Unranked: Metal Gear
Nintendo Entertainment System
I had no idea at the time what an influential game Metal Gear would become. It was a game that I enjoyed, but after a terrible sequel and lack of access to the MSX game that followed it, I lost interest in the series. In fact, when the game became a hit series on the Playstation it took me a long time to even check it out because I could not believe the series had even come back. It’s not really my thing now.
Metal Gear was a game I do have many memories of as I will get into in a minute. I remember this game a lot more for some things that happened while playing it then for the actual game itself. The game is fine, not really one of my favorites, but I can connect this game to a few of the big moments in my childhood.
I did not actually own this game until the late nineties. I rented it a bunch of times, but primarily played it at a friend’s house. I have a story to tell about my biggest memory of playing Metal Gear over there. This was my first experience in real life, that I can remember, dealing with what I would later come to know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder…
Let me explain…
This kid’s dad was a big military buff. He had served in Vietnam. They had a huge POW/MIA flag in front of their house. He was very stubborn and often angry, lashing out at us kids. His wife, a suburban homemaker, always seemed to be, in retrospect, absolutely terrified of him, as did my friend’s older sister. There were rumors there was a lot of psychical abuse in the home. He ran a strict home where fear seemed to be the primary component. People like this horrify me. My father knew him from Cub Scouts, and he even seemed a bit weary.
Nonetheless, this friend had gotten the game, and so we headed over there a few times to play the game. I want to say this was over a spring break. I do remember it was still cold out. When he saw that this was a game with some military themes, he sat down to watch us play. He began, I think sincerely, trying to offer advice on stealth stuff and which weapon would be right for a particular screen.
Quickly, however, this turned into a lot of shouting and anger. When my friend died a few times, he totally lost it. He ranted and raved and eventually yanked the controller out of my friend’s hand, his own damn son, and slammed it against the wall.
At the time, this freaked me out, obviously. We got the hell out of there and probably never went back. Every time I saw him at Scouts, which I was soon to quit, he always looked right on the verge of exploding. There were a bunch of dads in our neighborhood who were awful, violent, and seemingly a moment from exploding so, as a kid, I just filled it under “avoid that house” and moved on.
Years later, I came to realize that my friend’s dad was probably dealing with serious PTSD from his time in Vietnam. As I learned what PTSD was, so much made sense. He was still a jerk, but I was able to explain to myself what seemed so maddening at the time. Watching him watch us play Metal Gear caused that for me. I played the game a lot back then, but that will always be my biggest memory of it from that time. For so many games back then, I directly connect my experience to them to life events.
The plot of Metal Gear goes something like this: Solid Snake is a rookie military op sent on a mission to apartheid South Africa, to investigate Outer Heaven, a stronghold being built by mercenaries. Big Boss sends Snake in to find Gray Fox, a captured agent whose final transmission was just “Metal Gear…”
Despite coming out in the summer of 1988, Nintendo Power did not cover the game until a feature in January 1989. The feature offered a few maps and some vague hints about different parts of the game. I don’t remember it being all that helpful.
Metal Gear has a very iconic cover, like most Konami and Ultra games. It is interesting that the Metal Gear is present on the NES cover, despite not being the final boss, but is missing from the Famicon cover. The Famicon version also names Konami as the publisher without the Ultra label needed for the NES due to Nintendo’s rules about third party publishers.
The theme that plays when you are inside the base in Metal Gear is quite iconic. It reminds me a lot of the theme to the old Mission Impossible show from the sixties. I am uncertain if that was intentional, but I always heard it back then. The rest of the soundtrack is decent, albeit a bit screeching and obnoxiously loud in a few places.
In my most recent play through of Metal Gear, I found that many aspects of the game had not held up. I only have so much time to play these days, and Metal Gear is a game that wastes your time a lot. We have discussed this before with Zelda II as well. Being sent back to the beginning of the game after a “game over” is very frustrating and time-consuming. Of course, I understand the need, especially with the rise of game rentals, to create a longer gaming experience, but these days I am just annoyed by the whole thing. I found my time playing this game eventually ruined by having to backtrack a number of times before . It is worth noting that you do get to keep your supplies at least. I prefer local save points in modern games that you can go to when you die.
The truck movement system is frustrating as well to keep track of…I lacked the patience in 1990, never mind, now for it and got pretty angry this time around after getting on the wrong one. There is little point to it other than padding out your time with the game.
I have some, um, “kayfabe” questions about this game as well: Why are there all these different cards in all the rooms? I can imagine being deeply confused as a worker inside the base. Why is there a weird drawbridge in the base? That seems like something the soldier union should bring up for their next CBA negotiation. A few base design issues to also bring up in negotiations: Random tanks that attack people? Trap doors out of nowhere?
The best part about the game is all the stealth actions you get to do. Metal Gear is the first time I remember it mattering whether you hid or not on a screen. The soldier gang ups if you get caught are annoying, but you can see the beginnings of what eventually becomes modern stealth systems here.
Metal Gear is a classic game of course despite some of the poor game design here. Its sequels have gone on to be some of the most popular games of all time. Despite my mixed feelings about a recent play through, I have great memories of playing this game growing up that cannot be taken away by that.