Monday, August 13, 2018

Refueling the Passion

(Updated 10/23/18: I've updated my Mega Man 2 piece--fixed up what was honestly a disastrously bad work. Do me a favor, dear reader, and consider all pre-2017 works to be rough drafts. Oh, and one correction I have to mention: I said that my friend "taught me the 'correct' strategy for taking out the Boobeam Trap." This is untrue. Upon further reflection, I realized that he merely confirmed what I believed to the correct strategy. I regret including the misremembered thought and hope that there aren't any more like them. If you want to read the improved version, scroll on down to the "Updated Memory Bank Pieces" portion of the page and click the appropriate link.)

Hey there, hep cats. This is just me checkin' in with a quick update.

As you've likely observed, it's been a long while since my last post. You've probably also noticed that lately the gaps between entries have been growing larger and larger. Well, there's a reason for that: Basically I've been overcome by feelinga of apathy. This is 100% the result of my spending way too many hours playing video games. My math tells me that I spent the first four months of this year exploring the libraries of the MSX, the Atari ST, DOS, the Amstrad CPC and various other platforms. And overindulging in that manner has afflicted me with a major case of burnout. It's so pervasive that I've barely played or written about any games since later May, nor have I felt the motivation or desire to.

You know how it is when you enter one of those phases in which you feel obligated to play games--especially all of the new ones that are coming out--but your brain keeps telling you, "I just don't feel like playing games anymore."

Well, that's where I am currently.

About all I've done is mess around with Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 for the Nintendo Switch. I had great interest in it because I was eager to regain access to Mega Mans 9 and 10, which I didn't care to replay during the Wii days due to my distaste for the all of the console's the available controllers, what with their weird, uncomfortable ergonomics and clicky buttons. It's great to have them in this much-more-palatable form. I was also keen on the idea of owning a more-accessible version of Mega Man 8--which, if you remember, is a desire I expressed in my Mega Man 8 Memory Bank piece. I wanted to give it a second chance. And now that I have, I'm glad I did. I've really been digging it; I've played through it at least four times since the day of purchase. I'm now entirely convinced that it is, indeed, a worthy series entry.

But the fact remains that my passion for discovering and writing about video games has taken a dip. Really, I don't know when it'll return, so until then I'll just have to wait. Who knows--maybe I'll find a spark after I return from my annual August trip to upstate New York, where I hope to enjoy a stress-fee birthday celebration (I'm turnin' 40, yo)! We'll see what happens then--see how I feel.

I haven't been completely unproductive, though. I did get the sudden itch to go back and fix up some of my earliest Memory Bank pieces. I've started with Super Mario Bros., whose entry has been expanded upon and streamlined. I'm not going to be revising these works--changing their context--but instead improving their formatting, structuring and readability. 'Cause I gotta tell you, man: What a disaster these pieces are. They're truly awful. Rereading them has only served to make me sad. I'm both disappointed with and ashamed of the content I produced in 2014. I mean, really--this stuff is grammar-school-quality at best.

This situation must be remedied. So I intend to spend a lot of my blogging time improving these works and bringing them up to an acceptable standard.

What I've decided to do is leave this post open and report such updates here. Below is a list of the reconstructed pieces and dates in which they were updated. If you're interested in getting a clearer sense of what I think about these games and how I remember them, keep checking back here.

Updated Memory Bank Pieces
It may just work out that my revisiting these past entries ignites something within me--reminds me of what was so fun about this.

So how 'bout Castlevania finding some representation in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate? It's long been expected to happen, yeah, yet seeing it come to pass still feels somewhat inconceivable. I mean, Mario and Richter Belmont are in the same game? How in the hell?

Thinking about all of the potential combinations makes my head spin: Simon Belmont versus Ryu. Simon and Richter versus Ganondorf and Ridley. Dark Samus versus Dracula, with Zero running around in the background, Z-Sabering everyone. Link, Pac-Man, Sonic the Hedgehog, Ryu, Solid Snake, Cloud Strife, Mega Man and Bayonetta fighting it out in Castlevania's castle keep. Talk about surreal.

Truthfully, I'm not much of a Smash Bros. player anymore (the games have become too defense-oriented for my liking), but I still find it exciting to follow the series and think about the possibilities. Ultimate has made many of them a reality; it's total wish-fulfillment.

That's all I got right now. I'm not sure when I'll be back or what game I'll be covering next, but kindly stay tuned. There's a lot more to come in the future. My to-do list is a mile long.

You might want to follow me on Twitter, doing which will save you those curiosity clicks and prevent empty trips.

So hang loose, stay positive, and enjoy the rest of your summer.

Hopefully I'll be seein' you soon.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Rediscovered Classics: Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (MSX)

Now we want to head back down to the first floor and to the spiral's central elevator. It takes us up to Floor 30.

Upon stepping out of the elevator, we sense that we've walked into a trap. The voice of an unseen figure confirms that our observation is correct. The voice belongs to the Red Blaster, who enters the scene--crawling along the top of the northern wall, as though he were Spider-Man--and identifies himself as the one who set the trap. "You're not going anywhere," he says. "My grenades will see to it that your death is slow... and painful."

As soon as the dialogue exchange comes to an end, he begins to bombard us with grenades. We can dodge them by moving about the passages of the two-screened battle arena. Stretching between most of these passages are obstructive wires, through which we can break by pressing up against them for three seconds; though, we can't linger in place for too long, since Red Blaster is constantly gravitating toward our current position. On the screen to the left, we have to watch out for those suddenly-springing pit traps, which kill us instantly.

It's a good idea to clear away as many wires as you can before engaging Red Blaster. We can do so by giving him a taste of his own medicine--by throwing grenades at him. Since he's always in motion, there's an element of timing involved; essentially you have to lead your tosses. You'll have an easy time of it if you stick to the room on the right and quickly alternate between between the two parallel vertical pathways. If your movements are fluid, and you don't hesitate before tossing, he won't be able to touch you. 22 grenades will do him in.

When the Red Blaster has fallen, the door in the southwest will open up on its own. It leads us outside, onto a stairwell, climbing which carries us up to the the top floor. Though, there doesn't appear to be an accessible roof. Holly calls us and says that there's a door blocking the way to the roof; it's right in front of us, she says, though it's painted shut, so we need to bomb our way through it. A single plastic explosive will do the trick.

And there, on the roof, we find the carrier pigeon, from which we're meant to receive Marv's message. The only problem is that we're not able to catch the pigeon no matter our angle of approach or how much force we use; it just keeps flying away, onto the adjacent screens. There's no obvious solution, so we have no choice but to contact Johan Jacobsen, the animal expert; our new friend explains to us that the bird in question is a "wood pigeon," a species that is very sensitive to noise and flees when something gets too close. However, they're notorious gluttons and will stick around if they pick up the scent of grain products--like beans or potatoes, which we can use as bait. Well, it just so happens that B2 rations contain potatoes! If we equip one and approach the pigeon while it's grounded, it'll allow us to grab hold of it and take possession of the paper that contains the doctor's message.

The message says "Help! WIS OhIO." Taken as it is, the message doesn't seem to mean anything. Though, it doesn't take us (or "those of us who have been playing games for 30-plus years") long to realize that we're probably reading it upside down (not that we needed him to, but Miller implies as much, noting that the lower-case h points to it being a "digital number"). So if we turn it upside down and disregard the end letters, we get "14051," which is obviously a transceiver code. Inputting it allows us to call Dr. Marv.

Unfortunately, though, Marv only speaks Czech and Slovakian, so we can't understand a word he's saying. So we call Madnar, hoping that he can translate; but alas--he only knows Russian and English. He recommends that we contact Gustava, the STB agent who's been protecting him; apparently she'll be able to understand Marv. And it helps that he trusts her. She's not carrying a transceiver, so we'll have to physically track her down. Madnar says that she stole an enemy uniform and has been using it to blend in. Therein is our clue: She's the only woman in a fortress where there aren't supposed to be any; so we might be able to locate here if we set up an ambush in a place "that only a woman would go," like, say, "a ladies' restroom."

We're given no indication as to where these restrooms might me. About all we can do is look for them in the one place we haven't yet fully explored: Floor 4 of the southern base. So we exit the tower through its main door, which we can open with the recently acquired card 4, and head back to the Zanzibar building's fourth floor. Along the way, we want to stop at Floor 3, the lab, and re-explore the chemical area; using our newest card, we can access rooms that house gas grenades, which fill rooms with poisonous gas after exploding, and night-vision goggles, which allow us to see in the dark. In the area to the south of the elevator room, we can pick up some some remote-controlled missiles and a few mouse roboots--computer-mouse shaped robots that seek out sensors and traps and fool enemies (their inclusion does much to tell us about the state of the computer market at the time and how excited Kojima and his pals were about the era's technological advancements).

Now we want to travel up to Floor 4 and loop around to the cafeteria in the south. One of the newly accessed rooms is pitch-black and features a seemingly impenetrable barrier, but when we employ the use of our new new night-vision goggles, we find that there's a navigable tunnel on the barrier's right side; we can crawl through it. Upon exiting, we want to stick close to the barrier's far-side wall, since the center portion of the room's bottom half is rigged with pit traps. Snake crawls so slowly that there isn't enough time to safely retreat after triggering a pit trap. And forget trying to stand up and run--it'll already be too late. Note that the game will allow you to walk over a triggered pit trap but only if it's done in one fluid motion (don't hesitate, basically).

The three rooms in following are packed with "mannequin soldiers," which the enemy uses as either training dummies or decoys--perhaps Big Boss and his minions set them up all around the complex's perimeter to create the illusion that their numbers are much greater than suspected. As we enter the first of these rooms and observe the neatly arranged mannequins, we're overcome by feelings of unease; all appears to be calm, yes, but we can't help but suspect that there may be a living presence lurking here. A few seconds of inspection reveal nothing of the sort, though we sense that this this is all part of the setup--that the game expects us to now let our guard down. And we're correct: In the rooms ahead, there are real soldiers mixed in. We'll learn as much if we charge in and heedlessly rush toward the room's exit.

You can try to guess as to which ones are fake, though it's easier to let loose some of our mouse robots, to which real soldiers will respond ("Only a rat!) and thus out themselves. (Though, if we want to be cheap about it, we can take advantage of the radar system's occasionally laggy processing, which loads active elements a half-second after everything else, and procure some foreknowledge of their spawn points.)

Just up ahead is the cafeteria. The restrooms are on right side. We can enter the men's room and obtain a bucket, which is a variant of the box, though it makes noise when you shift about (it's useless, really--just plain ol' inventory-filler). The ladies' room, however, is locked. What we have to do is hide behind the plants and wait for Gustava, who's posing as one of the patrolling soldiers, to wander over and access the ladies' room; she'll do so after completing a scripted event wherein she feigns entering the men's room, to avoid arousing suspicion, and then sneakily enters the ladies' room. If during this period she spots us, an alert phase will be triggered, and she'll behave like a normal soldier--attack us without mercy. Should this happen, we'll have to reset the rooms' activity by exiting and reentering the cafeteria and then try again. The objective is to wait until Gustava enter the ladies' room and then follow her in.

I'm still impressed by how inventive this game is. There are so many great ideas in play. And they're all so well-implemented. I'd be doing the game a disservice if I didn't keep mentioning this.

The soldier is indeed Gustava Heffner. Snake recognizes her and inquires as to whether or not they've met before, though she interprets this as a silly pick-up attempt and dismisses the question. Then he remembers: She's a former Ice Princess who took the gold at the Calgary Olympics. She claims ignorance and quickly changes the subject. Gustava is only interested in finding Dr. Marv, and she requests that she and Snake work together to meet that goal. When Snake informs her that Marv is still alive, she uses his transceiver to contact the linguistically alien doctor; they communicate using Czech, and Gustava learns that Marv is being held in a prison located north of the tower building, just beyond a "large crevice." She knows of a shortcut to the area in question--an old sewer (Basement 3) found beneath the southern base. And it just so happens that the elevator leading down to it is right here--in the ladies' room, of all places.

So we take the elevator down to the sewer and head north. The path to our destination isn't that long--a mere four or five screens, depending upon our chosen route--but our traversal is made complicated by the presence of large automated sweepers (think "giant floor buffers"), that speedily roll about and clog up the sewer's passageways. If we make contact with one of them, we'll die instantly; avoiding them may require hiding out in conveniently placed crevices and crannies.

The elevator in the southwest takes us directly up to Dr. Madnar's holding chamber (so we won't be needing to blow up that wall in the jungle building). They exchange some pleasantries, but soon Madnar puts a halt to the conversation and suggests that they hurry to find Marv. Before they leave, Gustava gives Snake card 5, which she swiped from one of the guards; it allows the group to pass through the door on the sewer's east side. As they rush through the rooms beyond, Madnar becomes fatigued and requests that they stop and rest. He heads to the previous room to "take care of business" (read: "cut out the middle man and use the sewer as his bathroom").

While he's away, Snake and Gustava converse. They cover a few different subjects: (a) Gustava's background and how she and her mother were haunted by the events of World War II; (b) Snake's relationship status; and (c) how she left the ice after falling in love with a man named Frank Hunter, who she describes as handsome, well-mannered and intelligent but always afraid. She couldn't join Frank in the West because the government denied her bid for asylum. As a result, her family lost the right to compete, and they were branded as refuseniks; her only escape was to join the STB. Her and Frank's "Berlin Wall" was too high to climb, so they had to part.

Their conversation is cut short by the returning Madnar. His urging forces them to refocus on the current objective. So they gather themselves and continue heading north.

They enter the elevator at the sewer's end and travel up to tower's northern exterior. From there they head northwest. Clairvoyant types will want to equip the mine detector, since certain sections of this area are covered in mines; the rest of us learn this the hard way. When we get to a bridge, another cut-scene prompts: They determine that the bridge is too unstable to hold all three, so they should cross it one at a time. Madnar decides to go first, noting that he's an old man who no one will miss if something goes wrong. When he reaches the other side, he affirms that it's safe for Snake and Gustava to follow. Gustava goes next; though, when she reaches the bridge's midpoint, it's suddenly taken out by a missile, which was launched from the north; it sends her flying back and leaves her badly injured. As Snake consoles her, she laments her failure to mend the gap between East and West and no longer has the will to go on. "Just my luck," she says. "Just when I'd met someone wonderful again..."

Before breathing her last breath, she hands Snake card 6 and her brooch, which can apparently aid him in some way. She dies before she can tell him how to use it. "...Frank...," she softly communicates before submitting to death.

Madnar is taken away, and moments later a Metal Gear enters the scene from the north. Its commander is Gray Fox, whose transceiver profile is clearly modeled after Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger's character in Platoon). Barnes--err, I mean Gray Fox--states that the bridge is now closed and Madnar is coming with him. Just for old time's sake, Fox does Snake a "favor" and decides to let him live, provided he makes haste in leaving Zanzibar. "Go home! Now!" Fox says before exiting. But Snake has no intention of doing so.

But now we need to find some other way to cross the bridge. Holly contacts us with a solution: She speaks of a balcony on the tower's 20th floor; the enemy uses it for training. If we could get a hold of a hang glider, we can jump from the balcony and sail over the bridge, to the other side. She says that there's a hang glider on the first floor of the southern base.

So we have to travel all the way back to the Zanzibar building. Before heading off, though, we should head to the right and search the trucks, which were previously blocked off by unlockable gate; now that it's open, inexplicably, we can grab a bunch of items. Also, once we're back at the Zanzibar building's first floor, we should first head to the north and pick up the blue card, which is compatible with and replaces cards 4, 5 and 6.

The hang glider is located in the room found directly above our initial entry point. Card 6 will allow us to access this room. Now we need to return to the tower. Before then, though, we should run some tasks: First we should head down to Basement 1 and open the remaining doors. Behind them we'll find the body armor, which reduces the amount of damage we take; an oxygen tank, which doubles the length of our C02 meter whenever we're swimming underwater (not entirely useful, since swimming is never a required activity); and a one-time-use camouflage item--a specially designed sheet that blends in with any flat surface and provides us cover when we crawl underneath it.

Next we want to head up to Floor 4 and mode east, to the barracks; here we'll see soldiers sleeping in a number of beds that have been spread across three screens. The rooms' wooden floor is a squeaky, and an on-rails camera travels along their left wall, so we have to tread lightly; mainly, we to have crawl our way through this area and use the beds as cover--hide underneath them, if necessary. In the area's northeast portion, we'll find some cold medicine, using which we can sure any cold we catch while swimming in the sewer's freezing water. While we're here, we can also visit the sauna, though there doesn't appear to be anything of value here (when we learn more about a certain inventory item, we can come back here and grab something cool). Though, soon an *ahem* unclad fellow (whose naughty bits are censored) will enter the sauna, presumably seeking some rest and relaxation. If he sees us, it'll trigger an alert; we can take cover by crawling underneath the benches.

Once we're back at the tower's first floor, we have to head up to the roof using the spiral's first elevator. Our destination is the 20th floor. Though, as the elevator approaches the 19th floor, is movement unexpectedly comes to a halt, and we're suddenly contacted by Gray Fox. He's ticked that Snake didn't take his advice to leave and go home; he's so upset, in fact, that he terminates their friendship. "The elevator is going to be your tomb," he says, because it's a trap. The sound Snake hears is that of an assassination team, whose members are currently working their way to his location (using an undiscovered elevator, it seems); Fox tells him that they specialize in battling within confined spaces. They break through the ceiling and surround Snake, each positioning himself along one of the elevator's four sides. They introduce themselves as the "Four Horsemen" and claim to take orders directly from the president (they're speaking of Big Boss, I presume, and not the U.S. president).

So we're fighting four enemies at once, though it's not a scramble. A Horsemen member will jump down only if there's more than a half-a-screen distance between he and Snake; otherwise, he'll remained perched on the elevator wall. Using this knowledge, we can control who we're facing. The only place place we don't want to be is dead center, which is a trigger point for all four Horsemen; it's important to keep the action under control, because the Horsemen run about hyperactively and are hard to target. Mainly, you want to equip the submachine gun, stand just beyond the elevator's center point, and spray whichever Horseman jumps down. Or if you prefer, you can throw caution to the wind and simply tank the fight--run around recklessly, fire bullets in all directions, and turn the fight into a sloppy free-for-all; if you have enough rations, you can probably get away with doing this.

An individual Horseman can be taken out with sixteen bullets (I can't imagine that grenades or remote-controlled missiles can be used reliable in this confined space). We have to eliminate all four to win the fight. By defeating them, we earn card 7.

Unfortunately, thereafter, the elevator collapses, and we wind up back on Floor 1. As its wire has been cut, we can no longer use this elevator. Instead, we use the northern elevator to travel up to Floor 10. We can advance from here by blowing our way through the wall to our right. The room beyond exits onto another outdoor stairwell. The moment we step onto it, we're spotted by a group of stationed soldiers and enter a forced alter phase. It's part of a scripted event, so there's nothing we can do to end it; our only option is to ignore the soldiers and rush forward. In the ensuing sequence, we determinedly but sloooooowly circle our way up and around ten floors' worth of stairs while under pressure. If our movement is fluid, the soldiers won't be able to touch us. Though, we'll want to continue to hug the walls, since certain sections of the stairwell are rigged with pit traps. Also, there are sections of stairs that are obstructed by wiring, breaking through which slows us down a bit, yes, but not so much that the soldiers will be able to catch us. Just stay in motion and you'll be OK.

Once we reach the 20th floor, we reenter the tower (the alert ceases, thankfully). Now we head north, to the veranda, which was "made for parachute jumps," a child soldier informs us. When we step onto the veranda, our number one fan contacts us and says that we can only jump when the wind blows north; usually it blows south, but there are small windows of time when it blows north. There are no obvious indication as to which direction the wind is currently blowing, so we have to get creative. Specifically, we have to throw gas grenades (making sure to equip the gas mask beforehand) and observe which direction their emitted fumes are traveling. Well, kind of. Since the game can't display what's obviously invisible, the fumes' movement pattern is instead communicated to us via arrows that point in whichever direction the wind is currently blowing. When we see an arrow pointing north, it's time to jump.

There's one holdup, though: Snake is a little nervous about making this jump, so we have to calm him down a bit. The only way to do so is to equip the cigarettes and let him take a few puffs. A ringing sound will notify us that Snake has calmed his nerves and is ready to jump. When he's good and ready, we equip the hang glider and dive off the platform. (How we were supposed to know to do any of this without looking at a guide, I have no idea. Maybe it mentions Snake's fear in the game's manual? Or maybe there's a transceiver call I missed?) This triggers a cut-scene wherein Snake hang glides across the tower's exterior and over the destroyed bridge while a heroic-sounding tune plays. The short tune does a good job of lifting our spirits; it tells us that we should be excited, for we're very close to completing our mission!

Following a 50-second flight, we touch down on the other side of the bridge. From here, we can head in either of two directions--left or right. Traveling to the right, toward the enemy's northern base, proves pointless, since its entrance is blocked off by an impenetrable laser barrier; and as of this moment, we have no means of breaching it. So we head back to the left, to the grain field.

While traveling to it, we have to make sure not to enter the truck near its entrance. Doing so will result in our being transported all the way back to the tower's storage room; if this happens, we'll have to locate one of the two other transport trucks (one is the northeast portion of the tower's first floor, and the other is south of the swamp) if we want to get back where we were. But don't go thinkin' that we can use these trucks to access the grain-field much earlier in the game; no--they're restricted from doing so until after the hang-glider cut-scene has played out. This grain-field truck will be useful to us later on, when we can utilize it as a means of fast-travel, but entering it at this particular juncture will only serve to waste a lot of time.

So we enter the grain field, whose level of growth is such that we stand waist-deep in it. Seconds later, we're met by a masked soldier who introduces himself as Jungle Evil, the "undisputed master of jungle ambush." Then, of course, he challenges us to guerrilla-style battle.

Jungle Evil's is a consistent pattern: He crawls beneath the grain, pop up in a random location, and fires a stream of bullets in our direction. We can approach this battle a few different ways. We can play it tactically--mimic Jungle Evil's strategy and try to sneak up on him from behind (which is tough to do, considering that (a) he'll leave this first screen if we don't stay visible--and thereafter repeatedly shift between it and the three others--and (b) tracking our movements while crawling is a matter of relying on our small, sometimes-indefinable radar for visual aid). We can confine ourselves to a single screen, remain centered, wait for him to pop up, and then play a game of attack-and-run (using either the submachine gun or grenades). We can hide behind the machines, which obstruct Jungle Evil's bullets, and toss grenades at him--lead them so that they strike him when he's passing directly along the opposite side. Or we can simply tank it--equip those rations and stay right on top of him.

Our prize for defeating him is card 8. We can use it to access the building found directly to the north. It's an animal-breeding center (it's described as such by the child soldiers who occupy the house near the northern base's entrance; we can enter it using card 8). When we explore its interior, we find that there are two eggs--one on either side of the lab; each is protected by a laser-sensor system. If any of the lasers detect us, an alert phase will trigger and poison gas will fill the room; should this happen, we'll have to leave and reenter the building to reset its activity.

We can collect both eggs, though we won't know what they contain until they hatch (they'll only do this when they're placed in our inventory). The one on right will hatch within two minutes and produce a snake, whose presence prompts another one of those classic Metal Gear-style out-of-the-box mechanics: The snake will begin to undulate about your inventory screen and, if you don't act quickly to discard it, eat up all of our rations. If you call Johan Jacobsen, he'll inform you that the only way to get rid of the snake is to push the spacebar (Button II, if you're using a controller) when it passes over the cracked egg. Those playing Solid Snake for the first time are bound to lose all of their rations, which will probably number about eight or nine at this point in the game. And they ain't gonna be happy about it, let me tell you.

Oh, those silly Japanese developers with their mischievous spirit. Always torturing us so. But still--I have to admit that it's a pretty clever mechanic. I don't remember any other game doing anything like it.

Only the aforementioned clairvoyant types will know enough to avoid picking up the egg to the right. Everyone else will learn the hard way that only the left egg proves fruitful. It'll hatch five minutes later and produce an owl (a "Zanzibar wood owl," to be exact); it replaces the cracked egg and remains a static inventory item. Though, we're not sure what its function is or how it's supposed to help us advance. Once again, there's no obvious path forward.

About all we know is what one of the child soldiers told us: The northern base's guards turn off the power, and thus the laser barrier, when night falls. Jacobsen adds that because the Zanzibar night owl hoots right after sunset, the people of Zanzibar use it to tell time. Then he just spells it out for us by saying that people rely so much on this owl breed that they'll think it's nighttime even one of its type hoots during the day. So what we have to do is stand at the northern base's entrance, equip the owl, and wait for it to hoot; this will fool the guard into thinking that it's nighttime, and consequently he'll switch off the power and unwittingly allow us entry. Note that this won't work if you're in an alert phase.

The northern base is an enemy camp comprised of five buildings, all of which are accessed via the interconnected decks that encompass them. We can hide from the patrolling enemies by crawling beneath the decks. Where we want to be is the north-of-center building; to get there, we have to travel through the long and narrow northwestern building and deftly work around one of those automated sweeping machines. The deck beyond leads us to our target location.

The building in question contains an elevator that carries us down to the base's basement. Upon exiting the elevator, Snake is contacted by our number one fan, who tells him that he's got company: Night Fright, the last-surviving member of the "Whispers"--a "legendary guerrilla unit." He wears a state-of-the-art camouflage suit that renders him practically invisible. Also, the gun he uses is completely silent. Apparently, no one has ever seen his face. The fan's advice is for Snake to use his ears. Campbell suggests that he listen for Night Fright's steps, which will give away his location; they'll make different sounds depending upon the type of surface he's currently walking across. Sounds resonate across multiple screens, so we can determine his location even when he's moving about on the adjacent screens, since each features a uniquely styled surface that emits a unique-sounding noise.

Once we know the screen on which he's moving, we can pinpoint his exact location by gauging the where the muzzle flashes are currently forming. If we fire at approximately that location, and do so quickly, we'll likely score a hit. There's enough stunlock to where we can trap him in place if we spray him with submachine gun bullets. Otherwise, we can lay down a bunch of mines--maybe form a perimeter and hang back in a corner--and attempt to lure him into them.

When Night Fright has been defeated, the door in northeast will open and grant us access to the prison area. Though, we can't safely travel through the initial passageway because areas of the floor are covered in pools of sulfuric acid, walking onto which kills us instantly. There are three such pools, and they completely clog up the room's navigable spaces. Miller informs us that we can neutralize them with caustic soda--something like chocolate, whose sugar element will combine with the acid to produce carbon and a rubbery substance called "C12H2201," which is essentially table sugar. Luckily, B1 rations contain chocolate (if you're short on B1s, you can find two of them at the camp). We can neutralize an acid pool simply by walking into it when a B1 ration is set to our equipment slot. We have to do this three times.

But wouldn't you know it: We lack the card key necessary to open the prison door. And we're given no indication as to how we're supposed to open up, and none of our contacts have anything to say about the matter. However, if we leave and reenter this room, our number one fan will call and note that Jungle Evil was in charge of handling cards 8 and 9; he must have dropped the latter during our battle. So we have to head all the way back to the grain field and search for it; and since it's obscured by the grain, we essentially have to walk along every tile in view, across all four screens, until we just so happen upon it. Eventually we find card 9 on the upper-right screen, near the right wall (it won't appear here until Snake's number one fan calls him and speaks of its location, so don't bother trying to pick it up early).

From this point on, Solid Snake is mostly about backtracking and continuously traveling between the three enemy bases. It's a really slow portion of the game--partly padding, I'd say. Though, it does entail one particularly clever sequence, which I'll discuss in a bit.

When we enter the prison, we find Madnar and Marv together. Though, Marv appears to be in poor condition; he's laying on the bed, lifelessly. Madnar delivers some bad news: Marv has passed away. "His heart couldn't take it anymore," Madnar tells us. Upon inspecting Marv's body, Snake notices that there's a bruise on his neck. Madnar completely sidesteps the issue and says that Snake shouldn't worry about it; all that matters is that the plans for Oilix are safe. Marv was a careful man, after all. He was a game enthusiast, so he hid some microfilm in the circuit board of one of his MSX game cartridges. "MSX...," Snake responds in recognition. "That's the world's best-selling brand of computer, isn't it?"

We're reaching new heights of shamelessness here, folks.

That's Kojima for you.

Madnar says that the cartridge is hidden inside the nearby locker, but he doesn't know where the key is. Marv wouldn't tell him.

Suddenly Snake is contacted by Holly, who tells Snake that he's in danger. She thought that there was something strange about Madner, so she had the agency look into his recent activity. She learned that things went poorly for him after he was rescued from Outer Heaven: His radical theories were rejected in the West, and as a result he was branded a madman and shut out from the scientific community. As time went on, he was forgotten. Ultimately he grew vengeful. Zanzibar Land took advantage of the situation and talked him into becoming a double agent who would feed technological secrets from East and West to Zanzibar Land. In following, he provided them every detail of Marv's itinerary; this was the basis for Marv's abduction. Quite simply, Madnar was after Oilix for his own gain.

Madnar overhears their conversation and admits to taking these actions. He didn't care that he had to give up everything, including his country; all he desired was to complete Metal Gear--the culmination of his life's work in robotology! He killed Marv because the good doctor wouldn't share the secrets of Oilix. Also, it was he who had Gustava killed back on the bridge; while he was pretending to relieve himself, he contacted Gray Fox and informed him of the infiltrators. He knows that Gustava gave Snake the key to the locker, and he wants it now. Before Snake can respond, Madnar comes up from behind and puts him in a chokehold (using some type of wire, I guess).

This is the setup for a rather unconventional boss battle.

As Madnar chokes away, our health starts to drain. No matter how much we move about or struggle, we can't shake him off. And since we can't turn to face him, we can't pump bullets into him. There's only one available option: We have to fire off remote-controlled missiles and direct them so that they curve around and strike Madnar in the back. Our health drains quickly, so we have to be swift and accurate; also, we have to make sure not to step backwards into the missile explosions, since they damage us, too. It doesn't help that Snake's frequent exclamations ("I can't breathe!"), which are communicated via speech windows, continue to interrupt or cancel out our directional input, leading to many instances where missiles go astray and crash into walls.

Madnar will fall after being struck by 11 missiles.

And now our sole focus is the locker. We have to find a way to open it. When we exit the prison, Campbell contacts us and says that Gustava's brooch seems to be made out of a "memory alloy," and we may be able to alter its shape by introducing it to extreme temperatures. The implication is that the brooch and the locker key are one in the same, and we have to turn one into the other. Well, there's only place we know where there are hot and cold climates: the southern base's fourth floor, which is home to both a freezer and a sauna. The game intends for us to guess between them--potentially make four exceptionally long trips between the northern and southern bases (if your first guess is incorrect).

I mean, I certainly did. Though, the trip that entailed heating up the brooch was fortunately cut short when I realized that a heated brooch quickly reverts back to its normal form. Rather, its only purpose is to open the barrack's top-right locker--Gustava's locker, which contains a cassette tape; it plays Zanzibar's anthem and forces soldiers to stand at attention until it concludes (in the same way I discussed earlier). The only hint that we could do this came from one of the child soldiers in the sewer, who mentioned that Gustava always uses the top-right locker after exiting the sauna. Really, that's not a good way to hide the fact that you're a woman. How did the kid stumble onto this fact? And why didn't anyone else know?

So we have to freeze the brooch. Thereafter, we have to hurry back to the northern base, since the frozen brooch only remains in locker-key form for a couple of minutes. There is an optimal route: We should travel down the ladies' room elevator, cut through the sewer, enter the tower from its northern entrance, head to the room on the first floor's northeast portion, and hop into the truck. This will take you to the other side of the bridge. Before initiating this sequence, though, you should visit the southern base's northern part and pick up the green card, which is compatible with and replaces cards 7, 8 and 9.

Upon returning to the prison, we equip the brooch and unlock the locker. Rather than locker space, there's a whole room inside of it. Well, two technically. The other one, an underground crawl space, lies just beyond; to access it, we have to crawl through the crevice in the northern wall. Marv's MSX cartridge is within the crawl space, but we can't safely retrieve it, because a bunch of poisonous rats are swarming around it. If we make contact with any of them, we'll die instantly. We can't use weapons while we're in crawling mode, so it appears that there's no obvious way to clear them out. So we call Jacobsen for advice; he tells us that we can lure them out with cheese. And hey--B3 rations just happen to contain cheese!

In order to lure them out, we have to go back to the previous room and equip a B3 ration. After a few seconds have passed--after the scent has reached them--the rats will begin to file out of the crawl space; as they emerge from the crevice, we can take them out one by one (you can also plant mines along the crevice and try to kill 'em en masse, though one or two of them may slip through). Keep in mind that you won't be able to lure out the rats if your rations are still frozen (as a result of your hanging around the freezer).

Now you can reenter the crawl space and grab the cartridge. As we move to exit the prison, the still-conscious Madnar says that "he" will never let us escape. "He" will use Metal Gear. His life nearing its end, Madnar says that he has one last gift for his daughter Ellen: He wants us to know how we can destroy Metal Gear. The armor is thinnest on the legs, he says; we can damage them with grenades. The moment Madnar completes his thought, a trap door suddenly opens beneath Snake and drops him into an underground space.

We're greeted by the voice of Gray Fox, who claims that the old man is delusional. "There's no way to destroy this Metal Gear!" he shouts. He then invites Snake to travel through the door to the north. Before doing so, we want to first check out the eastern and southern rooms, wherein we can pick up rations, grenades and ammo.

So we enter the room to the north, and soon we're met by the Gray Fox-commanded Metal Gear, which stomps its way onto the scene. "I'll show you what fear really is," he says before promptly initiating a battle.

Metal Gear's is a simple two-step pattern: It walks forward, onto the bottom of the screen, and fires six successive shots from its lower turret; all six shots are fired directly toward Snake. Then it backsteps to the screen's top portion and subsequently fires off two remote-controlled missiles from its shoulder-mounted launchers; they travel straight down before being steered toward Snake. Winning the battle is a matter of continuously maneuvering about the room's unoccupied side lanes in an effort to dodge Metal Gear's fire, which is surprisingly easy to do, and finding time in between to toss grenades at its legs. Direct contact with Metal Gear spells instant death--a chief threat considering that Metal Gear takes about 45% of the room. Twenty grenade hits will destroy it.

Fox is able to escape the exploding Metal Gear and come out unscathed, but the resulting blasts set Snake on fire. Before Snake can fully grasp the situation, Fox steals the cartridge from him and runs off.

Soon we realize that our current condition is causing our health to drain. And we find that we're lacking for any type of recourse. Though, Campbell alerts us to the fact that our weapons and items are on fire, and this is what is causing us to burn. He tells us to throw all of them away by moving the cursor beside them and hitting the spacebar (Button II for controller-users). We have to do this for each and every item--multiple times for those that stack. The longer we take to dump them, the more our health drains. And we're wrong to assume that prompting an inventory screen will pause the action, as it does normally; no--in this scenario, our health continues to drain even here.

After we toss all of our items, we head own and to the left. Fox is waiting for us here. "Where am I?" Snake wonders as he looks around. Fox enlightens him by responding that it's "the perfect ring for our final battle," for which he's long been waiting. Snake, sensing that his old friend isn't quite right in the head, promises to beat some sense into him.

This battle is just a plain ol' fistfight. Fox runs about the room, kind of aimlessly, and throws punches whenever he and Snake's paths intersect. We can play it aggressively--chase after him and generally hound him--or we can be patient--plant ourselves in a particular spot and start throwing punches when he moves to within proximity. If we choose the latter tactic, there's a better chance that we can get him caught in a cycle wherein he circles around the same set of tiles and consequently sets himself up for another cycle-triggering punch. If you decide to chase him, you'll instead want to get close, throw a punch, and then step away before he has a chance to counter. But be aware that there's a hidden danger: If you travel over to the room's edges, you'll be damaged by the mines that are lining them (Fox is immune to them).

During the fight, we're contacted by George Kasler, a former military adviser to FOXHOUND. He provides us some background on Gray Fox: His real name is "Frank Jaeger." He's a former member of FOXHOUND and the last man to hold the title of Fox in the Big Boss era. He was decorated five times. He was renowned for being a cold-blooded hunter who never let his prey escape; everyone looked up to him. Ten years prior, he was involved with a woman from the Eastern bloc. He tried to get her to come over the fence, but such a scenario never manifested. The West wouldn't accept her, and this caused Frank to develop a hatred for politicos. The woman's name was of course "Gustava Heffner."

We then resume the battle, wherein we have to punch Fox 40 times to KO him.

After Fox is immobilized, he and Snake converse: "Looks like it's finally time for me to give up the title of 'Fox,'" the fallen hunter says. He explains that he and Snake are not alike; his situation is "more complicated." Before he joined the unit, Big Boss saved his life--twice. The first time was when he was a half-white man living in Vietnam--a period during which people like him were sent to forced labor camps. The second time was in Mozambique, where he was being tortured as RENAMO soldier; his ears and nose were severed. He joined Big Boss' army not to repay a debt but because he needs the battlefield. Big Boss gives both he and the other war children a place to fight; conflict is in their blood, after all. He was born on the battlefield and wishes to die there. Quite simply, it's not possible for him to live a normal life; he can't make people happy--especially not a woman. He knows that he was fated to die in battle.

"Rest easy, Fox," Snake responds, consoling his friend. "I swear I won't turn out like you." Fox's hope is that Snake holds to that promise.

Fox then reveals that he was the "number one fan" who helped guide Snake during the mission. It was his way of repaying Snake, who was victim of his selfishness. Snake promises the fading Fox that he won't be alone on the other side. "Gustava is waiting for you," he comforts. Fox thanks him and then, well, explodes. He leaves behind the stolen cartridge.

Suddenly we hear a voice say "Over here, Snake!" Then the door on the left opens automatically, inviting us to travel through it. Seeking the voice's source, we hurry across a transitional room and arrive at a large chamber. There we find Big Boss, who we're surprised to see alive.

Snake tells him that he came here to rid himself of the nightmares. In response, Big Boss delivers a long diatribe (via the transceiver screen, wherein we can see that he's clearly modeled after Sean Connery): Snake's is a wasted effort, he argues. The nightmares never go away. Once you've been on the battlefield--tasted the exhilaration and the tension--it all becomes a part of you. Then you seek bigger thrills. All you crave is war. That's the gift he's given Snake and all of the war orphans, who he's certain will make fine soldiers in the next war. That's his wicked modus operandi: foment a cycle wherein you start a war, fan its flames, and create victims; then you save the victims, train them, feed them, and send them back onto the battlefield! He believes that it's a logical system for people like them, whose purpose is to engage in endless conflict. On the battlefield, they're valuable commodities, but back home they're nothing but dead weight. Like it or not, they're doomed to remain locked in combat.

Snake responds that he has only one fight left: to free himself from Big Boss' grip and rid himself of the nightmares. He vows to defeat Big Boss.

Big Boss doesn't see how Snake can achieve victory as things currently stand. He has no weapons, after all. Snake, though, swears that he'll never give up. "Always believe that you will succeed," he says, "even when the odds are against you."

Basically, we have to improvise. First we have to gather whatever items we can; lucky for us, there are a bunch of them laying around. We'll pick them up as we scavenge the nine-screen battle arena. Most easily attainable are three rations, which we'll find on the corner screens corner screens. Though, where we absolutely need to go is the left room in arena's the center-north portion; its door is the only one that doesn't require unlocking. Inside we find card 6. Thus begins a sequence wherein we use a newly obtained key card to access the next in a series of locked rooms, all of which contain the next item in a chain. The two most important items are a lighter and a spray can containing lacquer; when we set them to our weapon and equipment slots, respectively, we can use them conjointly to create an improvised flamethrower.

Big Boss will be pursuing us the whole time. If ever we're on the same screen, he'll begin rapidly firing at us (his bullets move two-times faster than those fired by other enemies). Also, parts of the surface are covered by acid pools, one of which is blocking a door; we'll have to use newly obtained B1 rations to neutralize it.

Once we've equipped the lighter and the spray can, we'll have the weapon we need to take down Big Boss. All we have to do now is lure him over to whichever screen offers us the most desirable tactical positioning (I prefer the bottom-left screen) and begin scorching him. We'll need to find and retain cover, because it's extremely difficult to engage Big Boss in a wide-open space; in such a scenario, it's impossible to dodge his bullets. Instead, we want to hide behind a row or column of metal crates, through which his bullets can't travel. The flames spewed by our flamethrower, however, can travel through the crates, and we want to use this to our great advantage. Our strategy is to (a) influence his movement so that he continues to walk in a straight line, back and forth, along the crates' far side and (b) spew flames at him whenever he reaches a center position. You'll want to avoid attacking him from a corner position, since doing so will likely result in his arcing around the crates and spraying you with bullets as the considerably long flamethrower animation plays out; you're forced to remain in place during this animation.

We have to hit him 20 times.

As the final blow is delivered, Big Boss is set ablaze. The engulfed madman stumbles around a bit--trying to hang on to precious life--before ultimately succumbing. He collapses and subsequently burns away.

When we exit through the now-unlocked door in the north, an "enemy soldier" sneaks up on us and tells us to freeze. It turns out to be Holly, who managed to survive. She hands us a gun that she stole from an actual enemy soldier. After they're done engaging in some playful banter, Snake contacts his chopper pilot, Charlie, and confirms that the cartridge is secured; also, he and Holly are heading toward the rendezvous point right now.

As he and Holly rush toward the base's exit, they're spotted by three guards who instantly trigger an alert phase. This initiates an escape sequence. Our challenge now is to quickly exit the base and cut through the jungle while enemy soldiers endlessly pursue us. We can afford to stop and fire upon the soldiers, since we're given unlimited ammo, but there's no point in doing so; it's better to simply run--stay ahead of the soldiers.

We reach the rendezvous point to find that Charlie hasn't arrived yet. So we have no choice but to actively engage the never-ending stream of enemy soldiers. After we kill about 13 of them, a cut-scene plays: It seems to be over for Snake and Holly. They're surrounded and out of ammo. There's nothing they can do to prevent what's about to happen to them. But suddenly something happens: Gunfire rains down and eliminates all of the soldiers. It came from the chopper, Holly notes!

The game's final scene begins with Snake and Holly conversing with Charlie via transceiver. He jokes that he was late because he didn't want to disturb the two "lovebirds." That's about all he adds to the scene.

Snake then turns to Holly. "Think we'll be home in time for Christmas?" he asks, jokingly. Even better, she thinks, "We'll be home in time for dinner, Snake." He's happy to hear that, since he's grown absolutely sick of rations!

In the closing animation, we see the chopper taking to their air and flying off into the sunset. Thereafter, the movie-like closing credits begin to play.

But wait--there's also a post-credits scene (which also became a standard series convention). The whole of it is communicated via a text box: Campbell asks Snake if he's thought about returning to the unit. "The nightmares have stopped," he says, his response a form of declination. "I'm a free man now."

"That's too bad," Campbell replies. He then wonders if the cartridge Snake retrieved is actually holding Marv's plans. Snake is certain that it does; he "proves" it by popping it into his MSX and loading it up. Holly is confused, though; she sees nothing--only the system's boot-up screen. She sees nothing, that is, until Snake tells her to focus on the text ("VRAM:01K"), at which point all becomes clear: It's Dr. Marv's signature in reverse (a sure "Oh, of course!" moment for MSX players and another example of Kojima and crew cleverly creating an intrinsic, everlasting relationship between one of their games and its original host system)! This was Dr. Marv's last performance.

Campbell then speaks of Marv's entanglement in pointless political games and how it cost him his life. "But the game he says will save us all," she replies, "right, Snake?"

There's no answer. While Campbell and Holly were conversing, Snake sneakily exited the scene. That's a fitting final note for a Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake.

We close with a cast listing.

Enduring Thoughts

Wow, man--what a game! Normally I try to avoid using the word epic to describe a gaming experience, since tossing out such an adjective feels like a quick and lazy substitute for actually providing thoughtful characterization, but here's an instance where its use is totally warranted and oh-so-appropriate. Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake is an epic video game--in just about every way.

Even though I was already familiar with the game, having watched other people play through it, I never felt that any of its surprises had been ruined for me. I was, at all times, overcome with the sense that there was something excitingly new about the action that was playing out on my screen--about the sights and sounds that were enveloping me. To experience Solid Snake for myself was to see it through a new set of eyes. I could inspect every inch of it, as if it were my first time doing so, and marvel over its technical advancements and the manner in which it expressed its ideas.

It's amazing what Kojima and his team were able to achieve on the MSX hardware. It's almost as if Solid Snake is actively defying the system's actual capabilities--that it's willing itself to be something more. For certain, it's at the top of the list if we're discussing the most ambitious 8-bit games ever made.

Solid Snake is every bit the grand production its creators intended it to be: It evolves the original Metal Gear's formula in such a monumental fashion that the mold is helplessly blown to pieces. It feels historic from start to finish. It's cinematic in a way that makes other 8-bit action-adventure games green with envy. And it provides players a visually stunning world, amazingly evocative tunes, and unforgettable characters, all of which stick with you and forevermore contribute texture to the wonderfully nostalgic mental images that form whenever you think about Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. Really, there are so many other compliments I can throw its way, but I have to refrain, lest I'd be here for days.

It's fun to revisit Metal Gear 2 and examine it through the lens of the Metal Gear Solid series--to take note of the many ways in which it influenced and helped shape its successors--of how it established a winning template with its heavy emphasis on immersion, storytelling and film-industry-level production. It's not surprising to me that Metal Gear Solid is basically a remake of it. Kojima and crew needed to be. I mean, the vast majority of the gaming populace missed out on Metal Gear 2--the team's groundbreaking masterwork--since it was exclusive to the MSX and came out in 1990, so it was necessary that their new game embody its spirit--reproduce its essential elements. Otherwise all of those great ideas would have gone to waste and Metal Gear 2 wouldn't have gotten the recognition it so richly deserves.

Now, I can't deny that Metal Gear 2's action is hampered a bit by some annoying flaws and questionable design decisions. It inexplicably retains the original's cumbersome pause-and-swap key-card mechanic. There's a ridiculous amount of slow, tedious backtracking, particularly toward the end, where you spend an hour-plus walking back and forth between the game's two furthest points (that they intended for the backtracking to be irksome doesn't make it any less of a flaw). The frequent loading screens, while necessary, hinder the game's flow and eat up a ton of time. And a whole lot of slowdown is introduced whenever you're moving about a space in which there's a considerable amount of action occurring on its 6-9 encompassing screens; while it's impressive that the game can keep track of so much activity, it's not always able to do so competently.

And yet I feel safe in telling you that none of these issues are so detrimental to the experience that they'll leave any kind of negative imprint. No, sir--they simply can't drag this game down. They couldn't if they tried; Metal Gear 2's sheer power is such that it renders them completely insignificant. Believe me: In the end, you won't even remember that you spent a half hour chasing around a pigeon.

Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake turned out to be everything I thought it was. It lived up to my every expectation.

Playing it for myself was well worth it; I consider the experience to be an essential piece of my gaming history. And I'm sure that everyone else who plays it will feel the same. Hell--even if you're not a fan of stealth games, it's still worth your time to check out Metal Gear 2, even if it's just for twenty minutes or so. Don't miss the chance to experience a lovingly crafted, highly innovative action game that's filled with interesting visuals, fantastic musical compositions, and a whole lot of cool moments.

Don't miss the chance to experience 8-bit gaming at its peak.

Snake wouldn't like that. I mean, look at him.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Rediscovered Classics: Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (MSX)

Now here's a game that's been on my mind for a long time. Back when I was familiarizing myself with the Metal Gear series by watching my favorite Youtube personalities play its individual entries in release-date order, it was Metal Gear Solid 2: Solid Snake to which I was most strongly drawn. There were two reasons it held such allure: First was that I was fascinated to learn of its existence; until then, I had no idea that a "true" Metal Gear sequel had been released on the obscure MSX platform (looking at it from an American perspective) and that its mode of evolution was so far removed from what Snake's Revenge imagined. It seemed to come from a whole other universe.

Otherwise, it was one of the most amazing-looking 8-bit games I'd ever seen! I didn't need to watch more than ten minutes of action to recognize that I was looking at one of the most ambitious 8-bit creations in history. Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake was showing itself to be visually astonishing, super-innovative, and technically advanced in a way that bordered on surreal. "How is this game running on the MSX?" I wondered.

And that soundtrack, man! Metal Gear 2's wonderfully evocative music was simply unforgettable!

In the end, Metal Gear 2 had managed to make a deep, lasting impression on me. I knew that it would be a big part of my future.

Ever since then, I've been looking forward to playing it for myself. I intended to do so at a much earlier date, actually, but I held off because I'd recently started this blog and thought that it would be a better idea to wait until after I'd chronicled my history with the original Metal Gear--an event that would likely serve as both a great setup and a fitting lead-in to my first personal experience with Metal Gear 2.

And here we are, finally. The moment has come. It's time for me to move beyond being a mere observer. It's time for me to gear up, head out into the wild, and fully immerse myself in the highly alluring world of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake.

This is going to be a lengthy piece, I expect, so brace yourself for an avalanche of text. Though, I'm certain that the upcoming experience will justify as much.

So let's move into action take a long look at Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake.

Metal Gear 2's intro sets the tone like no other. Moments after the splash screen fades, the game hits you with an epic opening-credits sequence that displays the creators' names and some fancy accompanying visuals (machines, weapons, schematics and other cool, well-animated depictions). This slickly crafted sequence is coupled with one of the most awesome 8-bit intro themes ever composed; it's a dynamic piece that builds and flows like any of those opening-credits themes you'd hear in a 1980s big-budget action movie. And these sights and sounds work together to engross you; they both absorb you whole and fill you with hype.

It becomes immediately obvious that Kojima and his crew wanted to give the impression that their game was a grand production. They desired to make you to feel as though you were about to take the lead in a gripping Hollywood blockbuster. And this intro certainly works to that effect. (All of this makes total sense in retrospect. I mean, we know that Hideo Kojima always wanted to be a filmmaker. And, well, here was one of the earliest signs.)

And if you wait past the title screen and a subsequent rendering of the splash screen, a second intro plays! This one provides the game's backdrop: It's the late 1990s. The Cold War is over and the threat of nuclear war is now a thing of the past. However, peace has not been embraced by all. An atmosphere of tension begins to build in the Middle East: Zanzibar Land--a small nation that borders on the USSR, China and the Middle East--forms a military junta and begins invading its neighbors. It also attacks nuclear weapons disposal sites all over the world and seizes their weapons. These actions result in Zanzibar Land becoming the world's only nuclear power.

At the same time, oil resources are quickly growing scarce and the world faces an energy crisis. It's then that Czech biologist Dr. Kio Marv engineers a micro-organism called "Oilix," a microbe that can synthesize high-grade petroleum. But while on the way to an American scientific conference, Marv is kidnapped by agents of Zanzibar Lab, whose leaders hope to exploit his work. With its nuclear weapons and the secrets of Oilix, Zanzibar Land plans to achieve global military domination. One tiny microbe is about to change the world forever.

So there you see the start of another trend: the Metal Gear series creating a rich lore by cleverly mixing together real and fictional events. And that reworked history is what provides the games context and an intriguing backdrop.

So our setting is Zanzibar Land, an African region wherein the enemy has set up its base of operations. The occupied territory is broken up into several sections, all of which we'll be continuously traveling between. And as we navigate about, we'll be viewing the game's distinctly rendered environments from a top-down perspective.

At our control is the legendary super soldier Solid Snake, who earned such status after completing Operation Intrude N313, wherein he successfully infiltrated Outer Heaven and destroyed both Big Boss and the group's ultimate weapon--Metal Gear. Snake traverses the game's environments by moving from screen to screen; on any such screen, he's able to travel along two axes, where permitted. The game's two action inputs (which are mapped to buttons or keys, depending upon whether you're using a joystick or a keyboard) allow him to interact with environments and engage enemies in unique ways: Pressing Button/Key I executes a punch. Pressing Button/Key II fires or activates whichever weapon or device is currently residing in the HUD's "Weapon" slot. And pressing both buttons simultaneously enters Snake into crawling mode--a newly implemented mechanic; you can press either action button thereafter to make him stand.

There are two inventory screens--one for weapons and another for equipment. They can be accessed by pressing the F2 and F3 keys, respectively. Those set to the weapons slot can be utilized by pressing Button/Key II, as mentioned, while those set to the equipment slot have an automatic effect. It's basically the same inventory system we remember from the original Metal Gear, though with some minor improvements, which I'll discuss when it's relevant.

At the start, you have only one item in your inventory: cigarettes, which can be set to the equipment slot. In the original Metal Gear, cigarettes had one very specific use (smoking them extended the timer during the escape sequence--"slowed down time," in allegorical terms), but here, in Metal Gear 2, they have a few different functions. More on those later.

Otherwise, Snake is carrying his transceiver, using which he can communicate with his contacts. You can put it to use by pressing F4, which opens up the transceiver subscreen; here you can adjust its frequency counter, whose range stretches from 00-99. After setting the counter to a proper channel, you have to push up or down to send the signal. The contact in question will then respond to the call. Some contacts are always on standby while others only respond under certain conditions. In any instance where a contact is calling Snake--the indication for which is a continuous ringing sound and a flashing "Call" sign in the HUD's upper-right corner--pressing F4 will automatically receive his or her transmission.

F5 brings up the Data screen, on which you can either save your mission data onto the disk or obtain a (super-long) password. From here you can also load data and input passwords.

Pressing F1 pauses the game.

As it was in the original Metal Gear, the name of the game is stealth. Your objective is to sneak around the game's environments and avoid being detected. You do this by quietly, cleverly moving about the individual rooms and using their objects and structures as cover. The biggest difference is that Solid Snake features a sophisticated anti-personnel sensor--basically an advanced radar and map system. It's able to track all of the activity that's occurring on both the current and surrounding screens, the sensor covering nine screens in total. Its output is displayed in map form in the HUD's upper-right portion. White dots represent enemy soldiers and security cameras while the red dot represents Snake. The map allows us to observe and study the enemies' movements from adjacent screens and strategically choose our point of entry and the most convenient path. Though, you have to take into account that some enemies patrol several screens, so it's never safe to assume that the space in which you're currently parked isn't part of a patrol route; at any time, a soldier who appeared to be bound to an adjacent screen might suddenly betray that expectation and wander onto yours and spot you immediately.

Mainly, you want to stay out of the enemy soldiers' sight lines. In the original, they suffered from tunnel version and could only see straight ahead; but here, in the technologically advanced sequel, their field of vision is a cone whose slant height naturally expands, so it's no longer a guarantee that you'll be safe when you employ the tactic of positioning yourself slightly beyond an axis while a soldier is facing in your direction. No--the dead-zone range changes depending upon the distance separating you. Though, as long as (a) a soldier is not facing you or (b) his head isn't turned in your direction, he won't be able to spot you, even if you're standing right beside him; in these moments, you can safely maneuver about or sneak up on him from behind.

If you wind up getting detected by a soldier, a camera or a sensor, you'll trigger an alert phase, wherein the enemy will jam your radar and begin swarming you, the alerted soldiers pouring in from every direction. An alert phase will continue until (a) you defeat a set number of soldiers or (b) put more than a screen's-worth of distance between Snake and his pursuers and thereafter escape from view; you'll then enter an evasion mode, whence a counter will appear and begin to tick down. If during this period you're unable to find sufficient cover, and a backup unit spots you, you'll reset the alert phase and have to repeat one of the two aforementioned processes. The counter, however, will resume from where it was before you reset the alert phase.

If you want to achieve the best results, you'll have to move about meticulously and pay close attention to what's going on around you--gauge the environment, observe the enemy routes, and think about how everything connects. Running in gung-ho, as if you're playing a Commando-style top-down shooter, will only result in continuous alert phases and a particularly unpleasant experience. And you can't simply trust your knowledge of the original Metal Gear: This game features a whole new variety of traps and puzzles, many of which force you to think outside the box. So prepare to put your brain to work. Though, if ever you're stumped by a particularly arcane puzzle, you can try communicating with your contacts, one of whom may provide hints or generally point you in the right direction.

Over the course of your mission, you'll encounter numerous bosses, all of which engage you in unique ways. Some of these battles require that you rely on a specific weapon or tactic while others invite the use of ingenuity--of a creative combination of your tools and skills. Every time you defeat a boss, your health meter lengthens and your item/ammo capacity increases.

Metal Gear 2 is way more forgiving than its predecessor in terms of the number of checkpoints. You're provided one any time you trigger one of its many loading screens. What's nice is that the process of dying and continuing doesn't entail the erasure of any progress you've made since triggering the last loading screen; you get to retain all of the items you collected before you were killed. The bad news is that the game also records the amount of ammo and rations you've expended; so when you're in a tense situation, you can't make the mistake of employing liberal use of your items with the expectation that your supply-totals will simply revert back to an earlier state if you die. Really, that part of it just sucks.

And now that we know the basics, we can get started with the mission.

As the game opens, we see Snake climbing up the side of a cliff and arriving at the edge of the enemy base. Before the action commences, Snake and his commander, Colonel Roy Campbell, communicate via transceiver and engage in a mission briefing, wherein they go over the details of Operation Intrude F014. Our mission is to infiltrate Zanzibar Land and rescue the kidnapped Kio Marv. We're told that Marv has a transmitter implanted into one of his molars, and its signal is strong enough to where it'll show up as a red dot on our radar when we're in proximity. We can reach Campbell on frequency 140.85 if we require further instruction or some hints (though, you won't find many of them to be particularly informative, especially if you're already familiar with the Metal Gear series' fundamental systems).

But there is someone who can provide us more in the way of useful information: Campbell informs us that we can reach McDonell Miller, a survival master, on frequency 140.38. Miller is an "idea man" who can provide us advice if ever we can't find a way forward or if we're dealing with a puzzle to which there appears to be no logical solution.

What interests me most about these transceiver exchanges are the character depictions, which show us how Snake and company were originally envisioned. It's clear that the character designers hadn't yet settled on a look for Snake, who isn't the well-coiffed, stubbly charmer we know from future Metal Gear games. This version of Snake is said to be closely modeled after Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson's character in Lethal Weapon), but, really, he looks more to me like a perpetually spooked Frank Stallone. I mean, look at him: His eyes continue to dart back and forth, from corner to corner, and he's constantly looking upward as if to keep track of the same two ghosts that have been following him since he touched ground. Something definitely went wrong during pixel-art-translation process.

To be fair, though, Roy Campbell does very closely resemble his inspiration: Rambo's Colonel Trautman, who was played by Richard Crenna.

It's evident from the start that Solid Snake is one of the most visually impressive 8-bit games ever made. Environment are richly detailed. Every object has solid shape and form and is instantly distinguishable. Textures are bursting with highlighting and shading effects that inform us of the rooms' lighting conditions and create a wonderful sense of depth; and the little cracks and blemishes that pepper them provide such an important touch of character, each helping to craft an image of a world that has been lived in. The game features amazing color-depth and a great many palette schemes; every area is distinctly hued. The HUD and subscreen elements are slickly rendered. There are so many neat little graphical effects and interesting adornments (vents, fuse boxes and other pleasing visuals, many of which I'll be discussing). Characters are well-drawn and rife with animation. And there's just this real feeling that you're playing a game that's both graphically and technically transcendent. "This can't be possible on 8-bit hardware," you'll think.

Also worthy of high praise is the game's soundtrack, which is packed with brilliantly composed, strongly evocative tunes. Each piece is able to establish a tenor and add a layer of perceptual texture, its enveloping presence working to tell an environment's story and guide your emotions. Whenever you enter a new area, its tune will inform of how you should feel, be it sad, cautious, jumpy or any other from a large range of tapped emotions. Sometimes you'll feel compelled to just stop and listen to the music--let its vibe soak in--even if doing so might not feel like the smartest decision. That's the power of Solid Snake's soundtrack.

Sound design, overall, is excellent. The MIDI instrumentation is high in quality--the music's resonance full and reverberant--and sounds in general have real punch to them. Every action and event has an accompanying sound sample: weapons fire, elevators whir, machines grind, and different surfaces emit unique sounds as Snake walks on them. And, of course, enemy soldiers react with that classic blaring surprise sound ("!") whenever they spot Snake, their piercing exclamations instantly sparking panic. Though, what makes Solid Snake so innovative in this regard is not how it couples actions and sounds but how it turns sound, itself, into a gameplay mechanic. I'll expand on this in a bit.

This initial sequence is all about infiltration. We have to sneak our way into the enemy's southern base, the Zanzibar building, which lies before us. We do this by creeping along series of fences and taking cover behind generators and other machinery. Really, though, this opening area is designed to teach the player how to use Snake's new crawling ability. That is, the only way to advance is to locate sections of fence whose bases have been torn up and crawl through the resulting openings.

Entering the base via the front door is impossible, since we don't possess the necessary card key, so instead we'll have to take Campbell's advice and find an alternate entry point. We find such access on the entrance's right side, which houses an open air duct into which we can crawl. First, though, we want to enter the truck on the bottom-right and acquire the handgun. When we begin slithering our way through the ducts, we fall under the influence of a newly introduced music track whose eerie tone generates an air of unease; working to heighten this feeling of anxiety is the tune's pounding bass--a literal heartbeat. It's all very foreboding. But don't let the music's ominous vibe induce you into rushing out of here: If you explore to the left side of the mazelike duct system, you can pick up an early ammo pack.

Once we're inside, we're contacted by Holly White, a journalist who entered Zanzibar Land a month before. She claims to know about how things work around here and offers to assist us in any way she can. She'll provide tips for navigating the enemy territory whenever we contact her at frequency 140.15.

At the moment, our goal is to sneak our way around and up to the floor's central platform and access the elevator room. As we proceed along this path, the game introduces us to some of its advanced stealth elements. We learn, for instance, that walking on grated surfaces produces a "dinking" sound that will be heard by all soldiers currently onscreen; their reaction will be to immediately pause and grow concerned, their state of alarm being conveyed via a "bwooping" sound and the literal question marks that have since formed over their heads. Moments later, the curious soldiers will wander over to the location from which the sound emanated; if you're still hanging this location when they arrive, you'll be spotted, and an alert phase will be triggered. We'll also discover, probably by accident, that punching a wall elicits the same response, the resulting "thunking" sound likewise drawing the soldiers' attention.

Though, we can actually use such mechanics to our advantage: If ever there are too many soldiers onscreen, or if one or two soldiers are inconveniently clogging up a pathway, we can use the emitting of sound to decoy them over to a specific part of the room. When they converge in the location in question, we can easily sneak by them and freely traverse upon the room's now-unguarded spaces. Or we can lure them into a trap--lead them into a mine or take out the group of them with a weapon that can strike multiple targets.

Additionally, we find that we can crawl beneath any number of objects (trucks, tanks, metal covering, and such) and hide from patrolling soldiers.

It's hard not to react with awe and delight as you observe Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake--as you attempt to define the feeling of enormity that envelops you. "There's something next-level about all of this," you'll think to yourself as you excitedly experiment with all these ingenious mechanics, all of which contributed to the evolution of the stealth genre and influenced how developers think about level and sound design.

Solid Snake is filled with the sorts of clever, inventive mechanics that logically advance the genre, yes, yet the brilliant implementation of such represents just a single manifestation of Kojima and crew's ambitious spirit.

Another is the team's determination to permeate their game with outside-the-box ideas--the type that effectively change how we interact with games. We're met with one on this very floor, on the center platform: It contains a radar room wherein we can snag an item--a guaranteed item drop--by taking out the two soldiers stationed there. But there's a problem: Since the soldiers are positioned in the room's empty middle portion, there's no angle from which we can stealthily approach them. "If I want to engage them, I'll have no choice but to trigger an alert," you'll think. However, if you fight the urge to charge in recklessly and instead simply wait a few seconds, something interesting will happen: Zanzibar's anthem will begin to play, and the soldiers, as per their steadfast adherence to nationalism, will continue to stand at attention no matter how much circumstances change. Right then, you can take advantage of the situation and drop them while they're resigned to defenselessness.

Moments such as these have a profound impact on how we perceive Solid Snake. They play a huge role in helping it to form its lasting personality.

If our aim is to control the noise-level, we can't make the mistake or running about with guns blazing. The sound of gunfire prompts onscreen soldiers to trigger an alert phase (unless there's only one soldier present and the fired bullet connects with him). Until we get a hold of a suppressor, we'll have to rely on our fists. Any of the standard soldier types can be taken out with three punches, though they'll trigger an alert if you get too close or if they see the attack coming. It's much more efficient to attack from a distance with a gun, if circumstances dictate that it's safe to do so. However, there's a benefit to taking enemies out with punches; if you drop a soldier in this manner, there's a chance that he'll drop one of two items: an ammo pack or a ration. Either is an invaluable pickup.

So we've made it to the elevator room, from which we can travel between the base's six other floors. Though, the enemy's elevator system is a strange one: There are two elevators, but these respective lifts can only travel to certain floors. The one on the right travels between floors 1-4, while the one on the left--which is not accessible here, on Floor 1--travels to Floor 2 and the two basements. Meaningfully progressing through the base will sometimes entail having to continuously alternate between the two elevators--a process that can grow both tedious and confusing. It might take you a while to memorize the correct combinations.

In contrast, the process of operating elevators is pretty cool: In order to access an elevator, you have to punch the button panel to its right. However, the elevator doors won't slide open immediately; no--they won't open until the elevator has ascended or descended to the current floor, and you can tell how close it is--track its progress--by observing the LED-based indicator seen directly above he doors. This is interesting because it conveys to us that the elevators are constant motion--that they're not statically positioned objects that exist only for Snake's use; the enemy soldiers are constantly accessing and interacting with them, too, it would seem.

Now, this is all an illusion, of course--the elevators' transitioning and the indication of such wholly scripted--but one that proves to be very meaningful: It creates the sense that this place is alive and rife with activity. Solid Snake's is a functioning world, we come to feel, and this invites us to imagine how the base's inhabitants occupants go about their jobs--how their operation is run. And that, to me, is a very important world-building element.

So once we enter the elevator cab, we'll want to punch the "up" button a single time and ascend to Floor 2, where we'll be picking up a few items. It's essential that we find card 1, which opens certain locked doors; we can't advance without it. Key cards won't work unless they're set to the equipment slot. Otherwise, we can grab the Binoculars, which allow us to sneak a peek at what's happening on adjacent screens (though, we can't move while it's equipped), and a ration, using which we can replenish our entire health meter. While exploring here, we'll have to traverse carefully, since the surfaces are comprised mostly of grating. A whole lot of crawling may be in order.

I have to mention that two key changes have been made to how rations function: Most desirably is that a ration will be expended automatically if it's currently set to the equipment slot when your meter is depleted, so you won't have to panic when your health gets low. You know--get flustered and start hyperactively poking at the keyboard in a desperate bid to find the F3 key (which is bound to happen if you play in the dark). If you possess other rations of that type, one of them will immediately take the place of the expended ration in the equipment slot.

And that's the other change. Rations now come in three different types: A1, B1 and C1, with each package containing a different mix of food items. This expansionary measure hasn't been taken for the purpose of making a cosmetic change--for padding out the Equipment Select screen; rather, there's a particular reason why each ration contains unique food items. We'll get into that later.

I should also note that you can no longer cheat the system and continue to collect rations and ammo by simply leaving a room and immediately reentering. The programmers ("sadly," some might say) were on the ball and made sure to clean up the coding and thus remove what was a popular exploit in the original Metal Gear. Though, such items do respawn after a loading screen has been prompted, so you can still recollect them, though you'll have to do some work--usually a prolonged sequence wherein you have to retreat to the elevator, ride it up and down a floor, and then retrace your steps to get back where you were. This can be both tedious and time-consuming and probably not worth the effort. It's better to keep moving.

Specifically, head up to Floor 3, the base's laboratory. This is where Marv is being held. First we head north, to the computing area, where we locate the gas mask. While in search of it, we'll have to work around the enemies' motion-sensing technologies. First are the proximity sensors that regularly emit detection waves in all directions; we can safely pass by them only during the interval, when their activity has ceased. Then there are the returning trip lasers, which, as they did previously, alternate between walls and barriers in certain patterns. Under normal circumstances, these lasers are invisible; though, if you equip the cigarettes, Snake will puff them and release smoky emissions that function to reveal the lasers' locations. Thereafter, navigation becomes of matter of observing patterns and timing movements.

After obtaining the gas mask, we retreat back to the elevator room and head south, to the lab's chemical area. In the second room down, there's a soldier who will run over to the lower-left corner and switch off the lights if he becomes aware of our presence; the room will then be plunged into darkness, and we won't be able to see its objects and surfaces. And now we've been introduced to another cool mechanic: light-switch, which will occasionally come into play. We can save ourselves the trouble of having the switch the lights back on by (a) stealthily eliminating the masked soldier or (b) hiding from him by crawling beneath the computer table. His wearing a mask, by the way, is a foreshadowing event.

That is, the room to the right is filled with deadly gas, whose damaging effect will begin to drain our freshly appearing C02 meter, which appears in the HUD's lower-right corner whenever a room is awash with a certain element; if the C02 meter fully depletes, then our health meter will begin to drain. The point is that we don't have time to stand around and carefully consider our next move. Fortunately, our new gas mask provides us a measure of protection; it doesn't offer us immunity from the poison gas, no, but it does double the length of our C02 meter and affords us more time. Still, we can't advance too hastily, because the room located two screens over has one of those on-rails cameras, which can cause all kinds of trouble for us if it catches us while we're entering. We'd be wise to stop and observe its movement from the room below.

I have to tell you, man: I love those glovebox-style inserts that can be seen protruding into the adjacent containment area (which we'll enter later on). It's one my favorite little details--in Solid Snake and all of 8-bit gaming. Like so many others, it helps to create the sense that actual activity takes place here--that Solid Snake's isn't one of those sterile metallic complexes to which we're often confined in action games. It's amazing how one tiny visual can shape how you think about a game's world.

Finally we locate Dr. Marv, who seems strangely amused by our presence. In a matter of moments, we learn that he's a fake--a decoy who lured us here with a cheap transmitter, which was apparently enough to fool FOXHOUND's "outdated" detection technology. With a quick transformation, he reveals himself to be an enemy agent--Black Ninja, a former member of NASA's extraterrestrial environment special forces unit. He's here to challenge us to a fight. Welcome to the first boss battle.

Black Ninja can't be attacked from up close. If we move anywhere near him, he'll immediately teleport to another area of the room. So we have to shoot him from a distance and do so with a measure of accuracy, which proves difficult because all the while he'll be throwing ninja stars at us--three at a time, in succession; dodging them requires that we remain in constant motion, so the window for moving into position and lining up a shot is very small. Mainly, we have to shoot him when he first reappears or during the intervals between his star-tossing, neither of which is guaranteed to produce results, since he doesn't stop moving either. Our best bet is to memorize his teleportation pattern--observe how our movements influence it--manipulate him over to where we want him to be, and lead shots so that they connect with him just as he appears.

Otherwise, if you have a full complement of rations, you might be able to survive a shootout. It comes down to how you like to play it.

His defeat prompts a long dialogue exchange, which would become standard for the series. As he lie there on the ground, the gravely injured Black Ninja utters "...Snake..." When Snake inquires about how he came to know his name, Black Ninja reveals himself to be Kyle Schneider, a former resistance member who assisted Snake during his infiltration of Outer Heaven. Snake assumed that he'd been killed by Big Boss' agents. "You've still got a lot to learn," says Schneider, who informs Snake that it wasn't the enemy who tried to kill him but rather America. After Snake destroyed Metal Gear, NATO launched a massive bombing campaign against Outer Heaven, and the organization was determined to indiscriminately kill enemy and resistance fighter alike; its officers didn't care about any of the victims, most of whom were refugees and war orphans. People died like animals trapped in cages. NATO simply didn't want to deal with them, so they'd all have to be eliminated. Snake is shocked to hear this.

Schneider then speaks of a mysterious figure-referred to only as "he"--who was able to rescue some of the fallen FOXHOUNDers; "he" forgave them for their actions and provided them a new a home and a new family.

Though Schneider regards Snake as the enemy, he feels that he owes his old friend a debt (it's what "he" would want, Schneider says), so he imparts some advice. He speaks of a man who wears a green beret and patrols the first floor; if Snake locates this man and quietly trails him, he'll be led to where Dr. Marv is being held. Schneider then explodes dramatically, relieving us of his presence. He leaves behind card 2, using which we can access the first floor's northern area.

But before we move on to our next objective, we want to head back to the computer area and use our new key card to open a security door and procure the mine detector; when equipped, it displays the locations of detected land mines on our radar. Thereafter our first inclination will be to backtrack to the elevator room and take the direct route down to Floor 1, but the better option is to should submit to curiosity and instead throw ourselves into the nearby garbage shoot (labeled "Dust"), which leads down into the sewer area. The drop lands us in a disposal room, wherein a compressor will try to push us into the grinder on the left; we'll have to act quickly to reach the room's south exit and escape through it.

Once we're out into the sewer system, itself, we'll want to navigate our way over to the left via the walkways, all of which overlook watery tunnels. We can swim through them at some other time.

The music here is appropriately sad and depressing; its air of hopelessness tells us that we shouldn't stick around this place for too long. And we don't; we only came this way to gain entry to the sewer's elevator room, which provides quick access to Basement 1--a storage area wherein we can pick up some new items. At this moment in time, we can only open a few of its doors. Accessible rooms hold plastic explosives, which we can plant and detonate remotely by hitting Button I, and a submachine gun, which sprays bullets over a wide area. You can avoid detection in these parts by crawling into wall crevices, some of which hide items.

Finally, we want to head up to Floor 2 and pick up a suppressor, which is located in a room on the area's left side.

And now it's time to locate that man with the green beret. We'll find him in the northern portion of Floor 1, guarding its rear entry point. We don't want to engage him; rather, our plan is to keep our distance--hide behind or beneath the tanks--and wait for him to exit north, out into the jungle area.

What follows is a prolonged sequence wherein we have to stealthily trail him as he travels through the jungle--taking a rather circuitous path that retraces previously traversed screens--en route to an unknown location. Though, he doesn't travel nonchalantly; no--ours is a suspicious target who stops at every intersection and suddenly turns to look in the opposite direction. Knowing this, we have to make sure to avoid trailing him along whichever axis he's currently traveling--avoid tailgating and instead hide around corners, out of his sight line. But we also have to be sure not to lag too far behind, because we only have a small window of time to exit the screen after he does; he won't appear on the next screen if we take longer than, say, five seconds, and consequently we'll have to head back into the base and reinitiate the sequence.

Later on in the sequence, he'll begin charging forward along paths; at this point, trailing him becomes a matter of combining swift and timely movements. The music here is silently intense, and its precipitous manner of pounding the lines' end notes works to keep you feeling anxious and jumpy. It's neat how the soldier's movements are synced to the music--how he always turns to face the opposite direction right as an end note hits.

The sequence terminates when we arrive at the building to the north. Once we're there, we can safely take the soldier out. Strangely, there's nothing inside the building, though soon we begin to hear a series of rhythmic banging noises. They obviously represent some sort of code, but we're given no indication as to how we can decipher their meaning and act upon it. Unfortunately, none of our contacts are able to help us, so we're on our own. Quite simply, we can't advance until we solve the puzzle.

While we attempt to put the pieces together, we can also mull over the message that's being communicated to us via the building's newly introduced tune--a melancholic piece that works to evoke an unexplained sadness. I think it's meant to express how lonely and empty life can become for an independent special-ops soldier, especially when he or she knows no path forward. It's truly one of the best 8-bit tunes I've ever heard--another hit in a string of them. I can't compliment Solid Snake's composer, Masahiro Ikariko, enough for how he's able to use music to connect with us emotionally and draw us further into the game's world.

Somehow, we're supposed to infer that we're hearing a "tap code" that translates to "14082," which is of course a frequency we can input into our transceiver (to be honest, I simply went through the numbers in sequence, starting at "00," until I stumbled onto the correct one). We find that the code was being banged out by Dr. Pettrovich Madnar, who we rescued in Metal Gear. He's being held in the adjacent room (which we can confirm by peeking into it with the binoculars), though we can't bomb our way through, since the walls are highly fortified. So for now, we can only contact him via transceiver.

Madnar informs us that he knows of Dr. Marv; they met during their younger days, when they were both students at Prague Academy. They didn't speak each other's language, but they considered themselves to be scientific comrades. Both he and Marv were captured while they were visiting America. Marv, he tells us, has been moved to the Tower Building, which rests a few kilometers north. Pettrovich is being kept alive for one specific reason: The enemy is building a new Metal Gear (the one we fought in the original was a mere prototype)--an advanced model that will soon enter mass-production phase. It was this Metal Gear that attacked the nuclear disposal sites.

Zanzibar Land is now the sole owner of nukes, and it has its sighes set on Oilix, a "miracle energy source." Snake correctly guesses that Big Boss is the one masterminding all of this. He plans to use Metal Gear and Oilix as the means for ruling the world! We can stop him from getting his hands on the latter by saving Dr. Marv, but we have to hurry because Marv has a weak heart and might not be able to withstand their information-extracting torture techniques. Both he and Marv are carrying micro-transmitters in their bodies; they were implanted by a female agent from STB (Czech State Security). If we can locate her, she might be willing to help us find Marv. Madnar then mumbles something about being old and being afraid for his daughter, Ellen, who hasn't yet married, but then he quickly drops it and changes the subject (she has feelings for Snake, it appears, and Madnar was trying to hint at such). In closing, he speaks of his zoologist friend, Johan Jacobsen (the third Belushi brother, apparently), who can tell us everything we need to know about animals; his frequency is 140.40.

Since currently we can't bomb through the walls, which are constructed of Chobham armor plate, we'll have to come back for Madnar at a later time.

So now we have to head over to the jungle's east side. Once there, we can move in one of two directions. If we proceed north, to the desert area, we'll receive a communication from our "number one fan," who informs us that we're in a minefield. Equipping our mine detector confirms as much; they can be seen pretty much clogging up all of the available passageways. Their ubiquity and troubling positioning suggest that we're not ready to traverse these parts, but in reality we can thanks to a new feature that allows us to pick up mines and place them in our inventory by crawling over them; we can then use them as our own! I don't know if it mentions as much in the manual, or if you have to figure this out for yourself. Having already watched people play through both this and future Metal Gear games, I had foreknowledge of this feature.

Up ahead, we find some units patrolling the desert. We notice that there's something strange about the surface texture in these rooms; somehow they look different from the rest. Holly contacts us with information that the ground here is formed from "singing sand," which was imported from Okinowa, Japan (it's like in Shadowgate, where every object has a history behind it; what great world-building!); it'll emit a squeaking sound if we walk on it. So if we want to avoid bringing any unwanted attention onto ourselves, we'll have to crawl through these spaces--beneath the trucks if necessary. Two such trucks, by the way, hold items: ammo packs and a rations.

This is where you might run into trouble with the crawling mechanic, whose implementation is a bit spotty. Some issues are sure to arise. For one, it's easy to become stuck in place while crawling. Openings are usually placed along very specific axes, and they're never quite as wide as they appear to be; this leads to instances where you try to crawl through a tile-and-a-half-wide opening and wind up getting stuck in place because only a very specific portion of the opening is negotiable and you were a few pixels off. This is never a good thing when soldiers are moving toward your position and you're in a rush to find cover. Also, Snake is programmed to enter into a crouch whenever he bumps into an object; this cancels out his crawl and likewise results in him getting stuck in place. In order to reenter crawling mode from a crouch, you have to move away from the object and do so at a sufficient distance, lest you'll continue to remain in a crouch. I guess they didn't have enough time to iron out the kinks.

If we continue moving north, we'll encounter the Hind D--an attack-and-transport helicopter. Though, we're ill-equipped to deal with it at this time (a lesson we'll learn the hard way if we attempt to attack it with our current weapons). So we have to retreat back to the jungle's eastern portion and head right--to the swamp. At first, the swamp will appear to be unnavigable; if we walk upon it, we'll begin to quickly sink to its bottom. Sink all the way and you die. The only way to stop sinking is to retreat back onto solid ground.

The child soldier who wanders around this screen swears to us that he saw a truck drive over the swamp, but we're not sure what to make of his words. It just doesn't appear as though there's an obvious way to cross this swamp.

Though, if we experiment a bit--attempt to walk across the swamp's surface from different locations--we'll find that there are actually shallow pathways sewn into it. There are a number of these pathways, and they intersect at certain points; though, only one specific route will carry us all the way through to the next area, and we have to find it by essentially feeling our way around--by sloooooowly, carefully treading forward until we start to sink, at which point we must quickly retreat to solid ground and look elsewhere for a spot in which the pathway veers. And we have to do this over the course of four whole screens. This is one of those "mischievous" segments that Kojima and crew are known for producing. They meant for this process to be frustrating and tedious. For whatever reason, they enjoy messing with players in this fashion. Bunch'a rascals.

When we arrive at the swamp's northeast portion, we find another building. Two rooms in, we're met by a soldier who calls himself "the Running Man" (and it becomes more apparent that Kojima had a great fondness for 80s-era American action films).

The Running Man boasts that he's the world's fastest mercenary. No one can keep up with him. He demonstrates this for us by quickly (or "somewhat speedily," in actual viewing) cycling around the four separate screens that comprise his chamber. The implication is that we're going to have to somehow chase him down if we hope to inflict damage. And to complicate matters, he releases a nerve gas, which limits the amount of time we have to do so. It doesn't help that he's more than twice as fast as us and relies on a tactic of pure evasion; he's always aware of which screen we're on and makes sure to never enter it. So if we're unable to catch up to him, how can we shoot him?

The answer is that we can't. Rather, what we're expected to do is observe his movement pattern and plant some of our newly collected mines along the paths he chooses to travel. Thereafter, we have to tactically influence his movement so that he runs over them and gets caught in the explosions. While doing so, we have to be careful not to run into the mines, which won't be visible to us if we don't have the mine detector equipped. Not that we should, of course; no--we'd be foolish not to keep the gas mask on at all times.

Eight hits will do him in.

Following a short dialogue exchange, in which he chokes on the irony of a snake beating a cheetah by using its speed as a weapon against it, the Running Man explodes and leaves behind card 3. We can use it to access the building's eastern room, where we find some child soldiers; they inform us that there used to be stinger missiles in this building, but just a few days before, they were moved to the west side of the Zanzibar building's first floor, where they'd be loaded onto tanks.

So we have to head all the way back to the southern base and use card 3 to enter is western wing, the factory area, and proceed south while hiding from an on-rails camera and two guards. In the lower-left room, we'll find the stinger missiles. We can then proceed back to the desert and use our new anti-aircraft weapon to deal with the Hind D. Before we leave, though, we should travel over to Floor 1's now-accessible northern portion and grab the red card, which is compatible with key cards 1-3; it replaces all three of them in the equipment screen, which generally removes some of the clutter. Later on, we can return here and obtain other such cards from the adjacent rooms.

Still, while this condensing of card keys is a desirable feature, it isn't a cure for the game's pause-and-swap issue, which has been carried over from the original Metal Gear. That is, opening locked doors--specifically those whose security level is unknown to you--remains a matter of continuously accessing the equipment screen and swapping in available cards until you just happen to select the one that allows entry. The more cards you possess, the more tedious this process becomes. Also, it's never a good thing to find yourself parked near a doorway for ten or more seconds, trying desperately to find the correct passkey, when you're in an alert phase and bullets are flying your way and enemies are breathing down your neck. Condensing the number of cards removes some of the inconvenience but doesn't get to the root of the issue; a better solution would have been to program it so that locked doors open automatically if the game detects that the corresponding card key is in your equipment screen.

To their credit, they got this right in the future Metal Gear Solid games.

And now it's time to take on the Hind D.

The biggest complication is that we can't actually see or directly attack the Hind D once it lifts off; it flies so far overhead that all we can do is observe its looming shadow. Otherwise, we can track its flight path on our radar, doing which tells us that the Hind D likes to circle the four-screen battlefield in a clockwise motion. Staying out of sight is vital; if ever the two of us are on the same screen and we get caught out in the open, the Hind D will begin to spray us with machine-gun fire and inflict severe damage. While planning our attack, we'll want to maintain cover by either continuing to travel along the adjacent screens--preferably trail the Hind D instead of getting out ahead of it--or stay hidden beneath the protective metal shelters, which are scattered about.

If we hope to destroy the Hind D, we'll have to effectively utilize our anti-aircraft stinger missiles. When we equip them, a target reticule will appear on our radar. As we shift it about, we learn that the reticule can be moved along the currently occupied grid tile and the three that are adjacent to it. What we have to do is (a) memorize the Hind D's movements, (b) calcuably position the reticule, and (c) wait for the Hind D to overlap with the circle at its center, at which point we can fire off a shot with reliable accuracy. If the shot connects, the screen will flash red, and we'll hear a piercing noise. And after we strike the Hind D four times, it'll explode; its metallic remains will then fall to the ground, confirming as much.

Be aware that you only have five stinger missiles and a small margin of error. If you continue to miscalculate and wind up depleting your stock, you'll have to travel all the way back to the factory to pick up some more missiles.

With the Hind D out of our way, we can now gain access to the tower building. Not surprisingly, we can't enter the building through its front door, since it's locked and heavily guarded. We can't get in through the crevice on the left, since the air duct beyond merely loops around; all we find here is a ration. When we travel to the right, Campbell calls us and suggests that we locate a cardboard box and disguise ourselves as part of the cargo that's currently being transported into the building via a conveyor; he also informs us that he's changing his frequency to 140.66--to avoid having his signal traced (in the Japanese version and the PS3/Xbox English ports, which are included in Metal Gear Solid 3: Solid Snake HD Edition, he doesn't mention the new frequency address and instead tells you to find it in the game's manual).

Conveniently, there's a cardboard box waiting for us in a nearby truck. If we equip it while standing near the conveyor, we'll be automatically transported into the building. We're dropped off in a storage room.

When we advance one screen north, Holly contacts us and tells us that she's in trouble. The enemy has discovered her identity and has imprisoned her, though she's not sure where, since the enemy made sure to blindfold her after capturing her. But she does know that she's somewhere in the tower building. All she can do is tell us what she hears--tell us what we should listen for: To the left, there's an elevator; to the right, there's a noise that sounds like a pump; and in the rooms in front and behind her, there's water flowing. Now that we're able to put together a picture in our head, we can make an effort to rescue her. This is just one of a few things we have to do while we're in this tower.

There are three elevators on this first floor: One to the north and two others that are placed within the spiraling passageway that comprises the floor's southwest portion. A trio of speedy soldiers patrols this area; if we want to avoid alerting them to our presence, we have to tread carefully, because the floors here are covered with grating; our best bet is to hide within one of the many conveniently placed wall crevices and wait for them to pass (really, it's nice of Big Boss to design complexes for people who like to stealthily infiltrate them).

While we're free to travel about--ride the elevators and see where they go--we won't make actual progress until we tackle objectives in the intended order. The direct path starts with the spiral's first elevator; we take it down to Basement 1--the familiar sewer system, which we're now accessing from its northern point. From here, we want to curl around to the north and find an empty room whose surrounding structures emit sounds that are a match for the aural descriptors given to us by Holly. We can use plastic explosives (if your stock is low, you can find some of these in one of the preceding rooms) to bomb through the wall on the right. That's where Holly is being held (again--you can confirm this by peeking in with the binoculars).

Snake lays a little of that ol' sweet talk on her, but she pretty much no-sells it (though, the romantic-sounding music does suggest that there's a mutual attraction between them). She gets right to the point and informs us that Marv is OK, though she doesn't know of his exact location. He's under armed guard, she says, though he was able to smuggle out a clue as to his whereabouts via a carrier pigeon. After Holly failed to catch it, it flew up one of the tower's elevator shafts. So now it's our responsibility to head up to the roof and find it. Holly suspects that the enemy has rigged her transceiver, so she lets us know that she's changing her frequency to 140.76. Before exiting, she provides us a copy of card 4.

If we so desire, we can stick around the sewer and do some exploring. The ladders placed at the walkway's edges allow us to access the watery tunnels; we can walk or swim through them depending upon the water's level. Swimming uses up oxygen, since we choose to fully submerge while doing so, but it allows us to move three-times our normal speed. Though, we have to be sure not to spend too much time in the water, lest we'll catch a cold; this condition proves troublesome because it causes Snake to occasionally sneeze, doing which can potentially alert soldiers to your presence. If we wind up catching a cold, we're going to have to live with it for a while, since we don't yet possess the means to treat it. Also, as we navigate the tunnels, we have to avoid making contact with the floating mines, whose explosive blasts wipe away about a fourth of our health.

While traveling these tunnels, we can grab ourselves a ration and interact with some child soldiers. Most importantly, we can squeeze into a narrow gap in the sewer's south portion and access the southern-base elevator; from there, we can re-explore the southern base and stock up on items.

Ultimately, we want to head back to the tower's first floor and ride its northern elevator up to Floor 10.

Floor 10 features a series of corridors, though they're divided by solid-looking walls. A roaming child soldier tells us that there are indeed passages that connect these corridors, but they're "buried." The implication is that sections of these walls are destructible. We can test a section's integrity by throwing punches into it; if our strike produces a high-pitched "thunk," then we can bomb through the section in question with our plastic explosives. We have to make sure that none of the children get caught in the explosions; killing any of them will result in a loss of our health.

One of the other child soldiers speaks of "green pineapples," which hints at what we need to obtain here. In the area's southmost corridor, we find a room that holds grenades, which will be of great use to us in the near future. Tossed grenades travel about a half a screen in length and land squarely on the helpfully placed reticule that's projected forward when grenades are equipped.