I should begin by declaring that Snake’s Revenge has gotten a bad rap over the years. Mostly forgotten as the bastard child of the Metal Gear series – literally, as “father” Hideo Kojima had zero involvement here – it’s generally been regarded as the lazy cash-in Konami rushed out for Western audiences. I have vague memories of renting it once and dropping it after the first few screens because it looked and played like a completely different game (I don’t know what game that was, but I was clearly mistaken).
And, of course, there’s the localization team at Konami of America. Just as with NES Metal Gear, the author of the English-language manual pretty clearly didn’t think much of video games. He makes up his own story without oversight from Japan, and since you had to get your backstory from the manual, you would have some difficulty not realizing the game doesn’t actually follow his tale of taking down his Ayatollah Khomeni-a-like “Higharolla Kockamamie.” It’s got all the makings of a slapdash title out to pull cash based on the original’s name.
But looking at the game itself, you’ll find a sequel in the truest sense. It plays just like the original, with a different story and some general improvements. However, it’s made slightly more confusing by the fact that the NES original it’s based off of is not really a true port of the source. If you’ve only played the NES version, this is a surprisingly great attempt at more of the same. If you’re more familiar with the MSX titles, or the later Metal Gear Solid series, you’ll find this one still lacking.
The basic concept is identical to the first. You’re Solid Snake, commando extraordinaire, on a solo “sneaking mission” into enemy territory. You’re under-equipped and must salvage from the enemy as you go. You have to rescue hostages, sometimes receiving helpful intel in the process. As you rescue set numbers of hostages, you’ll gain rank that bestows increased life and carrying capacity.
Stealth is also possible and useful; to the point of being a necessity early on. Anytime you are spotted or fire an un-silenced weapon, you’ll raise an alarm. Trigger-happy enemies will rush the screen and chase you onto subsequent screens (unlike the first). They will continue to dog you until you kill them. Limited health and ammo make getting spotted a serious inconvenience, especially when you’re at the beginning and comparatively weak. You’re also limited by a system of card keys restricting access throughout the base. Frequent backtracking will occur as you collect new cards or required items to unlock new areas, and you of course must remember where the locked doors were so you can try them again later (doors still do not display the card that will open them).
Improvements are few, but game changing. You now start the game with a gun (but no silencer), which at least gives you a fighting chance when alarms are raised. It’s reasonably easy to duck around a wall and pop pursuers when they come around the corner. Second, you can toggle between your fists and a knife. Fists act as they do in the original, and take three or four hits to drop an enemy. The knife kills them silently in one, making it much easier to rush out from a corner and overpower a guard before his buddies catch you. The trade-off is that the knife removes the random chance that a defeated enemy will drop health or ammo. If you’re running low on either, you can switch back to your fists and try to surprise lone guards.
There are new traps, like land mines and searchlights. New items, like mine detectors and infrared goggles, exist to help you defeat some of them. Dark areas black out the screen, but can be lit by a flare gun. Enemy agents can be found in some rooms, and will act belligerent until you blast them with collectable truth gas (with a successful interrogation counting toward increasing your rank). Your radio is expanded with three contacts and a tracker they can activate to lead you to them. Side-scrolling zones also appear, though the reasoning for them is a little confusing. You’ll mostly have to jump over traps and crawl through flooded tunnels while you drain collectable oxygen tanks. It’s different, but doesn’t offer any radical variety.
It’s also not entirely a solo mission this time around, as you drop in with two rough and ready Marines. They’ll disappear quick, but do arrive for some in-game cutscenes and plot-related activities (like causing a distraction so you can enter the base). They will also occasionally contact you on your radio, along with a female double agent inside the base. You don’t have anyone in a commanding officer role this time, a la Big Boss in the original. Your chopper pilot comes the closest, calling in to offer hints about traps or hidden entrances ahead.
The plot unravels appropriately as the stakes rise (They’re manufacturing Metal Gears for export?!? GASP!) It’s perhaps a little too much a sequel plot-wise, but at least doesn’t follow the script of the original to the letter. Fans can also expect your standard helping of Metal Gear-ian location hopping, backtracking, boss fights, and betrayals. Overall, it does the job of matching a B-grade Hollywood action movie about as perfectly as the NES is capable of, and rolls along with the twists and turns you’d expect.
Stealth is also not as difficult as it sounds. Enemies can only see in a straight line along a flat plane, and cannot see in realistic cones. Many of the areas have floor tiles that make impromptu grids – if you use them to line up just above or just below your enemy, they won’t see you. You can pretty much stroll right up to one (as long as you’re just off-center) and shiv him without raising an alarm. Later, once you have your silencer and plenty of bullets, you can pretty much ignore hand to hand combat. I appreciate that stealth isn’t absolutely required, and it would be far too frustrating to play if the game ended when you’re spotted. Still, I wish stealth could have stayed a little more important throughout the game, or maybe convey some kind of benefit if you take the time to do it right.
Both sides of the regeneration issue remain – leave the screen, and most items will return. One-time pickups (like guns or tools) and one-time characters (like hostages or bosses) will have disappeared, but rations, ammo, air tanks, bombs, etc can be picked up until you can carry no more. Really, why bother? Why couldn’t they have just given you the maximum amount with one pickup – it’s not like you’re NOT going to exploit this. But similarly, the enemies you spent so much crafty time dodging will be right back on patrol when you return. It lessens the value of practiced stealth, and once you get the silencer, running and gunning becomes a seriously viable option.
You also get a fair variety of locations and situations that fit the stealth gameplay. One favorite was riding atop a cable car that stops halfway. A guard peers up from one of three windows, and you have to move to avoid being seen. New side-scrolling sections require you to keep low to avoid being spotted, and feature occasional water pools that require scuba equipment to stay submerged. Kojima may not have been involved, but there are still areas that display the kind of creativity known to the official series.
Graphics have slightly improved. Textures are sharper and the perspective is more consistent. There aren’t confusing areas like the tacked-on jungle in the original NES game, and it seems a little easier to line up guards this time. Locations aren’t all industrial in nature, with jungle, desert, ship, train and castle areas. There’s plenty of variety, and few issues with being confused as to where to go next. Characters are relatively small, but it’s always easy to see in what direction they’re looking.
Audio is much the same, with reused effects and some new music of equivalent style and quality. No stark additions, but no complaints. They did significantly improve the translations. I didn’t notice any missteps here, and while sentences are still short and clipped, they’re grammatically correct and convey what they need to. Perhaps as an apology, or maybe just to prove they could do it right, there’s even a nod to an infamous phrase in the original, but with a flawless translation this time – “The train is beginning to move!” Good job.
It’s not official Metal Gear canon, but it’s better than the first NES attempt. Still, if you’re really looking for authentic retro Metal Gear, you should be playing the MSX versions. They both outshine either NES version, and the unique story here both isn’t that great, and isn’t that unique (you’ll see parts of it echoed in Kojima’s official Metal Gear 2). There’s little reason to play this one anymore, but if you’re interested, all I can say is that it’s not as bad as you’ve heard.
Better than the NES original in most respects. Variety of levels, understandable 8-bit stealthing, loads of new gadgets to use and new traps to avoid.
Worse than either of the MSX titles in most respects. Plot keeps you moving, but isn’t very memorable. Watch out for the surprise instant-death pits!
“What is Metal Gear? I have never heard of it.” — Snake