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Posted on Mar 31st 2010 at 08:55:14 PM by (slackur)
Posted under General, Snatcher, Hideo Kojima, video games

I finally got a working copy of Snatcher on Sega CD this week (I've owned the import Playstation version for a long time but can't read Japanese) and went through it mostly in one sitting.

Wow.

It is quite remarkable, coming from someone who went through the entirety of American Metal Gear games first, to go back and see what is essentially the prototype CD-ROM narrative of Hideo's work.  Every major facet Hideo is known for is present in Snatcher, and since both the man's ideas and the technology were both so relatively new at the time, to go back and review it seems to almost distill what makes a Kojima project into its very essence. 

The heavy clash of anime and western influences.  The repeated fourth-wall breaks and humor.  The obsession with humanizing technology while showing the isolating effects.  The noir style.  The jazz overtones in the drama scenes.  The overcooked dialogue and emoting.  The crazy plotting and pacing.  The stretched out to ridiculousness monologues.  The romantic entanglements and hero worship.  Humanity needs a savior from outside of humanity mantras.  Tons of hidden or easy-to-miss easter eggs and secrets.  Walking robots. 

***MGS3 and Snatcher spoilers ahead alerts !!!***

Heck, huge chunks of Metal Gear Solid 3, my personal favorite of that series, seems lifted right out of Snatcher, including Cold War east-west tensions, genetic manipulation, father/son legacy issues with elements of patricide, secret government WMDs that fell into private hands, impossible resurrections, double agents, I could go on and on.  I was amazed over and over at the copied elements.

The technical elements were very similar in many ways as well.  Both Snatcher and every MGS title were known to push technological limits of the hardware at the time; while Snatcher doesn't expand the Sega CD into new territory like the MGS games did with Sony's hardware, the use of the then new CD storage was put to justified use. 

Snatcher has lots of voice-overs, CD-quality music, a rather lengthy story, and it's own in-game accessible historical database of game fiction to dig into.  It was one of the first Sega CD games that simply could not have been as engrossing on a cart.

It also has almost no gameplay.  And I love it for that.

What?

When I wrote earlier that I went though all the American Metal Gear games, that's true, from a certain point of view.  I myself completed MGS and over half of MGS2.  But the gameplay mechanics began to really frustrate me in 2, feeling overly complicated and unintuitive.  All the immersive factors in the world are lost to me when after four hours of play I still fumble with the controls.  I don't know exactly why.  But I played MSG 3 and 4 and felt the same way. 

Thankfully, my buddy Arkyst is a real MGS nut and doesn't have the same hang ups, so he took me through all of MGS 2,3, and 4 and even showed me all of the little tricks and secrets.  I love those games, I just can't play them well.

But Snatcher is a different animal all-together.  The closest it comes to a traditional video game is the arcade-like shooting scenes, where you use the d-pad and select a quadrant (the screen is divided into a 3 X 3 grid) and press a button to shoot.  They get fast-paced, but out of an eight hour experience there are perhaps around half a dozen times you do this (and few other times the game requires you to shoot once or twice.)

The rest of the gameplay is simply selecting from menus, using the look and investigate commands on the same selections of each area repeatedly.  It may sound boring, but it turns the experience into more of an interactive graphic novel, or better yet an electronic choose-your-own-adventure book.  The story is good enough (and the voice acting and writing tolerable enough) that you want to solve the mystery, and the game's universe consistent and well thought out enough that everything makes sense in the context of the well developed background.  Most things in Snatcher reach around to get full circle in a way that even good novels often miss the mark, not to mention the hack job that often passes for a video game narrative.

Unlike MGS 2 and up, I could play Snatcher, and it almost never got in the way.  That is, until the very end, in which the shooting sequence took a Mount Everest sized spike in difficulty that saw me getting out the Genesis Justifier light gun to get past, as the d-pad went from passable to yeah-right.  This end bit was admittedly a klaxon in a symphony.  There has to be a better way to ratchet up the tension at the end.

For a game that requires little more than for you to stay awake and occasionally solve an obtuse puzzle for 98% of the time, you are suddenly expected to have cat-like reflexes for the rest of the 2% of gameplay.  Imagine getting through a Zelda game, reaching Ganon, and suddenly you have to play through a Battletoads 3rd stage hyperbike scene with no recourse in order to see the ending.  That's comparatively what Snatcher pulled, and while I finished it, it was jarring.

Nonetheless, overall it was a refreshing experience, and now I desperately want to go through the spiritual-successor follow up, Policenauts.  Unfortunately that never made it over here in the States, and I'm not sure I'm brave enough to try a patch method.  Ah, who am I kidding.  One day I'll try.

Snatcher was a great experience that made me briefly re-evaluate what a game is, and somewhat surprised me (even more so than the MGS games) into remembering that for all the critics of cut-scenes over gameplay, everyone's understanding of interactivity is a little different.  I enjoyed 'playing' Snatcher more than the MGS games not because it controlled better, but because the 'gameplay' fit like a glove for the format (until the very end) and I could sit back and enjoy it instead of being hampered by gameplay choices that I might not overcome.  I doubt I'd have ever experienced the rest of the MGS saga if it weren't for Arkyst (I put many, many hours into MGS 4, I really tried) and it would be a shame if that happened to Snatcher as well.

So, even though it is still pricey, I HIGHLY recommend Snatcher if:

a) you are a Hideo Kojima fan and want to see how much his early stuff fits in with the rest

b) you like Blade Runner (of which the story is 85% derivative of)

c) you are a fan of Cyber Punk and Sci-Fi

d) you enjoy the type of gameplay found in the likes of Hotel Dusk, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, and the Carmen Sandiego series

e) you want to see a game that really needed an M rating for violence, blood and gore (if only for a few scenes)

f) you are collecting Sega CD games and want something to flush the taste of 'Lawnmower Man' down

g) you want to see an inventive and eclectic puzzle design (seriously, the Oleen puzzle was nifty after you recheck your inventory and know what it wants, but the extra letter at the end of the real answer made it a bit too unnecessarily abstract for me.)

h) you want to see a club in a video game that contains people dressed up like the Contra guys, Goeman, Dracula, Simon Belmont, and Sparkster (that scene was so cool!)

i) Dude, you should number lists if they're gonna hit 'I'

j) Seriously, you made it to 'J'?



But enough talk.  Have at you!








(Yes, I know the difference between Hideo and IGA.  But both the title and end references are from Konami and the title fit.  Hush.)


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Comments
 
I wish I could read this but I had to stop at the Snatch spoilers. I've been in the market for a US copy of Snatcher for quite some time now. No luck though.
 
@dom meatball:Yeah, I hear ya.  I eventually bit the bullet and spent more than I wanted after I found someone willing to return the game if needed.  In fact, my copy didn't even work until I had it professionally resurfaced.  I was concerned after that, which was one of the reasons I went through it so quickly; so that I could verify the entire game.

Well worth it though, one of the few rares that I'd recommend spending a little extra on.
 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsPkVWwaDo4
 
Snatcher is indeed worth the price tag. Having been one of the lucky ones to discover it back in its day I was blown away by the graphics and speech and was instantly hooked. I have played through it at least 20 times now and kept finding something I had missed the time before. It is an experience more than a game and one I am very happy to have grown up with.
 
Another excellent write up.
The game sounds wicked awesome too.
Like you i haven't played through most of thr MGS series but i have seen them all played through. (My cuz bought PS2 and PS3 exclusively for MGS but ended up finding more titles that interested him. Especially on PS2)
 
I've always been curious about Snatcher, but have never actually sought a copy out before.  Now that I've read your article, I can now break down the reasons why I've not played it, but still want to.  I guess the main reason I haven't' played it is because I'm not a fan of Kojima.  I've enjoyed some of the MG and MGS games, but I can't say I've enjoyed any of his other games, commentary, or controversial views on videogames.  However, I do love Blade Runner and cyber punk, and there is just something that seems cool about a click and play adventure on the Sega CD.
 
I'm in the same spot as dom meatball; I can't read this because I don't want to spoil Snatcher, but it looks like a very interesting read, considering that MGS is my favorite series of all time. I heard Snatcher was a bit of a rip-off itself (of Blade Runner), though I can't confirm that precisely because I've never played the game.

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