) about current objectives. On the NES, you start in the middle of nowhere and must traverse through oddly placed guard dogs, mazes that make no sense and terrible ‘engrish.’

MSX2 Start

On the MSX2, you start at the front door of Outer Heaven.

The controls are responsive and actually fairly tight for its time. What confused me were the action buttons. On the NES, the B-button will punch enemies, and the A-button will use whatever weapon you have equipped (or do nothing if not equipped). The response time feels a little more reactive on the NES than the MSX2 version, but that might be the only positive aspect of the NES version. The NES port really gets plagued by level design and layout, which makes the game more frustrating and difficult than it needs to be. There are many situations where there is just enough of a gap in between a car and a bush that makes you think you can traverse through it, but you end up hitting an invisible wall and rethinking your strategy.

There are some poor logistics that exist in both versions of Metal Gear that can work in your favor and against you at the same time. Metal Gear is one of those games that reset the contents of a room once you leave it, the only exception being key items. This works great if you find an empty location that has rations (in-game health) or ammo that will infinitely respawn every time you re-enter a room, but the same tactic also applies to enemies. To make matters worse, in some rooms the enemies start their walking path right in front of the door you just exited, meaning you will enter the alert phase where waves of enemies come pouring into your screen in order to eliminate you.

I feel Asleep

On the NES, you start with this guy and his poor english. Also notice the more ‘cartoony’ color scheme.

Both games have their share of random occurrences that will either make you scratch your head in confusion or make you question what you just saw (much like everything in Metal Gear Solid 2). Starting with the NES, there are a few instances where the floor you are walking on just vanishes, killing you instantly. There is no warning, rhyme or reason for it. At first glance it looks like a logical path then the floor just goes away. In both games, there is a gas chamber that you need to progress through, but the only warning you get is once you actually have entered the room and are beginning to lose life. Big Boss actually calls you to tell you, “I nearly forgot, you need a gas mask to get through the gas chamber.”

Yeah, thanks a lot, buddy.

The inventory can be a problem in certain situations. You are allowed to carry one weapon and one accessory active at a time, so lets say you have a handgun and a card-key active. Using the gas mask example I just mentioned, you have to use the card-key to open the door leading to the gas chamber, meaning you don’t have the gas mask active, losing health in the process. You then switch to the gas mask (as unnecessarily reminded by Big Boss) and make your way through the room to the other door only to find out you need to switch out your gas mask for your card-key in order to escape the room of impending death. To summarize, you lose either way, friend-o.

Speaking of card-keys, there are nearly a dozen different cards that you need, with no distinct way to distinguish between them all. You constantly will be going through all your card-keys trying to figure out which one you need to open the door and escape the small militia shooting at you. I did some research on this, and actually found out that series creator Hideo Kojima wanted to create a sense of anxiety and panic when trying to open a door. Makes sense, but when you have a dozen different card-keys and every door looks exactly the same it’s hard to make sense of it.

Here’s my final gripe with the NES version, and I apologize now but this might be a spoiler to some, despite the fact this game has been out for a long time. The title of the game is Metal Gear, the bipedal nuclear tank you are trying to destroy. In the MSX2 version, you finally face-off against Metal Gear, then have the final confrontation against Big Boss (this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody). In the NES version, you fight a super computer that controls Metal Gear and its movements, then the confrontation against Big Boss. A game titled Metal Gear that doesn’t physically include Metal Gear is like a Legend of Zelda game without Zelda or an Uncharted game without Nathan Drake. For me, this was a huge let down.

Metal Gear in MSX2 version

One of the final bosses, Metal Gear isn’t as big of a threat as advertised, but it still freaked me out when I got this far.

I should keep in mind as sort of geek humor; the super computer in the NES version is constantly showing a blue screen. I never guessed mercenaries were using Windows 2.0 back in the day to control Metal Gear.

Super Computer

Even more frightening than the nuclear bipedal tank Metal gear is the blue screen of death.

Metal Gear is, despite the problems and plagues, a fun experience and worth playing. I highly recommend avoiding the NES version and going for the MSX2 adaption. The MSX2 version is included in the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, as part of Metal Gear Solid 3. One thing I failed to mention earlier was that the NES port was not overseen by Hideo Kojima but rather a different team from within Konami, thus the varying differences. Kojima has stated that he does not like the NES version and finds it “too difficult for all the wrong reasons.” I highly recommend, if you’re a Metal Gear (Solid) fan, go buy the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection and check out the original Metal Gear and its sequel, Metal Gear 2 Solid Snake.

Retro Review: 4/5

In short: Avoid the NES version and play the MSX2 version instead. The MGS HD Collection might be the best way to do so, but either way it’s a great game that provides tons of backstory for the Metal Gear Solid franchise…as long as you avoid the NES version, that is.

    • Rudy del Rio

      I just remember all those damn dogs chasing me all over the place.

    • Those damn dogs were a pain in the metal gear and they always spawned in groups of two or more.

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