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2015: A Very Nintendo Year

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2015 was a perfect example of the roller coaster ride that is Nintendo, with the company at times achieving dazzling heights, yet also unfortunately affected by truly sad lows. But despite annual predictions of the Mario makers’ inevitable doom, Nintendo soldiers on, experimenting with the kind of bizarre and joyful creativity that both elates and frustrates their millions of fans all over the world. The successes and disappointments resulted in quite a memorable year, whether it was some incredible games leading the last heroic charge of the Wii U’s lifetime or the tragic passing of an industry legend. Here’s a look at both the good and the bad Nintendo’s 2015 had to offer:

splatoon soundtrack review

Splatoon

Was there any brighter spot in 2015 for Nintendo than this strange new game involving half-squid/half-human kids running around covering the world in ink? Splatoon has gone from E3 curiosity to a place on many Best of the Year lists, trophies won for Best Multiplayer and Best Shooter at the Game Awards, and the start of an electric new franchise that has come out of nowhere and changed the rules of what a massively popular genre can be with some of the freshest ideas in years. Releasing at the May for a console with relatively low install base, Splatoon went on to shift more than a million copies worldwide within its first month, and to this date has sold north of 3 million, good enough for a spot in the top 10 best-selling SKUs this year, the only original IP to earn such a distinction. With loads of support in the form of DLC and organized tournament events, Nintendo has created a content-rich sensation that keeps players returning over and over again. Splatoon, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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Poor Console Sales

While sales of the Wii U did increase slightly during the months its major games released, overall it was still a fairly lackluster year, with the console now lagging significantly behind its competitors despite a year’s head start. Over 11 million units have been moved off the shelves, leaving the Wii U in a distant third, and surely in its final days with the NX looming on the horizon. The 3DS also suffered weaker sales than the previous year, though that could be attributed to a weaker games lineup in 2015, and overall it has done very well across its lifetime. On the bright side, the software library’s attach rate for certain Nintendo titles has been astoundingly good, like with Splatoon, and in some cases has maintained an unheard-of 50+percent (Mario Kart 8). The Wii U was kept alive in 2015 by some amazing titles, but Nintendo probably can’t help but imagine what sales would’ve looked like with a larger install base, and will be looking to turn things around with its next machine.

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Software

In the mean time, Nintendo did what Nintendo does best, which is put out great games that sell. While overall sales were down a bit from last year, according to VG Chartz (not always spot on, but reliable enough for these purposes), software on Nintendo consoles occupied 20 of the top 100 best-selling SKUs this year, with newcomers like Majora’s Mask 3DAnimal Crossing: Happy Home Designer and Mario Party 10 making the cut alongside stalwarts like Super Smash Bros (for both Wii U and 3DS) and Mario Kart 8 showing fantastic staying power. Factor in that many of the overall top sellers on the list had multiple SKUs spread across many consoles, and as publishers Nintendo and its partners did quite well.

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Super Mario Maker

Nintendo needed to demonstrate the utility and possibility inherent in the Wii U’s gamepad, and who better suited to the task than a gaming icon celebrating his 30th year since resurrecting an industry? Super Mario Maker is not only Nintendo’s gift to the gaming world, and a perfect way to showcase the appeal of the platforming plumber, but it’s also the perfect Nintendo product, designed by toymakers at heart. Easy and intuitive level-building via the gamepad’s touchscreen is the perfect combination of physical gadgetry and opportunity for endless imagination, making Super Mario Maker the gift that keeps on giving, an ocean of creativity exhibiting the weirdness of Nintendo and its fans. During the first month alone, players had concocted more than 2 million levels; trials by fire, perplexing puzzle stages, twisting mazes, annoying Rube Goldberg machines, and musings on the existential nature of a certain evil twin are just some of the kinds of fantastically inventive experiences available in the game’s online library. With over 2 million thus far in sales, Nintendo capped off 2015’s Mario party the only way the little guy knows how: in successful style.

Satoru Iwata

Rest In Peace, Mr. Iwata

Unfortunately 2015 couldn’t be all celebration, and the saddest piece of news by far and away this year was the passing of Nintendo’s offbeat, endearingly charming, amazingly talented leader, Satoru Iwata. Known for his willingness to take risks on concepts like the dual-screed DS and the motion controls of the Wii, Iwata transformed Nintendo into an innovative powerhouse, a company not only committed to fun, but to relentlessly pursuing the new, and whether gamers like it or not, in the process pushing the medium forward. Mr. Iwata was the guiding force and face of the company, one whose contributions cannot be easily measured, nor whose open friendliness and popularity with both industry insiders and fans alike can be easily be forgotten. For more on this amazing man’s life and work, read Rick’s touching tribute.

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Amiibo

Released at the end of 2014 to much speculation about the desirability and usefulness of such NFC figurines unaccompanied by a dedicated game, Nintendo has proven skeptics (like our own Aaron Santos) wrong and gone on to turn its Amiibo line into money-printing machines, leveraging its mascots’ enormous appeal and creating a sensation that has shut down entire websites. While their lack of availability and subsequent outrageous scalping prices has drawn some ire, the company stepped up its production to come closer to meeting supply, and the effort seems to have paid off. As of September, Nintendo stated it had sold a staggering 21 million units, producing a welcome healthy injection of cash into the company’s coffers. Amiibo are a gotta-have-’em-all collector’s nightmare, something hard to find that they absolutely must have- the ideal scenario for any business, and a perfect reminder of the power of Nintendo IP. With more to come in 2016, including Ryu and Bayonetta (!), Amiibo is one craze that doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon.

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Nindies

With unique and exclusive games like Affordable Space Adventures, FAST Racing NEO, Runbow, and Human Resource Machine, to name a few, along with a host of multi-platform indie darlings like Never Alone and The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, the Wii U had a standout year for downloadables, showcasing a string of quality and stabilizing itself as a console not only friendly to indies, but strong in them. The list goes on and on, and sure, maybe everyone in our podcast didn’t appreciate the qualities of a game like Typoman as much as I did, but no one can argue that the Nindies didn’t do at least a somewhat decent (and extremely welcome) job of filling in the many gaps between major releases, and in turn providing some of the best hours spent on the Wii U and 3DS.

Nintendo World Championships 2015

The Nintendo World Championships

What started out as something less than exciting when I attended the NWC qualifiers in Maple Grove, MN turned into the biggest and best part of what Nintendo brought to this year’s E3. The 2015 Nintendo World Championships were a blast, putting some of the world’s best gamers through their paces on a trip through Nintendo games past, present, and future that culminated in one of the most jaw-dropping exhibitions of pure platforming talent, as John Numbers adeptly mastered four brutal Super Mario Maker stages cooked up by a torturous Nintendo Treehouse duo to win the title and receive his prizes from none other than Mr. Miyamoto himself. The Nintendo World Championships was a rousing success that had audiences cheering, and was an amazing way to kick off E3. Too bad the rest didn’t go as well…

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E3 Falls Flat

Fans were primed, reminded of the glory days of Nintendo with the World Championships and expecting the company to follow up with a show that rewarded the faithful for their loyalty, but instead we got a less-than-impressive video of Star Fox Zero (which has since gone on to look much better), no Zelda U (on top of that, news that it would be delayed until 2016 hit like a sucker punch), and a massive outpouring of fan protests directed at the reveal and very concept of Metroid Prime: Federation Force, an outcry that has apparently sent the game into hiding, as it hasn’t been seen since. This clearly wasn’t the Metroid game people wanted, and the message came through loud and clear. The Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes, while fun, didn’t exactly set the world on fire, nor quench the thirst for Zelda period, and with no big new surprise announcement, the presentation was devoid of any “wow” factor, sucking the fun out of the previous day’s triumph, and the charming muppet-like familiar faces of the presentation. Oh well; there’s always next year.

In all, 2015 had its ups and downs, its moments both high and low, and in that way it was a perfect representation of Nintendo itself. What will 2016 bring? We here at Goomba Stomp certainly can’t wait to find out.

 

Patrick Murphy grew up in the hearty Midwest, where he spent many winter hours watching movies and playing video games while waiting for baseball season to start again. When not thinking of his next Nintendo post or writing screenplays to satisfy his film school training, he’s getting his cinema fix as the Editor of Sordid Cinema, Goomba Stomp's Film and TV section.

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‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming

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Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.

New Super Lucky's Tale carnival

In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.

It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.

New Super Lucky's Tale factory

Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.

And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.

New Super Lucky's Tale farm

It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.

No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more. 

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How Do ‘Pokemon Sword and Shield’s’ Max Raid Battles Measure Up?

Max Raid Battles are one of Pokemon Sword and Shield’s premier new features. Do they live up to their full potential? Let’s find out.

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max raid battles

One of the most heavily promoted new features of Pokémon Sword and Shield have been their Max Raid Battles. These gargantuan fights are both a key part of the online experience and likely the first taste most players will get of Dynamaxed Pokémon in-game. So, how’d this take on Pokémon Go’s raid system pan out in the series’ first mainline entry on console?

Well, on the plus side, getting into the thick of a raid is super straightforward. After the opening hour or two, players are introduced to the Wild Area and can access Max Raid Battles straight away by walking up to a pillar of red light on the field. From there you can invite others, challenge the raid with NPCs, and choose which Pokémon you want to use.

Real Friends Raid Together

Playing with friends online, though, is a bit more convoluted. There’s no “Invite Friends” option to be seen. Instead, all social features are handled through the Y-comm (literally accessed by pressing the Y button). It’s here that players can Link Trade, Link Battle, exchange player cards, and more.

After actively connecting to the internet–which has to be done each play session and each time the Switch is put into sleep mode–it’s up to the host of the match to find a portal and send an invitation to everyone. A notification will pop for friends on the side of the screen, and then it’s up to everyone to join the match directly through the Y-comm interface.

If players want real people to fill in any remaining slots (all raids are four-person affairs), they’ll need to join before the room fills up. Setting a Link Code avoids this hassle by creating a room but, unlike Salmon Run in Splatoon 2, only computer players can fill remaining spots after friends finish joining this way.

After some experimenting and fudding about, my buddy and I were able to hop into matches fairly quickly without much issue. Nonetheless, it’s hard to shake the feeling that creating friend lobbies is only such a headache because it had to be tied to the Y-comm. Pair this with the fact that battling while waiting for a friend to create a room can cause the notification not to pop, and getting a group together is a bit more painful than it should be.

Max Raid Battle Rundown

The raids themselves are a surprisingly engaging twist on the classic Pokémon battle formula. Groups of four challengers work together to take on a Dynamaxed raid boss. Each raid boss has a different star rating, and even the 1-star battles are no joke the first few times around. These boss Pokémon are merciless, and regularly one-shot lower leveled ‘mons with ease.

To combat these monstrous foes, one random trainer in every group is granted the ability to Dynamax their chosen Pokémon and lead the charge. The Dynamaxed Pokémon gets the benefit of having extra-powerful moves and increased HP, though it’s rather disappointing that there only seems to be one Max Move per move type (one Grass move, one Dark move, and so on). Each of these has a secondary effect on the battlefield; some trigger sandstorms, others trigger a health regeneration field that heals everyone a bit each turn. Regular moves with type advantages deal a significant chunk of damage, but it’s Max Moves that can truly turn the tide of battle.

If one of the group’s Pokémon faints, that trainer has to sit out for a turn before it automatically gets revived (a smart design choice to keep all trainers actively involved). However, the fainting of each Pokémon triggers the storm above to become more and more vicious. After four faints or ten turns, everyone is booted out of the raid sans rewards.

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The Fruits of Victory

Two of the easiest ways to better your odds are 1) Choose a Pokémon with a type advantage going into battle, and 2) Manage who Dynamaxes when. Each trainer’s Dynamax meter grows periodically and, though only one trainer can use it at a time, multiple players can activate it over the course of a raid. It also seems like each raid’s star rating is tied directly to the raid boss’ level, so bringing a generally powerful Pokémon to a lower-level raid is another viable strategy for success.

Aside from the chance to capture the raid boss itself (and some Pokémon are Max Raid Battle-exclusive), winning a raid nets players some very worthwhile rewards. These include everything from EXP candies and berries to nuggets and TMs. It’s not so much of a haul that it hurts the overall balance of the game, but there’s enough to make getting a few friends together and grinding raids for a couple of hours worth it.

max raid battles

Though Max Raid Battles are just a small part of the overall Sword and Shield package, they’ve ended up being a rather fun take on Pokémon’s traditional multiplayer offerings. For as unnecessarily complicated as playing with friends is, there are also a few cool ideas here, like being able to join a raid from anywhere on the map as long as the host is at the raid pillar. There’s some good fun to be had here if you prefer to battle alongside your friends instead of against them.

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15 Years Later: ‘Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater’ Is Kojima’s Espionage Love Letter

On November 17th, 2004, ‘Metal Gear Solid 3’ was released, marking the first entry in what would become a major part of the Metal Gear Saga.

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Metal Gear Solid 3

“After the end of World War II, the world was split into two — East and West. This marked the beginning of the era called the Cold War.”

On November 17th, 2004, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater released in North America and Japan marking the first entry in what would later become a line of prequel games within the Metal Gear Saga. Big Boss’s story would finally be expanded upon in the Hollywood action game that forever changed the course of video game storytelling.

The legendary mercenary’s journey began in Kojima’s espionage love letter to the ’60s that broke the primordial gaming standards of both interactive design and visual storytelling through immeasurable gameplay depth piled onto a mind-boggling top-notch origin story. Snake Eater was only the beginning of a tale of how one of gaming’s greatest heroes descended into a villain through what is not only arguably the most compact and well-executed Metal Gear story, but Kojima Productions story ever conjured up to date.

Taking the Narrative Back

Metal Gear Solid 3
“Snake, try and remember some of the basics of CQC.”

Snake Eater ditched Solid Snake and Raiden’s current predicaments in a postmodern world to provide audiences with background knowledge and explanations for the previous chapters that came before it in what was intended to be Hideo Kojima’s final Metal Gear game at the time. Cold War political fiction and espionage thrillers from the game’s time period such as the Sean Connery and Roger Moore James Bond 007 films became the foundation for this entry’s story and tone; a balance of both goofiness and seriousness that is simply unmatched when compared to the rest of the series.

Metal Gear Solid 3 marked the beginning of a prequel series of games that would later proceed to continue after Solid Snake’s story had concluded in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the PatriotsSnake Eater threw players back in time to tackle the story of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake villain Big Boss, who was formerly referred to as three different names being John, Jack, and of course the iconic codename Naked Snake — the first character to take on the reptilian infiltration name.

Revolver Ocelot’s gun-slinging pre-boss cutscene was completely animated through motion capture footage.

Whereas Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty questioned the fantasy aspects of the story, Snake Eater fully embraced the campiness that it provided. A gun-slinging, cat-growling GRU Major or a man who is able to manipulate bees are never questioned by the game’s characters. Nothing feels out of place due to how accepting everyone is of what is going on in their interpretation of history. The first fantasy aspect that players encounter is during the opening 5 minutes of the game when Naked Snake makes the HALO jump. The location the game takes place, Tselinoyarsk, is not the actual name of the location and isn’t an area of the world that has jungles.

Political fiction often comes into play during the story by incorporating real figures and the game’s characters into events that actually happened during the height of the Cold War. For example, Eva and Ocelot are depicted as the two NSA codebreakers, Martin and Mitchell, who defected to the Soviet Union. Weapons and designs featured in the game such as the hybrid screw-propelled metal gear, the Shagohod, are based on real blueprints for military weapons of the time period. While the story incorporates science fiction and fantasy aspects, the story still remains grounded and has its own limits even in gameplay.

A Whole New Meaning to Survival

When Hideo Kojima and Yoji Shinkawa saw the 1987 movie Predator, one concept from the film that stuck with them was how the technologically advanced alien Predator used camouflage within the jungle setting to stealthily take out a military rescue team lead by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Camouflage became part of the foundation for Snake Eater‘s gameplay that delved into the realism and campy side of the series. Players could swap outfits and face paints at any given moment to adapt to their current surroundings. The top right-hand corner has a camouflage index that constantly keeps track of how well-hidden you are in the environment.

Just as gadgets are a critical part of James Bond’s arsenal of weapons, Snake Eater saw the Metal Gear Solid series expand on the variety and utilization of items. The number of different ways to tackle standard environmental obstacles and boss battles was exponentially increased due to how many ways one could actually use their equipment. Grenades, lethal firearms, night-vision goggles, cigarettes, and even cardboard boxes all inherited a multi-functional philosophy that most players would never even discover unless they had experimented during their playthrough or were told to do a specific action. Even food became a weapon of war that could be used to poison and distract guards if it had gone spoiled.

On the topic of food, alongside the standard health bar, Snake has a stamina meter that must be ministered to constantly by eating foods found on-site and administering proper medical treatment. Animals, fruit, medicinal items, and various packaged resources must be collected and watched over throughout the game. All food items ran on a real-time clock leaving food to go unsanitary and rotten after a matter of real-time days.

The Beginning of Product Placement

Fun Fact: Kojima has gone on record saying that Naked Snake’s favorite CalorieMate Block is the chocolate-flavored line (rightfully for promotional reasons!).

The Metal Gear Solid series kickstarted Hideo Kojima’s constant usage of product placements within his games that are still ongoing today. These products include but are certainly not limited to clothing, accessories, toys, household items, and of course, food. Snake Eater began a trend of future Kojima Production games featuring real-life items that are purchasable in many small scale and large retail stores throughout Japan through the brand of nutritional energy bars and gels, CalorieMate.

The chocolate-flavored CalorieMate Block appeared in the original version of Snake Eater, while the maple-flavored kind replaced it in the HD Collection due to it being the latest flavor release at the time. Advertisements for CalorieMate during the game’s release showed Naked Snake holding a chocolate-flavored Block saying “If you wanna survive in the jungle, your going to need one of these.”

When initiating a Codec call with Paramedic after eating a CalorieMate Block, the character will question the legitimacy of the food. In reality, CalorieMate first released in 1983, contradicting the 1960’s setting of the story, therefore, making its placement in the game an anachronism; an object or person that is displaced in time.

A Legacy Worthy of The Big Boss Rank

At the time of Snake Eater’s release, although the game garnered a completely positive reception from critics with a 91 Metacritic score, it was highly debated whether the sequel-prequel was superior to the entries that came before it. Critics commonly praised the graphics and cinematics the game had to offer but questioned whether the gameplay was too complex for its own good. Snake Eater also had to ride the coattails of unsatisfied audiences originating from the previous entry’s lack of Solid Snake being the protagonist which ultimately lead to sales of the game being significantly lower than the previous Solid entries.

Over time, Snake Eater became the fan-favorite entry of the series and would go on to receive the most re-releases out of all the Metal Gear games to date. Most notably, in 2006 Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence expanded upon the online mode in the game and added a completely new third-person controlled camera system that enhanced the overall experience and became the right analog stick standard for future entries. Buyers of this version were also treated with the original two MSX Metal Gear games found on the main menu- the first time the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake had ever been localized outside of Japan.

Snake Eater 3D Limited Edition Bundle included a ‘Snake Skin’ themed standard 3DS (only released in Japan).

2011 saw the release of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collectiona compilation title that included an updated version of Subsistence — arguably the best way to play Snake Eater today. In 2012 the game also saw a release on the Nintendo 3DS dubbed Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater which included a new real-life camera camouflage system and multiple gameplay changes inherited from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker to accommodate the 3DS’s lack of dual analog sticks.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a true patriot that definitively holds its ground against the rest of the series today due to its creative liberties that the series never quite revisited in complete depth. Hideo Kojima and his team of masterminds behind Kojima Productions are well deserved of a salute for the tremendous efforts they put into creating a groundbreaking title that forever changed what it meant to be a cinematic video game. From its action-packed plot to its cinematic orchestra inspired-score, even after 15 years the pure indigenous nature of creativity from the studio never ceases to amaze audiences.

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