Top 100 NES Review: #19 – Metal Gear (1988)

Surprisingly Fun.

Figuring out maps, finding key cards, and solving puzzles. It doesn’t take much to impress me on NES. 

Metal Gear NES Title Screen
Sydlexia’s Ranking: #19/100
My Rating: cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586

It’s fun to play Kojima’s original Metal Gear. It has all the motifs and feel of the 3D versions but none of the bloated, hour-long cutscenes. With such sparse space, Kojima couldn’t sink into indulgent, convoluted narration that plagues the later Metal Gear Solids. Regardless, you still feel the imposing gravity of the situation: you are a sole infiltrator against every odd to save the world.

Another plus of Kojima not being able to go crazy with flair is you see how good he is at actually making a game. There is nothing to hide behind except the basics, and he passes with flying colors even though this is a port he isn’t exactly happy about. Of course, the NES likes to ruin a good time (plenty of cheap things to get pissed about) but the core is everything you could want from a game this old.

Metal Gear NES Scenery
Starry Night.


Solid Snake, operative for FOXHOUND, gets dispatched to a base in Africa. He is to infiltrate the base Outer Heaven to take down the Metal Gear that’s been developed there — a bipedal tank capable of firing nuclear warheads. He is joined by a group of people via use of a transceiver including Big Boss who is in charge of the mission, Jennifer who provides weapons, and Schneider who knows some of the areas and locations.

Metal Gear NES Motifs
What I just said, but in NES form.


I was surprised that the game was as fun as it was.

I expected mostly frustration and cheap deaths (which I still got plenty of), but the game almost plays as well as any other stealth game, recent or otherwise. Meandering around to orient yourself is classic fun. Hidden throughout are tons of weapons and equipment, either with a specific purpose or fly by your seat application. The game has a good sense of challenge and reward, and each new key card opens up new levels to explore to keep pushing you forward.

Metal Gear NES Motif 2
Awwww, the original cardboard box!


Checklist Please:

  • A stealth opening where you realize you are all alone on this mission as you sneak into the base? ✓
  • A bevy of items and weapons to problem solve your way through everything? ✓
  • A bunch of weird bosses that have personality disorders? ✓
  • A couple unexpected twists and some backstabbing? ✓
  • An engineer forced to work against his will? ✓
  • A pack of cigarettes? ✓

Even with the reduced capabilities of the NES, you get the feel for exactly how Kojima wanted to make a game. You see the start of it all here.

Metal Gear NES Engrish
Truck singular. Have plural.


I think my favorite thing about this game is when the guard says “I feel asleep!” before catching some Z’s. In the translator’s defense, even if it was correctly put as “I fell asleep!” it would make little sense for the guard to exclaim this because the statement happens before they actually go bed.


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Programming Quirks.

To save memory space, the programmers came up with a fun work around. While many of the areas look like they have four exits, they frequently loop around. Exiting on the left side of the stage can transport your all the way around the world as you enter on the right.

Another odd choice was to have all enemies respawn when you leave an area. This would normally be okay except enemies hang outside of doors. You sneak up on someone and punch them into oblivion (which oddly enough doesn’t cause them any distress) only to find you are right on top of them when you come back, losing health and leading to easy deaths.

You also can only have one item equipped at a time, including a keycard. If you are an area that requires a gas mask to avoid death by asphyxiation, well too bad: take that sucker off so you can swipe Card 3, or is it 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8?

Metal Gear NES inventory
Cards become so annoying.

While we are talking about cards, the worse part is card access doesn’t stack. Even in the last stage of the game, you have to rotate through each card and see which one opens a door. You’ll constantly be opening up your inventory to do a kind of roulette.

NES Strikes Again.

Everything in the previous section was an inconvenience due to having floppy disk like space to program a game. Impossible puzzles, however, lay solely on the conscious of the developers. There are two that I would like to discuss: 1) secret passages opened up via punching, 2) a secret combination to get past a forest maze.

Metal Gear Impossible Puzzle
Of course it is intuitive that this would be the location of a hidden passage. (PS: it’s not)

Originally, I wanted to play NES games guide-free and savor the reward of figuring out the puzzles. Little did I know there is no way to possibly due this if I wanted to complete them. The NES era of gaming relied on secrets in magazine publications or word of mouth. Before, I would down rate games due to this ridiculousness, but I have come to accept it: once I have played what I deem a reasonable amount of time flustered without direction, I run to a guide.

Earlier in the game, you are trapped in an isolated cell without any weapons or exits. The only thing you can do is punch. Thus, it was intuitive to find the secret passage, punching any and everything in the room. However, Metal Gear took this expectation into the entire world map. A crucial person is hidden away in a building behind a secret passage which no one mentions at any point. The amount of walls in this game is endless and would have never been a reasonable expectation to find on my own.

To even get to this building to find the secret passage might have been worse. Upon entering a forest, there are 6 possible exits. Going down any of them just loops you back into the forest maze. I thought this area would explain itself later (I mean you do have a transceiver and prisoners who give you information). Nope. You somehow have to figure out the four appropriate exits. Given that there are 6 exits, to randomly choose the right four in sequence is a 1 out of 6^4 chance, or 1 in 1296. Excuse me as I toss myself down a pitfall.

Metal Gear NES Pit Fall
The cheapest death of them all – a growing pit fall.


Actually a fun game, until it isn’t, then use a guide.

Other People’s Takes: 

  • Game Complaint Department: “In a lot of ways, Metal Gear is a bit of a mess, but it never got under my skin enough to ruin my fun.”
  • Hundstrasse: On top of these problems the game has a healthy dose of the cryptic-NES-crap that just seemed to be an obligatory mark of the era.”
  • The Escape Artist: “I remember having a notebook with all the passwords that id use every day i got out of school and that’s how i inevitably beat it.”

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