Snake's Revenge Review Rewind
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On 12/22/2016 at 09:00 PM by Jamie Alston
Revenge never tasted so bland
Unless you’re a collector of all things Metal Gear, skip this one.
Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear series enjoys the distinction of being an icon that still resonates with the majority of the gaming community. Even if you've never played any of them, chances are you've at least heard of it by now. With all of the positive attention that the relatively recent Metal Gear Solid 5 has received, it’s easy to forget about the game that that could have potentially killed the series. And no-- it’s not MGS 2 (although I’ll never forgive it for those protracted conversations between Raiden and his nagging girlfriend). Nope, I'm referring to something much, much worse-- Snake's Revenge.
Unfortunately for us back in 1990, this game was an attempt by Konami (via their Ultra Games label) to make a sequel that was targeted only for American and European markets. Mention this game to the average Metal Gear fan and watch them recoil in horror as they relive the painful memories of disappointing gameplay mechanics and a cringe-worthy plot full of bad puns in the game's instruction manual. Upon playing the game for just a few minutes, I could sense that a lot of things were amiss. To their credit though, at least Konami took care to put an actual Metal Gear tank in the game this time around. That has to account for something, right? Um...right.
Usually, this is the part where I summarize the game’s story, but I’ll let the instruction manual do the talking in this case:
“This will be the most dangerous mission ever attempted, even more so that the infiltration of Colonel Vermon CaTaffy's stronghold. For now, you're challenging Higharolla Kockamamie and his army of raging lunatics. And you must overcome untold hundreds of Uzi toting soldiers, a heavily armed battleship and a loaded locomotive to reach your objective, destroying Higharolla's Ultra-Sheik Nuclear Attack Tank (Metal Gear)". And it just gets worse from there.
Gameplay-wise, Snake's Revenge feels uncomfortably different from Metal Gear. Granted, your survival is still reliant on being as stealthy as possible like in the previous game. However, the major problem I had with Revenge is that the game also makes it very difficult to be stealthy at very start of the mission. When traversing the first couple of screens, you'll likely be spotted by one of the aerial patrol guards unless you already know exactly where to position yourself before going to the next screen. Once the enemy is alerted to your presence, get ready for a showdown with at least three patrol guards.
The first portion of this game plays out more like an action flick than anything else. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it doesn’t do much to get the player in a stealthy mindset. Snake is armed with a combat knife and standard pistol right from the start. Most times, I found it easier to just fire off a few bullets after being spotted by the enemy rather than trying to use the knife or punch them out. Of course, if you're super careful, then you might be able to make it to the first building without being caught. But for the average first-time player, they won't likely have the forethought required to avoid detection the way this game demands. And without the proper strategy to fend off the often overwhelming opposition, you can quickly find yourself getting the dreaded "game over" screen.
The overhead viewpoint has returns from the previous game. While it remains as the primary perspective, the game also includes new side-scrolling sections that require you to crawl, swim, and avoid being spotted by cameras and henchmen. These areas in particular are where the game lost me. Often times, avoiding detection is more trouble than it's worth. Part of this is due to the fact that Snake has to jump in order make across certain obstacles. His animation is very stiff, which negatively impacts the accuracy of your jump. Not to mention, it just doesn't fit well within the context of the rest of the game.
The button configuration the side-view mode changes slightly and I found it to be most frustrating. When Snake is in the crawling position, explosives are mapped to the B button-- which is usually the button used for hand-to-hand combat in the overhead view. This change resulted in many times when I’d accidentally set off an explosive, alerting the guards to my presence. Since the majority of the game is played in the overhead perspective, it can sometimes be difficult to remember those little changes to the button layout. I'd often end up getting myself killed over stupid mistakes and being forced to restart the last section that I had spent the last 10 minutes trying to get through.
Much of your time is spent sneaking around, gaining information about your target, and rescuing POWs. The star ranking system makes a return from the previous game. With every several prisoners you rescue, your star rank will go up. Gaining higher ranks grant you the ability to carry more ammo, equipment, and rations than when you started. To its credit, Snake's Revenge is noteworthy for implementing a few features that were present in the Japanese version of Metal Gear on the MSX2, but missing from the NES version. You'll notice that the game now makes use of the high alert mode-- if a "!!" appears over an enemy after spotting you (which happens about 90% of the time), then extra enemy reinforcements will storm the place and you won’t be able to escape by simply moving to the next screen (in most cases).
The game also makes limited use of character avatars when using the transceiver to communicate with your team. However, unlike in the MSX2 Metal Gear, the communications aren't portrayed as two-way conversations. It's mostly just comprised of one your teammates giving you tiny bits of information that you'd likely figure out on your own anyway. You can now pick up rations and ammo boxes from downed guards, provided you used your fists (instead of a knife or firearm) and didn’t trigger the alert mode.
Most notably, you actually get to fight a Metal Gear mech this time around. In the US version of the first Metal Gear game, the mech was only referenced, but never shown. So for us, Snake's Revenge was the first game in the series to feature a showdown with the walking battle tank of death as well as explore the idea of multiple Metal Gears in existence. For me, the coolest moment in the game was the part where Snake has to blow up the cargo ship that housed the mass produced Metal Gear mechs. It's one of the of few impressive moments in the game.
Visually, the game is on par with its predecessor for the most part. The different environments encountered are a little more detailed than before. Of particular note are the varied types enemy soldiers you'll encounter along the way. In the jungle areas and the first building, they resemble the look of guerrilla fighters. But as you get closer to the end of the game, you'll encounter uniformed henchmen, some of which appear to have a kamikaze mentality as they are dressed in some weird outfit and explode on contact.
I found Snake's in-game character model to be a bit baffling. For some reason, he's dressed in an orange outfit which contrasts with the jungle setting and just about every other area throughout the game. You'd think he would have chosen a more subtle color for stealth operations. With a muscular dolt attempting to sneak around in that getup, it's no wonder that you can easily be spotted by your enemies. Whoever designed his character sprite should have just stuck with the green outfit he had in the last game. The jarring difference in Snake's look is also why this game is often looked down upon. It just didn't make much sense when you consider the locations he's needs to infiltrate.
The game's music is a mixed bag. When you start off in the jungle area, the music sounds like something you might expect to hear in some of Konami's other action games like Contra or Super C. That's not necessarily a bad thing since the music in almost every NES Konami game were consistently above average quality and it's no different with this game. However, the music for the Metal Gear series are best associated with a subtle tone that's more conducive to the idea of quietly sneaking around places, versus a kick-the-door-down-and-shoot-up-stuff kind of sound. Snake's Revenge seems to favor the latter sort of music, although there are some relaxed tunes to be heard in certain sections too. As with some of the other features implemented in the game, the music tends to alienate me from what the Metal Gear series is about. Instead of a mostly stealthy soundtrack, you’re hit with "Ode to Rambo".
At best, Snake's Revenge is a game that had some good ideas on paper, but didn't work out so great in practice. It's a shame too because I really wanted to like this game. Initially, I didn’t understand why so people hated it until I played it for myself. There’s a sense of sincerity with the high alert mode, defeating enemies for supply replenishment, and the inclusion of an actual Metal Gear tank. However, the lack of any useful information from your allies and the pesky side-scrolling sections that are too long for their own good makes the game feel sloppy. And let's not forget about the numerous times you'll likely get killed because of the errors you'll make while still getting used to the control layout in those side-scrolling parts halfway through the game. It was quite clear that Kojima's touch was nowhere to be found.
If you're a hardcore fan of the Metal Gear series and feel the need to have every game associated with the name, then I'm sure you'll probably be heading over the eBay after reading this. If you’ve never play a Metal Gear game before, I don't recommend starting with this one-- no matter how bad your curiosity beckons you. If at all possible, skip this one and get Metal Gear Solid HD collection instead, which also comes with the MSX2 version Metal Gear and the official Kojima-produced sequel. It's the best way you can get your revenge on Snake's Revenge.