In 1987, Konami released the first installment of what would later become one of their most well-known franchises: Metal Gear. The game was created for the MSX, a home computer popular in Japan and South Korea at the time. The executives decided in the same year to develop a port for the Famicom, the Japanese equivalent of the NES. It was created by a different development team than the one responsible for creating the original MSX version after having been given its source code and saw its debut on consoles nearing the end of the year – even receiving a full English localization in 1988…
Though the NES version was of a decidedly dubious quality, featuring many landscape alterations from the original, the omission of the titular bipedal tank, a botched English translation, and a treasure trove of bugs, it was nonetheless the first exposure the West had to the series, and proved to be a sleeper hit, selling nearly a million copies in North America. Konami naturally wanted to capitalize on this success by making a sequel marketed directly to their newfound American audience. Although Hideo Kojima, the creator of Metal Gear, was not involved, many of the same people who worked with him helped create this sequel. The result of this project was completed and released in 1990 under the name, “Snake’s Revenge.”
Playing the Game
Much like its predecessor, Snake’s Revenge features gameplay similar to the first Legend of Zelda. It is played from a top-down perspective with each area being a single screen in size. It could be classified as an action game, but you don’t want to get into a fight unless it is absolutely necessary. This is because enemies have two distinct advantages over you: their sheer numbers and the fact that they can shoot diagonally. If you try to go the action hero route, you’ll end up dying pretty quickly – especially early on.
The rank system from Metal Gear makes a return and functions in the same way. Rescuing enough hostages will raise your rank by one star. Higher ranks will increase both your health and carrying capacity for each item. At any given time, you are allowed to equip a firearm, an item which provides a passive utility, and new to this game, a melee weapon. Rather than relying on hand-to-hand combat, you can use a knife instead. The advantage to using the knife is that it kills enemies in a single strike while punching them requires three. The only downside is that enemies never drop items such as rations or ammunition boxes if taken out with the knife.
In a move that would predict a mechanic introduced in later games in the series, you can conduct interrogations in Snake’s Revenge. Scattered throughout the game are vials of truth gas. If you find an enemy officer in a room, you can equip the vial and speak to them, often giving you hints on how to proceed.
Finally, Snake’s Revenge also introduces side-scrolling platforming. These sections function similarly to the top-down sections; getting spotted by a guard or surveillance camera will cause an alarm to sound, causing numerous reinforcements to appear. You will not be caught if you can duck below the enemies’ line of sight, which is at their eye level. Many of these areas force you to crawl underwater, necessitating the use of oxygen tanks which are commonly found throughout the rest of the game. Because this game doesn’t feature an oxygen meter, whenever you run out of air, you take damage instead.
In light of all these new ideas, how does Snake’s Revenge hold up? The truth is that it doesn’t; while a lot of the concepts are genuinely novel, they weren’t fleshed out very well. There are a lot more resources to keep in track of, such as the oxygen tanks and truth gas canisters, that it just adds new layers of busywork when you happen upon a room that contains an inexhaustible supply of them. In these instances, you have to enter the room collect the item, leave, then reenter and a new one will appear in its place. Needless to say, this is a little repetitive.
Also, I found the interface to be clunky compared to that of the MSX version of Metal Gear. When you bring up the menu, there are three separate sections, one for weapons, one for equipment, and one for the transceiver. In Metal Gear, accessing these screens only took a single button press. To be fair, the NES controller obviously has fewer buttons than a keyboard or ones from later console generations, and to give credit where it’s due, you can access the other menus from within the other two, but it still takes some time to get used to – especially if you’re playing this game after the 3D installments.
The keycard system from Metal Gear makes a return. How it works is that when you come across a locked door, intuitively, you use a keycard to open it. The problem quickly presents itself once you start cycling through several of them, as there is no way to tell which keycard opens any of the doors other than by going down the list until you happen to pick the correct one (assuming you have it, naturally). Mr. Kojima was inspired by a classic horror movie when he originally came up with that design choice, believing that it would add tension. It’s an interesting idea to be sure, but it’s a classic example of a storytelling technique falling flat in an interactive medium. This becomes worse when one considers that accessing the equipment menu takes at least three button presses, making this process much more tedious than it was in Metal Gear. This isn’t even getting into the inexplicable dilemma of not being able to equip keycards and body armor at the same time.
While I appreciate the designers wishing to add more variety to the gameplay, the side-scrolling portions were appallingly implemented. Though it’s difficult to explain without having experienced it for oneself, the controls are very stiff, and these sections often go on for an anomalously long time. This led to various frustrating moments such as when I made it to the end of one only to get defeated in a boss battle, forcing me to repeat it. Then there was another instance where I was given the choice between three such areas, learned too late that I went the wrong way, and had to go back through the same section, wasting many resources in the process.
Moreover, you’ll occasionally come across areas in the top-down portions that have moving platforms. There’s a reason 2D Legend of Zelda installments simply send you back to the beginning of the room with minor damage if you fail to navigate areas with bottomless pits: because platforming from a top down perspective is noticeably more difficult than from a side-scrolling one. After all, it would be exceptionally irritating if your failures resulted in the main character dying instantly despite playing a game that clearly features a life bar – which is exactly what Snake’s Revenge does.
That’s what I would say is this game’s main failing; Metal Gear featured various traps that could kill you outright, but they usually weren’t so bad once you got the pattern down and the pitfalls opened up slowly enough to give you time to react to them. This isn’t true of Snake’s Revenge; the pits open up so fast, unless you know about them ahead of time, chances are, you’re dead unless you have lightning-fast reflexes. Instant death is only acceptable when you can make dealing with it tolerable; otherwise, it’s the developers punishing the players for not being clairvoyant.
Analyzing the Story
The eighties and early nineties were not exactly times in which games featured plots more complex than, “You’re the good guy. Those bad guys are standing in your way. Kill them all.” Consequently, featuring a plot twist in a medium not known for having a story beyond vague surface elements was quite shocking back in 1987 when Mr. Kojima created Metal Gear. As someone who does not partake in blind creator worship, I have to say that the series lost something without his involvement, namely any notion of innovation. To wit, the story of Snake’s Revenge is virtually indistinguishable from its largely plotless contemporaries. Don’t take my word for it though; I’ll let the back of the box speak for itself.
It’s somewhat admirable that the team involved with the localization attempted to spice up the plot, including making up two characters who are never mentioned in-game at any point, but their efforts don’t stop it from being bland and forgettable. What it amounts to is that another group of terrorists have gotten ahold of a powerful superweapon and you have to stop them before they destroy the world. What motivates them to do so shall remain a question for the ages. There’s really not much else to say about it; if you’ve played any action game from the NES era, you’ll know exactly what kind of story you’re in for.
Drawing a Conclusion
In the grand scheme of things, Snake’s Revenge has nothing practical going for it. The level design lacks polish, it’s easy to not know where you’re going, what you need to do to trigger events flags can be unintuitive, and the myriad ways in which you can get killed instantly ensures that the programmers are more at fault for your failings than you. Despite running a gamut of negative qualities, something positive did result from this game’s creation. We have this game to thank for inspiring Mr. Kojima to continue the series with a new installment he directly oversaw. Keeping that in mind, in a strange way, Snake’s Revenge could be considered the most integral game in the series. However, other than for curiosity’s sake, there is absolutely no point in playing it. Even if you’re determined to experience every game in the Metal Gear series, trust me when I say you’re not missing out on anything special by skipping it.
Final Score: 2/10