Released: June 1988
US Cartridge ID: NES-ME-USA
Genre: Action Adventure
Supported Peripherals: Controller
ROM Size: 1 megabit
Mapper: UNROM (128k PRG)
Metal Gear, the inaugural entry of a series that would come to receive worldwide acclaim with the release of the Playstation’s masterfully executed Metal Gear Solid, was originally brought to life by the now infamous game-designer Hideo Kojima on the 8-bit MSX2 computer platform in 1987. The NES version, ported in-house by Konami (though without the blessing of or input from anyone on the original development team) is a significantly changed version of the original Metal Gear, and as such has been savagely criticized by Kojima in the years since its release, going so far as to exclude it from series’ canon. Despite the differences between the versions, Metal Gear for the Nintendo marked many Americans’ first exposure to the unique story, mechanics, and logic that continue to drive the groundbreaking series to this day.
Set against the politically tumultuous backdrop of South Africa, Metal Gear introduces players to “Outer Heaven,” a territory ruled by feared terrorist and tyrant Vermon CaTaffy (a thinly veiled reference to the Libyan autocratic leader, Muammar Gaddafi). CaTaffy has developed a revolutionary new weapon of mass destruction: Metal Gear, an all-terrain bipedal tank, terrifyingly equipped both a full nuclear armament and long-range strike capabilities. Solid Snake, the newest member of the elite FoxHound unit, has been assigned the task of infiltrating Outer Heaven, rescuing prisoners of war, and ultimately destroying Metal Gear. With the fate of the entire free world resting on his mission, Snake cannot fail.
Upon landing in Outer Heaven, Snake must carefully navigate the terrorists’ strongholds
and the surrounding jungle, seeking out and rescuing hostages while gathering intelligence that will further his search for Metal Gear. All gameplay takes place from an overhead perspective similar to that used in several action-adventure games of the time, but Metal Gear differentiated itself by shifting the game’s focus from shooting to stealth. While Snake can run straight in and fight any enemy that he comes across, he is likely to be badly injured or outright killed in the encounter. Using a “line-of-sight” system, Snake must avoid detection by running past soldiers when they aren’t looking and by taking advantage of surveillance cameras’ blind spots. There are several items that can be collected to aid Snake in his sneaking, including infrared goggles that allow him to see invisible laser tripwires, a suppressor to silence his pistol’s shots, and the famed cardboard box that functions as a makeshift disguise when Snake doesn’t have time to find more substantial cover.
Via transceiver, Snake receives his mission objectives from Big Boss, the leader of FoxHound, and additional support is provided on other frequencies from others wishing to help Snake successfully complete his mission. These short conversations provide important hints and tips for Snake on how to deal with his current predicament, as well as serving to move the plot forward at several key junctures. The transceiver mechanic effectively eliminates the unnecessarily abstract ways of providing exposition and character development often employed in other story-oriented games, making even stronger the intriguing and surprisingly adult narrative path that Metal Gear treads. Unfortunately, much of this is undercut by the painfully terrible translation inflicted on the original Japanese text. With characters spouting lines like, “Big Boss here. I forget to tell you something! You will need your gas mask in gas-covered areas,” “Uh-oh! The truck have started to move,” and the well-known, “I feel asleep,” the text often breaks the suspension of disbelief that is necessary when telling such a far-fetched story, though despite this glaring flaw, it still remains involving enough to legitimately shock the player when the final plot twist comes into play nearing the end.
Metal Gear‘s graphics, though reasonably good by 1988 NES standards, took a massive hit in the their conversion from the MSX2. Most of the in-game graphical assets consist of splotchy green, brown, and grey tiles that in no way rival Konami NES high-marks like Contra or Life Force. The sound fares far better, providing many memorable tunes that highlight the tension inherent in a game that focuses on stealth. Loaded with heavy bass and melodic phrasings, Metal Gear‘s soundtrack is as catchy as it is well-suited to the action. The game play mechanics and responsive controls suitably do their job, save for a few infuriating instances, the worst of which being enemy spawns – especially early in the game, it’s common to enter a room and have an enemy combatant appear so near Snake that detection is inevitable, and in rarer instances, Snake will take massive damage the instant he moves from making contact with them. Though uncommon, these instances to hurt the game, and seem like they could have easily been avoided with a bit more polish and fine-tuning (though in the game’s defense, the development team was purportedly given only three months to create the NES version from the MSX2 source-code). The game’s difficult level could also do with some balancing – Metal Gear is brutally difficult through its first third, but once Snake achieves a higher rank, accomplished by saving a predetermined number of hostages, and a sufficient supply of ammo, the enemies become almost too easy by the endgame.
Though it’s not without its flaws, Metal Gear stands as an innovative pioneer against the
backdrop of Super Mario and Gradius clones that made up a large piece of the NES’ library in its first few years. The MSX version is unquestionably superior, as is evidenced by Kojima’s vehement criticism of it, but this comparison holds no more or less validity than comparing an SNES game to a Genesis one, or a N64 port to its Playstation and Saturn counterparts; Metal Gear holds up as an excellent NES title, and is well worth the time of any Metal Gear Solid fan, or fans of games that use their pioneering spirit to distance themselves from the crowd.
|メタルギア (Metaru Gia)