One thing every Nintendo owner can agree on is the superb quality of games produced by Konami. Ultra Games is a new branch under Konami, and Metal Gear is their first game under this new label. Looking at the cover, you may expect another action game like Contra, or possibly a Terminator clone, given the close resemblance between the movie’s character Kyle Reese and the Metal Gear hero, Solid Snake. However, Metal Gear is truly a one-of-a-kind game, implementing all kinds of firsts in video gaming. Conversely for every innovation, there is a point of extremely flawed game design or confusing and frustrating gameplay. My opinion of this game seemed to change every ten minutes!
Explaining the story is the start of this game’s problems, as the manual’s description differs vastly from the actual game. You play as Solid Snake, a marine tasked with infiltrating South African base Outer Heaven and destroying the super weapon Metal Gear. Colonel Venom CaTaffy is a dictator and global terrorist who plans to use Metal Gear to create havoc around the world. This game has a creative story and setting and we see some clever character development not really seen in other NES games. I’ll avoid spoiling too much about the plot, but one glaring issue is that the big bad enemy highlighted in the manual, CaTaffy is never seen or mentioned in the game. Obviously major changes were made, and the manual was not altered.
Enough about the story, let’s get to the action. Evasion is the key to success in Metal Gear. Avoiding or sneaking by enemy guards is far more effective than killing them. You also begin the game unarmed and hand-to-hand combat with armed guards is rarely a good idea. Even when you get a gun, I tried to conserve ammo and continued to avoid confrontation. You have a radio transmitter and you’ll be in contact with Big Boss, (or Commander South as the manual calls him) and other members of your team Fox Hound. They will try and guide you on your mission, offering hints and direction. A lot of this information is useless, confusing, and poorly translated and I found it easier to explore on my own. Sometimes contacting a team member is required to receive a Special Item. The radio also gives you a password to continue your progress, and of course the password is long and a pain to enter – write it down very carefully before turning off your NES.
You’ll spend the game exploring the jungle and desert area looking for the 5 enemy strongholds. To enter these you’ll need to find the corresponding keycards. Most keycards, weapons, and special items are found in enemy trucks or hidden in the strongholds. When entering a truck, they will often drive away and park you at another spot in the game. While this is important to get to new areas, it can be very agitating if you’ve already set out on a specific path. I had to make many maps displaying the truck routes and for the mazes and traps in the enemy bases. You’ll want to explore every spot in the strongholds, as you don’t want to miss a hostage, valuable ammunition, or an essential special item. It is easy to get lost in this game, or killed quickly by enemy traps or ambushes.
When you are killed, you continue with all your items and ranking, but you’ll start at a checkpoint. Until you get a higher ranking (which goes up when you save your first hostage), you’ll start at the very beginning of the game. I had to do so much backtracking my first two hours playing the game, it became an awful chore. Once I finally got some important items and built up my health meter, I started making some significant progress. Then I started having a lot of fun playing the game, but early on it became so bad I nearly quit. I can see many gamers not having the patience to power through. Possibly the most irritating thing in Metal Gear was killing all the enemies on a screen and having all of them come back from the dead as soon as I reentered.
One of the highlights of the game is the large amount of special items and weapons you collect throughout the mission. You may enter a room filled with nerve gas, so you must locate and equip the gas mask. Inferred goggles detect alarms, flashlights locate hidden passages, and binoculars let you see what lies ahead on the next screen. There are over 20 different items and weapons to find. You can even disguise yourself as an enemy solider or hide in a cardboard box. There is a lot of trial and error to be had here, so expect to fall victim to traps or ambushes quite often your first time in an area. It’s important to learn from these pitfalls and not make the same mistake twice. Make maps and take notes. There are several boss battles as well, so you’ll want to make sure to have the appropriate weapon and plenty of ammo.
The graphics in Metal Gear are above average, but don’t really live up to the Konami standard. On appearance, Contra blows this away. The strongholds are bland looking and there are a lot of browns and greens trying to replicate the jungle and desert settings. It’s not a bad looking game, but nothing wowed me in the visual department. I enjoyed the music in Metal Gear, although there are not a lot of tracks. The reason for this may be there are no levels – it’s just one massive world (sort of like The Legend of Zelda) and you’ll hear the main theme and stronghold music over and over again. The alert noise that sounds when you are detected is a terrifying thing to hear, but fits like a glove. The game suffers from poor translations and at times awful dialogue, which goes hand in hand with the inaccuracies between the manual and the game.
Metal Gear had the potential to be one of the greatest games ever created, but its many follies really harm its overall quality. I loved exploring Outer Heaven and the enemy bases, and really enjoyed the boss battles. The large variety of items and weapons, as well as a story geared towards an older audience make Metal Gear a very cool game to play. However, the reappearing enemies, backtracking, and frequent early deaths were very frustrating. Talking to your team through the radio was usually a waste of time and quite boring, and the less said about the dialogue and translation issues the better. Despite its flaws and need for refinement, I still played through the entire game and enjoyed much of the experience. This might be a good fit for older gamers, as the theme and story are more mature than the average NES Game Pak.
Metal Gear Review
- Graphics - 7/107/10
- Sound - 8.5/108.5/10
- Gameplay - 7/107/10
- Lasting Appeal - 7/107/10
Final Thoughts: GOOD
Ultra’s first outing is a good one, but not a great one. Metal Gear is filled with gadgets and weapons and puzzles to solve, but it also suffers from some boring dialogue, translation issues, and confusing directions. I like the freedom to move around and make decisions, but the some of the gameplay mechanics frustrated me at times.
Aaron got his NES in 1991 and has loved and collected video games ever since. In addition to gaming, he enjoys Stephen King novels, Twins Baseball, and his cats.