Friday, August 14, 2009

Metal Gear - MSX and NES Comparison

So I decided to play through both the MSX2 and NES versions of Metal Gear back to back, just to see the differences firsthand. I was out in a farm in Spain without any internet access, so I wasn't sure if it was covered anywhere else. The major ones are located at the Metal Gear Wiki but there are dozens of smaller things which I've illustrated here.

-The opening cinema where four soldiers parachute into enemy territory is only in the NES version. It’s never really explained who the other three soldiers are – are they Schneider, Diane and Jennifer that you communicate with through the game? Who knows.

-In the MSX version, if you let the game sit in attract mode, Snake will eventually radio Big Boss, who will tell you all the function keys. In the NES version, it just shows bits of gameplay.

-In the MSX version, if you punch enemies, they will potentially drop ammo or rations, giving you an incentive to sneak up on them. This element is completely missing from the NES version.

-The level maps are somewhat different, although many rooms are the same. The MSX version starts off as Snake swims into the base and begins directly inside the first building. The first floor is different in some areas, but most of the rest of the building is laid out the same. The NES version has you go through several screens in a jungle before you reach the first building. This part is also aggravatingly difficult if you’re not used to how the game works. The binoculars are found in a truck here, while they’re in a different room in the first building in the MSX version.

-There are only three buildings in the MSX version, however, the basements of the first two buildings were transplanted and now inhabit their own (interconnected) buildings, so the NES version has five buildings total. These are located in the small jungle/desert areas that connect buildings 1 and 2, and 2 and 3. To reach these, you need to go west through the jungle, then navigate a Lost Woods-style puzzle of repeating screens to reach it. The game never internally tells you the pattern, though, you just have to figure it out for yourself.

-These buildings are essentially prisons, as it's where you're taken when you're captured, and is also where Dr. Pettrovich and his daughter are located. In the MSX version, Pettrovich is found in building 2, and his daughter is found way back in the basement of building 1, but there's a tunnel that links the two.

-Both versions have trucks that can transport you to different parts of the game. Since the game world in the NES version is actually a bit bigger and less linear, there are more trucks. It also allows you to skip ahead in a few instances and see later parts of the game, although you can't do anything without the proper items anyway.

-When you're captured in the MSX version, you're brought to the basement of building 1. Outside of your cell (and the fight with Shot Gunner) is a spiral area with several weak areas. You need to punch and look for different sound effects – similar to escaping from your cell – and use plastic explosives to break down the walls. This is how you get the Bomb Blast Suit and the Uniform.

-When you’re captured in the NES version, you’re taken to the building out in the jungle. You escape the same way and fight the same boss, but there’s no spiral area to bomb through. The Uniform and Bomb Blast Suit are pretty much out in the open.

-In both versions, there are later sections where you need to find hidden walls. These require explosives in the MSX version, but you can just punch them in the NES version. This also means that plastic explosives are pretty much useless in the NES version, until right at the end. Strangely, the NES version gives you an extra item called the Iron Glove, which is supposed to help you find hidden passages. The thing is, you can find hidden passages just fine without it, so it seems to be useless.

-There’s a brief mini-boss battle before you get the Silencer in the MSX version, whereas it’s easy pickings in the NES version.

-In the battle with Shot Gunner, you need to punch the door to open it in the MSX version. It’ll open automatically in the NES version.

-They actually fixed a spelling error in the English NES version! The first boss is called Shoot Gunner in Japanese, when it was fixed to the (proper) Shot Gunner.

-The transmitter looks different in both versions. It looks like a tracking bug in the MSX version and a small walkie talkie in the NES version.

-The roof of the first building is structured slightly differently. The shifting bridge screens are longer in the MSX version. Also, there are enemies soldiers that look a little bit different. In the NES version, they acted the same as the regular guys. In the MSX version, they can fly, making them remarkably difficult to avoid and attack.

-The boss is located in the same spot, but the MSX version has you fight a (completely stationary) Hind D helicopter, while the NES version has you fight the Twin Gunners, who man posts at the top of the screen and fire gatling guns. They’re beaten in the same manner though – just find a safe spot and lob grenades.

-In the MSX version, you need to have obtained the parachute (found on the second floor) in order to jump off the roof into the courtyard on the first floor, which lets you get Card #4. The parachute is not in the NES version, and the whole process isn’t necessary, and Card #4 is located somewhere completely different.

-Once you leave the first building in the MSX version, the whole lead up to the tank is mined, requiring the mine detector. In the NES version, only the screens directly before and after the tank are mined.

-In the MSX version, there are also a few screens before the tank, where it fires mortars, seemingly at random. These are a bitch to dodge. It also uses the mortars when you fight it, making it more difficult. There’s none of this in the NES version, and it's only equipped with a machine gun.

-In the second building, you can swim in the drainage swimming system. In the MSX version, the enemies can see through the grates, but they can’t in the NES version, making this area a bit easier to sneak though. The water is colored properly in the MSX version though, where it’s completely grey and looks like concrete in the NES one.

-The scorpions are much more vicious and nearly impossible to avoid in the MSX version, so the antidote is required. In the NES version, you can get by them if you’re careful, so you TECHNICALLY don’t need it, though you probably should.
-In the lead up to the final area, some of the rooms are hidden in the MSX version, requiring explosives, but they’re clearly visible in the NES version.

-Also, when Big Boss radios to tell you to stop the mission, in the MSX version he says to shut off the MSX. This cool little fourth wall break is missing from the
NES version, where he just says to quit the mission. I don’t what know he says in the FC version, whether the hardware was mentioned or whether it was taken out during translation. It's neat that this actually predated its used in Metal Gear Solid 2, when the AI Colonel tells you something similar.

-You never actually see a Metal Gear in the NES version! You just have to place explosives by a super computer. There are guards in the room, but once you take them out, it's easy enough. In the MSX version, you have to place explosives on each side of the Metal Gear in a specific sequence. In the meantime, you're attacked by laser guns on the walls. Obviously the MSX one is much more difficult, even though the Metal Gear just kinda sits there while you blow it up.

-This all produces a weird little video gamey plot hole. The whole idea of saving Pettrovich is so he can tell you how to set the explosives. Since this doesn’t matter in the NES version, technically there’s no reason to save him at all! However, talking to him after saving Ellen is a trigger which makes the super computer vulnerable. If you try to blow up the computer without talking to him, it will be invincible.

-Although Jennifer mentions that her brother is a POW, he doesn't say anything useful in the NES version. In the MSX version, he advises you which ladder to take after you defeat Big Boss.

-The room with the battle with Big Boss is flipped horizontally, since in the MSX version, you enter from the right, not left.

-There aren't even any ladders when you fight Big Boss in the NES version. Instead there are three different doors that lead into three different elevators. I guess you're just supposed to guess which is the right one. The wrong elevators will continue up until infinity. The ladders in the MSX version simply end. EDIT: Per the comments below, one of the hostages will tell you the correct elevator. The more you know!

-In the ending to the MSX version, you see Snake running against a black screen as the timer ticks to zero, then you see an explosion in the distance. In the NES version, it’s a full vista, similar to the one in the intro, where you see the same explosion, although Solid Snake is not on screen.

-The ending in the MSX version has a message where Big Boss says he'll be back, paving the way for a sequel.

-The pistol’s range is limited in the MSX version, whereas it travels the full length of the screen in the NES one. You can also shoot while inside the cardboard box in the NES one.

-Stopping the alarms in the NES game seems to be a random process. Sometimes it’ll stop if you leave the screen, sometimes it doesn’t. In the MSX game, there are two sets of alarms. During the double alarm phase, enemies will chase you anywhere and won't stop until all of them are disposed. I'm not really sure what triggers which alarm, though.

-The dogs behave differently in the MSX version. They won’t set off alarms and will start running after you even if they don’t directly detect you. They can also only be killed by weapons – punching them won’t work. In the NES version, the dogs behave almost exactly like the humans soldiers, just without guns and a bit stupider.

-There are a few trucks in the MSX version which contain enemy soldiers. If you stand outside them, you can see them leave and continue their patrol elsewhere, allowing you to sneak inside them. They won’t do this in the NES version.

-In the NES game, the cameras have blind spots directly beneath (i.e. right next to) them. This doesn’t work in the MSX game, so avoiding cameras is a much harder process.

-The NES version has lots of stupidly designed rooms where it’s impossible to avoid being spotted when entering. The MSX version actually changes the position of the soldiers depending on where you enter the room. For example, if you enter from the right, there might be three enemies patrolling. If you enter from the left, there might only be two, so you aren’t spotted immediately on entering, or least giving you a bit more time to react. This generally only happens in the beginning of the game though.

-The NES version has a bug which resets certain elements on the screen when you enter a secondary screen (weapons, items or transceiver.) This includes the position of the bosses. It can also be used to remove the pitfalls. The hole itself will disappear, but the tiles itself are still deadly. Still, if you’re careful, you can stop them from opening too far, making them easy to avoid, and is practically essential for one of the final areas. There’s a variation on this bug in the MSX version where you pause the game and enter the transceiver screen, but this only seems to regenerate items.

-The infared goggles will change the color of the screen to black and white, revealing the lasers in red. In the NES version, the room color stays the same, and only the lasers are made visible.

-In the MSX version, the most recently obtained item is added to the end of the list. In the NES version, each item has a predetermined slot. This is helpful, because it puts the cards right next to the other, instead of scattering them all over the screen in the MSX one.

-The MSX version lets you keep up to 20 rations by the end of the game, where the max is 12 in the NES one.

-When you die in the MSX version, you restart at the last elevator (or entrance to the building) you passed, with the exact same status. In the NES version, there are different checkpoints you respawn at, depending on your rank. The only exception is right at the final battle, where you restart before if you die fighting Big Boss.

-The interface is a bit different. The life bar is colored and shows its maximum capacity, and the weapons and items are denoted by small icons rather than text. The transmitter looks different and there’s a small picture of Solid Snake on the side. The secondary screens are accessed with the F2, F3 and F4 buttons on the keyboard while in the NES version, you access these with the Select button, which brings up a menu. The MSX version has a save functionality while the NES version uses passwords.

-The graphics are slightly better in the MSX version. The palette is a bit darker, albeit more varied, a few areas have different tiles, and certain graphics are slightly more detailed.

-The animation when punching enemy soldiers is smoother, as is the screen shaking animation when you go into a truck. So is the opening of the pitfalls. In the MSX version, you can actually see bricks that give it some depth and make it seem like it's supposed to be a pit, whereas it's just a totally black square in the NES version. They also open much slower, so they’re easier to dodge, and you can actually walk along the edges, whereas they’ll kill you if so much as a single pixel touches them in the NES version.

-It’s a small effect, but the fake Dr. Pettrovich actually falls down the hole once it opens in the MSX version. He just floats there, seemingly laughing, in the
NES version.

-The main soundtrack is different. Since the NES version has more outdoor sequences, there are actually two types of sneaking music, for indoor and outdoor. The MSX version also has two sneaking themes: the main one, and the one used in basements. In both games, the boss theme, final room, final boss, and game over themes are identical, but the ending themes are different. Both soundtracks are excellent, though, and which ever one is “better” is mostly a matter of taste. I prefer the NES one personally.

-The English translation of the NES version is legendary for its spelling errors. There's “UH OH! THE TRUCK HAVE STARTED TO MOVE” and “I FEEL ASLEEP!”. I always thought the latter was supposed to be "I FELL ASLEEP", which would be goofy, but at least it made sense. It was supposed to be "I FEEL SLEEPY." ("AHH! NEMUI" in Japanese). There’s also a rather bizarre mistranslation on the roof of the first building. Big Boss explains that you need a Bomb Blast Suit to get past “window barriers”. This should be “wind barriers”, which makes more sense given how you seem to get blown back when you try to pass. It still doesn’t quite make sense how a Bomb Blast Suit would help, though. At any rate, this is the type of problem you get when you write your games entirely in katakana.

-The NES game refers to your group as “Fox Hounder” which at first seems to be a mistranslation, because Metal Gear 2 (and all subsequent games) calls them “Fox Hound”. This was actually present in the Japanese MSX game though – spelled out in English characters, actually.

-Some of the clues given by the codecs are wrong in the NES version, like where to find the Gas Mask. I don't know if this was in the FC version too or just a translation mistake. I remember having problems trying to get the Rocket Launcher when I was a kid, but it seems to make perfect sense now, so I'm not sure if there were any other bugs.

-There’s some background information about the secondary characters in the original Japanese manuals, none of which made it into the English version, so it never really explains to you who Jennifer, Schneider or Diane really are. Some of the FAQs online detail these, at least.

-I played through the Japanese MSX version, but apparently the European one cut out quite a few transceiver messages.

That about does it, at least all the stuff I picked up on. Now, the ultimate question: which is better? Kojima has long disavowed the NES version, but I mostly figured it was because he didn’t work on it – the man obviously has quite a bit of an ego. A lot of the changes in the NES version obviously stemmed from technical issues, whether due to tile, palette or memory limitations, but a lot of it was things that the programmers either didn’t have time to implement, or just didn’t feel like it.

Despite some of the lazier omissions, I think a lot of it works in its favor. Metal Gear is already hard enough, and some of the changes with the enemies and cameras make it more manageable. Still, the pitfalls are a huge pain in the ass in the NES version, and the harsh checkpoints are pretty stupid. I like that they chopped up the buildings and stuck in a small jungle segment, to make it the structure feel less like a straight line, but the opening segment was very poorly done in the NES version – I bet there are tons of players that never even made it past there. The lack of the actual Metal Gear at the end is the biggest blow to the NES version – I know I was really disappointed as a kid when I beat it, looked at the cover, and wondered why I never saw that awesome mech anywhere in the game. What a sham. What did surprise me is that Snake's Revenge actually retains many of the elements of the original MSX game that were removed from the NES port, like punching soldiers to get items, the heightened alerts, the checkpoints, and palette change when using the goggles. It even has an assault against an actual Metal Gear at the end, although you destroy it by remote controlled missiles instead of explosives.


  1. Ahh, my favourite game set in South Africa (well, technically the only game I can think of set in South Africa).

    An excellent write up and one that's needed, though I have to ask, have you played the C64, IBM or Amiga versions of Metal Gear?

    I made this chart years ago but never did anything with it. I'd be honoured if you included it in your write up above:

    Anyway, the C64 is like a watered down NES version, the IBM port is like a really bad remix, and the Amiga version is like a 16-bit SNES version of MG... Except it was never released. The only evidence is Amiga screens on the back of the IBM box.

    Anyway, you wanna know my favourite of the 8-bit MG games? Snake's Revenge on the NES. It gets a lot of unfair stick from the fans, but honest to god, it's better than the NES/MSX originals. More weapons, more variety, complex story, and a whole ship full of Metal Gears. Plus Big Boss is a Snatcher. It's also very stealthy, and has a lot of cool ideas - like sneaking into the first building, which was ingenious. I might write a feature on it, since I think it's unfairly hated on. Give it a try - it's awesome.

  2. Presumably the Bomb Blast Suit makes you heavier, so the wind barriers don't affect you.

  3. So were there any major changes to the MSX Metal Gear that came with Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence? I heard there were a few alterations or something like that.

  4. The three that come instantlly to mind are:
    1. You receive bonus item- "bandana" after beating the game. When equipped it stops using up of ammo.
    2. You are given a rank after beating the game depending on your performance.
    3. There also appear a challange well known to the series- boss survival, when you have to fight almost all the bosses in a row.

  5. I played through Snake's Revenge last week too. I think the boss battles are terribly designed (I've never gotten past the first boss without using save states on an emulator) and the side-scrolling sequences aren't much better, but the rest of the game is actually pretty good. It's better than its reputation, anyway. MG2 is probably my favorite of the original bunch, despite some really aggravating scenarios, but the best 8-bit one is still the Gameboy Color one.

  6. Touche! I'd actually forgotten about the GBC one when thinking "8-bit". Good call. I recall there was discussion about how much work Tose (outsourcing company) had done on it. I don't recall the conclusion to the debate, but I believe it's not 100% a Konami effort.

  7. < I recall there was discussion about how much work Tose (outsourcing company) had done on it. I don't recall the conclusion to the debate, but I believe it's not 100% a Konami effort.

    Well, I can see some of the programmers worked on Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime.

  8. In the first two games in the series (not counting Snake's Revenge), a member of FOXHOUND is called a FOXHOUNDER. It's not a mistake.

  9. Snake's Revenge is garbage. The fact that you think it's better than the MSX originals clearly shows that you have no taste in actual sneaking/stealth gaming. It also shows you totally missed the point of Metal Gear.

  10. In the NES version, Jennifer's brother tells you which elevator to take at the end. Also, of the three elevators, the one on the left is the only one you can fire a weapon in.




    1. I've just played both versions and I agree with this. The hostage does tell which is the correct elevator in the NES version.

      It is pretty much the only mistake I found in the comparison. That and the fact that, if I am not mistaken, when you are spotted on the NES version, leaving a screen screen always seemed to stop the alert. No randomess there.

  11. =====ummm...does anyone know a resource regenerating bug 'cause i discovered one in the NES after you taken a ration you would press "select" and then the transciever after that go back to the game and voila! the ration is there also works on ammunition