With my anticipation of Metal Gear Solid 3reaching an enthusiastic fever pitch, I thought it’d be a good time to stave off my Metal Gear Solid hunger with a look at the game that started it all. Some younger gamers might think I’m referring to 1998’s awesome PSX title, Metal Gear Solid, however, more seasoned fans of the series will know I’m actually talking about the 1988 NES classic, Metal Gear. That’s right, a Metal Gear without “Solid” in the title. Truth be told, the original Metal Gear is solid, indeed. While it was the aforementioned Metal Gear Solid that really put this franchise on the map, it was the lesser-known 8-bit Metal Gear that first saw Solid Snake stealthily kicking ass. Some hardcore fanboys will argue that the 1987 Japanese version is the “real” original. Technically, they’d be right, but it was the 1988 NES translation that first introduced the series to North American gamers. Unfortunately, whenever Metal Gear is discussed; it’s usually to poke fun at the bad grammar translations. The Japanese to English translation is severely lacking, but wasn’t that true of many older games? So, while Metal Gear will be forever plagued by “I feel asleep” jokes and ridicule, I would like to shed some light on other, more important aspects of the game.
Similar to Metal Gear Solid and its sequel, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, the original Metal Gear offers a storyline that is often surprising, sometimes ridiculously convoluted, but always entertaining. The lead character is Solid Snake (minus his now infamous mullet), whose ultimate goal is to destroy the dangerous super-weapon, Metal Gear. In addition to the many twists and turns in the storyline, Snake will also encounter several unique boss characters that will attempt to dispose of Snake with their special abilities and/ or weapons. Metal Gear, like MGS and MGS2, relies on a codec communication device to drive the story. In Metal Gear this device is actually referred to as a transceiver, but it serves the same purpose of telling the story through sent and received messages.
The style of game play represented in many 80’s titles could be summed up with one phrase: “Kill ?em all and let God sort ?em out.” Run-and-gun games like Contra, Ikari Warriors, and Commando dominated the market. The arrival of Metal Gear brought a much needed, new style of play. While MG offered plenty of kill-or-be-killed moments, it also required the player to be stealthy in order to succeed. Today, “Stealth” games are a genre unto themselves, but this was a relatively fresh concept in 1988. This style of play added a great, new element to the game, as it was often more fun and challenging to sneak past enemies rather than shoot everything in your path. Metal Gear traded carnage for covertness, and in doing so afforded the player a chance to approach the game in a whole new way.
Similar to the MGS games, MG encouraged and often required the use of special items. Players will find themselves hunting for keycards, oxygen tanks, binoculars, gas masks, and much more throughout the game. By the end of Metal Gear, Snake’s inventory will be brimming with all kinds of cool gadgets. There’s plenty of room for all that great firepower Solid Snake will collect along the way. As gamers will progress through Metal Gear, they will build a small arsenal consisting of everything from a silenced pistol to a high-powered grenade launcher. MG may emphasize stealth, but it doesn’t wimp out when it’s time to break out the big guns. Searching for all these cool weapons and gadgets is not as much fun as actually using them. In fact, the hunt will get a bit tedious at times. Gamers should hang in there though, because the payoff will be worth it.
There’s not a whole lot to say about the controls for MG. It’s kind of hard to screw up functionality when only working with a directional pad and two buttons (four if the start and select buttons are counted). I generally found the controls for NES games to be pretty intuitive, and MG is no exception. Navigating through the menus felt a little clunky, but not so much that it detracted from the game play experience.
Graphically, MG was at least on par with other games of its time, occasionally raising the bar. Overall, it’s a fairly dark looking game, but I suppose that’s consistent with its subject matter. Interior environments became repetitive, and player/ NPC animations were pretty simplistic. These were minor gripes; however, overall, MG’s visuals did an admirable job of keeping the player in the game.
Top-notch music and sound effects were abound in MG. Many 8-bit games offered little more than glorified blips and bleeps, as well as short, repetitive music tracks. MG broke this trend with realistic sound effects and music that was both catchy and appropriate for the in-game situations. Much of the music and sound effects in MG were obvious predecessors to the audio work found in the more recent MGS titles.
MG was a fun game that stood apart from its competition by offering the player an intriguing story that was complimented by its sophisticated game play. If nothing else, MG was worth playing just for the nostalgia value. Fans of the series will definitely get a good kick out of visiting Solid Snake in his 8-bit world. They’ll delight in hearing the familiar shriek of triggered alarms and take comfort in discovering that, even in 1988, Solid Snake relied on cardboard boxes and cigarettes to get him through the tough times. Most of all though, MGS fans should check out this title not only to keep themselves busy until Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater arrives in November, but to appreciate the roots of this hallmark series.