I don’t think there’s been a whole lot of attention brought to it, but the Metal Gear franchise turns 25 on Saturday, counting from the original MSX game’s release in Japan. 1up is doing a bunch of articles about it and a lot of other people are probably observing the franchise as a whole too, but I wanna give some attention to one part of it in particular – one that most Metal Gear fans haven’t experienced.
Every time something Metal Gear-related comes up I take the opportunity to try to convince at least one person to check out the second MSX game – Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake which came out in 1990. To sum up why, let me just say this: With MG2, Kojima basically made the complete original Metal Gear Solid, just eight years earlier, and on an 8-bit system.
With the exception of the Psycho Mantis fight and the 3D graphics, virtually everything you saw and did in MGS1 was already in MG2. The average Metal Gear fan’s experience playing MG2 now would be kinda like that of a Final Fantasy fan that jumped on at VII going back to play VI. If a Zelda fan got into the franchise with Ocarina of Time, going back to play A Link to the Past would be the equivalent here.
The MSX games are actually included on the HD Collection in the extras menu of Metal Gear Solid 3. The first time I played them I was blown away at how well MG2 had aged and how complex its gameplay was for a 1990 title released on a niche platform.
You pretty much sneak around exactly as you would in MGS1 – top-down perspective, cones of vision, soliton radar, and all the various tricks. The main thing that betrays MG2’s age is the fact that it doesn’t scroll, which makes tracking enemies a bit more difficult than in the later games. Otherwise it’s perfectly playable today, and even displays some of Kojima’s classic creativity with level design and problem-solving that you haven’t seen in any of the Solid games.
In fact I’d venture to say that MG2 employs more fully-formed and more inventive level design than MGS1, as if the latter game’s 3D graphics held back what Kojima could fit in there. Tricks like heating and cooling the key or the use of Nikita missiles feel like they were employed more intelligently in MG2. The areas in MG2 are also larger than those in MGS1 and probably MGS2 as well, giving players a greater sense of exploration. Especially cool is a section in the MSX game requiring direct reference from the manual and/or research into actual American POW procedures.
MG2’s only disadvantage compared to its successors is in my opinion the storyline. The plots in the Metal Gear games didn’t start to get so overtly byzantine until MGS, with the MSX storylines being relatively simple in comparison.
The original Metal Gear had story and writing about on par with most NES games. Metal Gear 2 did have a complex cast of characters – some of whom are direct predecessors to franchise favorites like Meryl and Naomi. The game even has thick explorations of cold war social interaction (remember, MG2 came out in the last year of the cold war), but it all doesn’t reach quite the same level as MGS1. MG2’s story is also a bit silly compared to the rest of the games. Maybe not as silly as MGS2, but the 2D graphics make it look more like a cartoon in conjunction with the stories these games are known for.
In terms of overall presentation though I like MG2 a lot. With the 2D graphics and having predated Yoji Shinkawa’s involvement in the franchise, it doesn’t have quite the same sleek art direction that made Metal Gear Solid attractive. Shinkawa redrew the character art in later releases to better resemble what we’re used to, but for the most part MG2 looks like kind of like a Shirow Masamune comic, like Patlabor or Dominion Tank Police. I will say that the game does have one of the better 8-bit soundtracks I’ve heard though. All the elements come together to make the opening cut scene look like a mid-90’s military action flick shot in pixels. You could call the game an 8-bit version of The Rock.
I’ll stop just short of saying that every big Metal Gear fan is obligated to play Metal Gear 2, but they definitely should give it a look. I actually rank it among my favorite games in the franchise overall. It’s definitely the title that set the framework for the whole series like A Link to the Past did for Zelda. If you’ve ever played the Game Boy color Metal Gear Solid (called Ghost Babel in Japan, and one of the best Game Boy games ever), MG2 is very similar to that game.
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