Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Metal Gear (MSX) Review

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No, don’t be confused this is not Metal Gear Solid on the Playstation or the reboot (Twin Snakes) on the GameCube. It’s also not that Metal Gear game on the NES that everyone played in American and absolutely no one played over here in Europe (quick commentary at the end if interested). Nope, this review is for the very first Metal Gear game released for the MSX microcomputer way before the Solid days and back when Kojima and Konami were better friends. This is a game no one had played in America (until the re-release) and was slightly more popular in Europe. This game along with the MSX sequel titled Metal Gear: Solid Snake (not to be confused with the NES sequel Snake’s Revenge, which is not cannon nor Kojima developed) are both available on the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection on Xbox 360, PS3 and PS Vita. They are also available to play on Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence on PS2. For this review I will be covering the PS Vita version but after spending some time with the 360 and PS2 versions, they’re all pretty similar with very minor differences.

Metal Gear puts you in the shoes of a rookie soldier with the code name Solid Snake. Your job is to infiltrate a place called “Outer Heaven,” rescue the hostages, and destroy a new weapon that can launch nuclear missiles called Metal Gear. It’s very likely you’ll be going back to play this game after one of the other titles in the Solid series. So, you probably have some familiarity with the plot and most likely know about the twist at the end. Everything is presented in text and unlike any other game in the series the story sections of the game are short and sweet. Even though I knew exactly where the story was heading it was still interesting to see how it reached that moment.

metal_gear_msx_2Metal Gear is a presented from the top down prospective. This is stealth with 2D graphics, the idea is not to be seen, but if you do its ok you can either just kill every enemy on screen with a weapon or your bare hands. Failing that make it easy for yourself and just leave the area and the alert will just completely re-set. You will learn of quite a few glitches in the game that are very easy to abuse. Another includes constant re spawning health and ammo drops, if you leave the screen and enter again the item will instantly return.  Metal Gear has an upgrade system that has literally never been used in the series since this entry. Snake has a class which is displayed by the number of stars on the bottom screen. As you rescue more hostages you increase your class and this increases your health bar ever so slightly. It may not sound like much but this sort of upgrade was practically unheard of in games back then.

There are various weapons and items littered throughout the game like keycards, mines and infra red goggles. Items are required to progress through specific sections of the game and certain weapons are practically required to beat certain boss fights. The keycards in this game are a particular pain there are 8 key cards in total and you have to have the specific keycard for the specific door to open, there’s also no indication on the door sprite which keycard works. So, you are literally standing by a door pausing and equipping another dam keycard to see if it is the one that will finally open the door. There is also the infamous problem where you can’t have two items equipped at once. In one scene you need to wear a gas mask to avoid your health draining constantly but then you hit a door and you have to equip the right keycard to go through the door and as you do this your health is draining.

metal_gear_msx_1Metal Gear throws the odd battle at you. A lot of the time they literally come out of nowhere, you just jump to a screen and then suddenly your fighting a tank. Some of the bosses have by far the most hilariously terrible names in the series history – for example “Machine Gun Kid,” and “Dirty Duck.” A few of the boss battles are actually quite cleverly designed, but the majority just require you to use a specific weapon and spam it on the boss until they expire.

The graphics are looking a bit dated these days. A lot of detail in the backgrounds is crammed into the game but it just looks kinda brown and murky. Like how we complain about a lot of Gears of War games. Of course I understand this is on the MSX which has limited capabilities but the game doesn’t present the best first impression. You also spend most of the game in the same environments, just running around corridors and very occasionally outside. The MSX isn’t capable of scrolling so when Snake leaves a screen it instantly switches to the next

The music makes the most of the MSX capability’s, there are only a few tunes but they are pretty catchy. You will mostly only hear the background tune which interesting fact is remixed in the VR missions on Metal Gear Solid on the Playstation. It has this repetitive thump to it that’s really catchy and you’ll probably be thinking of it as you try to steal some snacks from the kitchen.

metal_gear_msx_3Metal Gear isn’t a very long game but it does suffer from a lot of back tracking and moments where you will have absolutely no idea where to go next. Since I didn’t have a year to play through the game I had to resort to a guide to find out where a specific item was hidden. Mainly those I required to progress further in the game and some of the places items are hidden are quite devilish. You can call up people on your radio to give you hints in the game but they usually just tell you what item you need rather than telling you where it is. Keep in mind this game came out way before the internet so this may have taken gamers weeks and weeks to figure out the correct route through the game. Once you know the route this is a game you can fly through in under three hours.

Rounding up, Metal Gear is worth a visit if you’re a fan of the Solid series, as you can see where the series got its start. For fans of microcomputer systems this is also worth a look as it’s a game that really makes impressive use of the hardware, by coming up with a game concept that really is like no other for the time. Metal Gear is a game that was way ahead of its time and had ideas for bigger and better things that would show up in later titles in the series. This is wear it all started people, it may not be the best game in the series, but, if you have always wanted to play an old top stealth game this is well worth playing through.

Final Score: 3 out of 5  (Review Policy)

Want more info on this title’s release, box art, or other coverage?  Check out our profile page.

NES Version (by Fred)

I hate to hijack Jam’s great review, but there’s really no other place to talk about the NES version, especially because there isn’t much to say.  Anyway, here’s a brief paragraph on the version we all grew up with in NES-centric countries.

mg_nesThere are so many things about the NES version that just don’t fit, to the point that it did not surprise me to learn in the late 90s that Metal Gear had existed on a different system in a different, and more complete, form.  The translation is terrible – although most NES games are no stranger to this – and the opening sequence with the infiltration to Outer Heaven being a crash course in masochism (it’s not in the MSX version).  If you have not played it, you have to navigate the exterior through a series of trucks, which the route was broken and jumbled in development so you don’t go to the proper place when you get on trucks, especially if you’ve played the original.  There was a map included in poster form with the game that did give you the proper routes, but I never knew anyone who had it and that item, while probably not rare, has to be harder to find than the game proper.  That’s just the beginning of your problems, too.  Your life drains with no bounce back or recovery time, it just drains like a barrel with a hole in it, so death can come much quicker than it does in the original MSX version.  Not only that but your save structure is actually a 32 character password system, which will have you tearing out your hair if you happen to copy it down wrong or swap an O with a zero.  After all of that, countless hours of deaths and traversal, you are greeted with a final boss.  Is it Metal Gear like in the MSX version?  Nope, there weren’t sufficient mappers at the time for Konami to be able to put it in so you just have to beat up/shoot a computer to death, congratulations.  I know this game has a special place in some peoples’ hearts, and my best to them, but if you gave up on it quickly back in the day (like I did) there’s almost no reason to return after seeing the stellar edition that is included in MGS3: Subsistance.  Do yourself a favor, play that version.  If you are one of those nostalgia-heavy people who prefer the NES version, nothing I have written here will matter to your or discourage you anyway.  Enjoy.

Written by jamalais

August 24, 2015 at 11:00 am

Posted in NES, PC/Mac, Reviews

Tagged with , , , , ,

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