A couple years ago, when the Nintendo 3DS was first announced, Konami put out a little tech demo of Metal Gear Solid 3 running on the system. This was just meant to show off the graphical prowess of the system, with no real plans to turn it into a full game. That quickly changed a few months later at Nintendo World 2011 when Konami announced Snake Eater 3D would be released within a year, with special treatment towards the handheld’s features. At the same time, however, Metal Gear Solid has also been rereleased in HD form on the home consoles, so is this really the port worth getting, and does it do justice to the original anyway? In the end, Konami has done the best they could to play to the Nintendo 3DS’s strengths, but it still doesn’t come across as a game totally fit for the small screen. It’s really up to what you’re willing to trade off.
For those MGS veterans who have played the original, there’s nothing new to the story here as it’s a straight port with nothing added. Those new to the series will find it a good point to jump in nevertheless, as the game actually takes place as a prequel to the others in the series. Snake Eater follows the exploits of Naked Snake (later on referred to as “Big Boss”), the predecessor to the series main protagonist, Solid Snake. The clock is set back to the Cold War era, and the plot contains several references to real historical figures and events, from JFK and Khrushchev to the Cuban Missile Crisis. From there it takes great liberty with reality, as the West and East fight over a weapons scientist named Sokolov whose invention of a nuclear-equipped tank threatens the balance of power. Things get complicated as major players defect and potential coup in the USSR aided by a maniacal lightning-infused Colonel Volgin prevents a diplomatic solution to the problem. The twists keep coming as you progress along and it’s all told through lengthy cutscenes and dialogue segments that unfortunately aren’t very conducive to playing on a device with such a limited battery life. I found the battery dying on me in the middle of gameplay after sitting through almost an hour of exposition, basically hamstringing my progress through the game. It doesn’t help either that every time you go to save the game, a character has to spend 5 minutes telling you about some old 50′s movie to no real point at all. That may be a quaint touch on a console, but when you save on a handheld it’s because you have to get going or the battery is low, so it’s a bit disrespectful of the user’s time in this format.
When it comes to the gameplay mechanics the emphasis is still on stealth, but since most of the game takes place outdoors it’s a bit different than the other MGS games. Instead of only hiding behind walls, around corners, and inside boxes, Naked Snake depends on camouflage to a great extent. This is easily modified by going into the HUD on your touchscreen. The game provides a set of defaults for face paint and camouflage, and tells you how effective each will be in your current terrain. On top of that, as an added feature to the 3DS version, you can take a picture with the camera and import it into the game in order to make your own camouflage, which depending on the colors of the sample you provide could also provide an improved effectiveness over the defaults. Personally I had no luck with it, but I thought it was an interesting little gimmick nonetheless. Besides that you have your typical arsenal of pistols, tranquilizer guns, and knives. Naked Snake must also take care of more basic needs like food and first aid. The former is taken care of by killing the local wildlife, while the latter involves a collection of items which must be applied in different combinations in order to treat gunshot wounds, cuts, leeches, etc. It gives the healing aspect a bit more of a realistic touch, and if you forgo too much treatment it becomes harder to move and react in time.
Unfortunately what also makes it harder to move and react in time is the control scheme employed on the 3DS. If you don’t have a Circle Pad Pro addon (which judging by the lack of availability of the accessory in GameStops across the U.S., this is probably true), then while movement is controlled by the analog stick, your camera is controlled by the digital ABXY buttons on the right hand side. This makes aiming and looking around your environment pretty painful as you constantly find yourself overshooting it, then having to go back in the opposite direction to correct. To be honest, Konami got the speed of it just good enough for it to still be playable, but it’s really not the ideal way to play the game. On top of the aim issues, actions like climbing and opening doors as well as reloading and changing weapons are controlled by the d-pad, also making things a bit unwieldy. At least MGS3 is a pretty forgiving game, particularly on the easier settings. Even if you fail at stealth you can fight yourself out of a tough spot typically, so it doesn’t kill the game.
When Konami showed off their original tech demo, it created plenty of buzz about the capabilities of the 3DS, so it’s no surprise that Snake Eater 3D is no slouch in the visual department. Very little was spared detail wise from the original PS2 version, and the 3D effect makes all the cutscenes really stand out and come across as even more of a movie. The only sacrifice made is in the framerate, which gives it a cinematic feel at times, but a slow motion effect at others, kind of detracting from the more action based scenes. It also drags down the gameplay a little. Again, not enough to ruin it, but enough to remind you that you’re playing it on a handheld. The tiny screen can also make it difficult to make out guards from a distance. That combined with the camera really complicates scouting things out in advance. That said, probably the only game that rivals it currently is Resident Evil Revelations, which was built from scratch for the system.
Metal Gear Solid is infamous for its long winded dialogue, and while I often find myself not caring for it meandering and retreading ways, I have to admit the voice acting is mostly superb, even if the translation doesn’t match the lip movements during cutscenes. The music is suitable and intro has kind of a James Bond vibe to it. When you alert guards all the classic sounds play and the background music ramps up to add to the tension. Nothing is missing here in the handheld version.
Despite the somewhat unexpected announcement and the rapid transition from tech demo to release, Konami appears to have done the best job they could in porting Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater to the 3DS. What shortcomings are found can mostly be blamed on the hardware, but by the same token there are advantages to be had over the HD collection version between the 3D support, touchscreen HUD, and portability afforded to you. Then again, on the latter point, just be prepared to keep your 3DS leashed to an outlet, not only because the cutscenes are long, but because the graphics will tax your system, too, especially with the 3D turned up. Whether you’re a huge fan or new to the series, it’s worth a look, even if it may not be the best system to play it on for hours on end. There’s a demo on the Nintendo eShop to satisfy your curiosity in any case.