Retro Wednesday is a weekly column exploring forgotten classics, obscure curiosities, and things that should've stayed buried in the deserts of New Mexico.
If you've never heard of MSX, we wouldn't be too surprised, even coming from the most loyal of Microsoft fans and gamers. Conceived in Japan as the pet project of the vice-president of Microsoft Japan, Kazuhiko Nishi, it was an attempt to create a standardized computing platform.
It never took off in the US, but it turned out to be a pretty big hit in Japan, becoming the de-facto gaming system, right up until Nintendo introduced the fabled Famicom. It also helped to launch one of the greatest gaming franchises of all time.
Fast forward to 1990: MSX is in its second generation (MSX2), and so is that fabled franchise - Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake was released exclusively in Japan on July 20th, 1990. The rest of us got a non-canonical stinker for NES, Snake's Revenge. Japan, meanwhile, got one of the best instalments in the series.
The original Metal Gear was a great game (the MSX version was way better than the NES port), but it was Metal Gear II that laid the foundation for Metal Gear Solid. Actually, in some ways, parts of Metal Gear Solid could almost be considered a 3D remake of Metal Gear II, from similar objectives right down to certain boss battles (superhuman ninja, elevator assassination squads).
One thing that's really interesting about this game is that Metal Gear Solid, and really the whole series, seems to rely heavily on its plot. In reality, most of the plot elements that supposedly came from the game weren't even in it - they were retconned into the backstory of Metal Gear Solid.
Even though Big Boss appears in the game, serving as the last boss in the climactic final battle, he never claims to be Snake's father, as later games would have it. On the other hand, Metal Gear II certainly does introduce some elements that would come to play a big role in the series, such as characters like Colonel Campbell and Master Miller.
It also introduced a slew of gameplay elements that became staples of the series, like a more complex stealth system, and a wide variety of weapons and items that still show up in the games. It also revamped the communications system, replacing the radio from the previous game with a video communications system like the Codec from later instalments. All in all, it's a lot like a 2D Metal Gear Solid, and that's not a bad thing to be.
Western audiences finally got a chance to try the game out in 2006, when it appeared as a bonus on the Subsistence edition of Metal Gear Solid 3, along with the original MSX version of Metal Gear. Although the gameplay remains basically the same, virtually every character in the game got renamed, along with a new character artwork - Snake now looks more like you would expect, instead of the Mel Gibson lookalike that appeared in the original game.
All in all, it's a pretty awesome game, and it's aged well enough that it's still a lot of fun to play. Since it's also available for download on PS3, Xbox 360, and the Wii's Virtual Console (for a small fee, of course), you really should give it a go, especially if you enjoyed the later installments in the series.
Gameplay images via Moby Games