It seems that, these days, the once adored NES port of Metal Gear is often looked on less fondly than it once was. A reputation tarnished, perhaps by the rediscovery of the MSX version by western audience. The NES exclusive follow-up, Snake’s Revenge, on the other hand, has always maintained a less-than-stellar reputation.
Developed as an NES-only sequel and targeted specifically to western gamers, it was quickly booted from the Metal Gear chronology when series creator, Hideo Kojima, released Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake later in the year. However, because the true Metal Gear 2 was never released in North America, it remained largely unknown by players here. This resulted in Snake’s Revenge being mistakenly included in some articles that recounted the series chronology, and it was frequently considered the worst entry in the franchise. Considering Metal Gear was a bit of a mess, though still an enjoyable one, this left me curious to see exactly why Snake’s Revenge is so reviled.
GET YOUR SNEAK ON
Snake’s Revenge follows basically the same plot as the original Metal Gear. A hostile force is said to be developing a super-weapon, and Snake is tasked with infiltrating their base and destroying it. Like its predecessor, Snake’s Revenge emphasizes a focus on staying out of the enemy’s line of sight rather than directly engaging them.
On top of the many mechanics returning from the first game, a few features that were cut from the NES port of the original have been restored, such as the heightened alert status and enemies dropping rations and ammunition if you punch them out. With the heightened alert status, you can no longer simply walk to the next screen to escape enemies, since groups of them continue to swarm you until you kill enough of them. I actually have no idea what causes a guard to go into high-alert rather than normal alertness; sometimes guards are just extra surprised, and it seems to happen at random.
Overall, Snake’s Revenge is a lot tighter and more polished than the first Metal Gear. Enemy placement is greatly improved, so I had fewer instance of walking into a new area and getting immediately spotted by a guard or camera. It still happened occasionally, but it was rarer than even the MSX2 version of the first game. Enemies are now more aggressive and cause more damage than they did previously, so they’re much more of a threat, and sneaking past them is more favourable.
Resources, like health and ammo, still reappear if you leave a room and come back, but rooms that contain them are less common, requiring you to sneak up on enemies and punch them out to try and stock up. This does have the unfortunate side-effect of facilitating the old item farming tactic, which may make the game worse off depending on how you look at it.
The visuals in the first game were in desperate need of improvement, and thankfully, Snake’s Revenge addresses that problem. Metal Gear’s horrendous grey and brown mess has been cleaned up considerably, and the graphics have been overhauled to make better use of colour. This unfortunately has the terrible side-effect of making everything look cartoony, but at least you can now tell what things are supposed to be.
Snake now has a huge upper-body and looks like what a pre-adolescent boy would consider cool. There’s a lot more variety now in terms of visuals, and a lot of diversity in the environments, with each having a unique feel. Different enemy types show up in different places, which is a nice change from the grey and tan blobs that you fought all throughout the first title.
Metal Gear wasn’t the most difficult game I’ve encountered by a wide margin, so while an increased difficulty is certainly appreciated, the unfortunate reality is that a lot of the challenge comes from an abundance of sudden or instant death.
Just like in the previous game, your health gauge and the number of items you can carry is increased as you progress. However, advancing at an equal pace is the number of enemies that swarm you after triggering an alarm, as well as the frequency of instant death traps. For some strange reason, pitfalls are carried over from the previous game and so are obstacles that have you crossing bottomless pits. The hit detection has certainly improved over Metal Gear’s making these threats a little less cheap, but the punishment for actually dying is more severe to the point of being very somewhat unreasonable in certain situations.
While the majority of my most frustrating deaths were at the hands of the game’s many bottomless pits, the bosses also had a habit of causing me some pain. Certainly, I’d say they’re a vast improvement over the first game’s underwhelming cast of baddies, but they come with their own set of issues. Many of the bosses attack with patterns that are extremely difficult to avoid, and each one causes massive amounts of damage. I struggle to think of a single boss that wasn’t capable of draining half of your health bar with a single successful strike. The only way I was able to survive some encounters was by chowing down rations like Snake just gave up on his weightloss resolution. One boss is actually capable of killing with a single hit, and while it’s easy to outsmart, I took a few to the face before I finally got it right. Despite this and the problems with sudden death, the game isn’t unreasonably difficult, but it can certainly be punishing.
THE PLANS FOR METAL GEAR
What hurts Snake’s Revenge the most is how it strayed from the actual world structure of Metal Gear. A lot of the charm of the first game was being left on your own to infiltrate the base and finding items to allow you to proceed deeper. Snake’s Revenge drops this in favour of a more rigid and linear experience. Collecting items to unlock doors and take out enemies is still required, but it’s all laid out in front of you and available when needed. This does allow for more variety and less backtracking, but it also does a great deal of damage to what made the first game special. That’s not to say that the new structure isn’t without merit – later games in the Metal Gear Solid series play out in a more linear fashion – it just seems a lot blander in comparison to the first game’s more open structure.
Aside from torpedoing one of Metal Gear’s greatest assets, Snake’s Revenge injects one new idea into the formula: side-scrolling sequences. Technically Metal Gear used these for when you got on an elevator, but these have been upgraded to full action-sidescroller status. Stealth from this perspective is something that needs to be designed with care, and that certainly isn’t how it was undertaken in Snake’s Revenge. Movement is so restrictive in these sequences that the only way to really get through undetected is by entering a screen when an enemy is facing a way, but most of the time, the enemies are looking straight at you when you walk in and there’s no way to stop them from triggering a mad rush. Then the combat kicks in and it’s horrible. The only weapon you can use is a knife or a pistol, and the pistol can only be used while standing. And to make matters worse, each section is practically the same and uses the exact same obstacles. It’s a mess.
What really gets under my skin is the fact that unlocking doors still requires swapping through keycards, one by one. Like the first game, you amass eight different cards, and not one of them becomes obsolete. Every time you come to a locked door, you have to try every key until it opens; there’s no way of knowing beforehand. I had to laugh at one section near the end of the game which places you in a series of room, each with three locked doors, all of them identical, and even with the full suite of keys, only one of the doors can be opened. That’s just cruel. How about just opening the door for me if I have the required key? Why make me fumble through my pockets every time I want to proceed through the game’s numerous locked doors? It’s a tremendous waste of time.
SNAKE’S UNFORTUNATE ADVENTURE
In what is very reminiscent of how I felt about Metal Gear, I kind of like Snake’s Revenge in spite of its many flaws. There’s still a lot of satisfaction to be felt in opening a previously locked door and finding a brand new toy waiting inside. Sure, it sometimes got frustrating when I got insta-killed by a floor trap while walking over to said toy, but the good times definitely outweighed the bad. Snake’s Revenge is a lot tighter and more polished than the first Metal Gear, but it also comes across as a bit blander and more sterile. It’s an okay follow-up to the first game, and may be worth a look if you want to cap off the NES Metal Gear experience, but your time may be better spent with the canon sequel: Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake.
This review was conducted on an original NES with a cartridge copy of the game. It was paid for by the author. Portions of this article were originally posted to mobygames.com by the author.