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Year in Review — The Best Indie Games of 2016

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2016 may not have been the best year, all things considered. It was a year of social upheaval, political frustration, and environmental catastrophe. Of unchecked corporate irresponsibility and the prospect of worse. Of loss.

But it was also undeniably an overwhelmingly good year for video games. Not only did we have a plethora of AAA surprises, we also had more cool indie games than most people could even conceivably play. That makes choosing a list of the year’s best a near impossible task.

Near impossible tasks, however, are also a theme of several of my favorite games this year, so perhaps it’s appropriate. Either way, here are some of the best new indie games you could play in 2016, each of them worth looking at if they passed you by. The list is generally in no particular order until you get to the contentious top 4 slots, and it only reflects my personal opinion of a handful of the hundreds of indie games released this year.

Slayaway Camp (PC)

Best Indie Games of 2016

A brilliant little traditional puzzle game with a weird combination of cuteness and gore. It’s got everything you want from a good puzzler with a nice surrounding package and a lot of flair, presenting itself as a 1980’s VHS horror movie collection. A modern take on what is too often a throwback genre, providing a ton of content at a bargain price. It’s also got a voice cast that includes … Mark Meer? What?

Brigador (PC)

Best Indie Games of 2016

Brigador took me—and I suspect a lot of people—by surprise. While fairly limited in scope, Brigador is one of several games that grabbed me this year by being a distilled experience; lean, tight, and heavily skill-based. It’s got a great art style, a surprisingly involved fiction (including a nicely produced audiobook), and a stellar soundtrack by Makeup and Vanity Set, all layered smoothly on top of blow-up-literally-everything gameplay. Fans of mechs and dark cyberpunk futures need this one from Stellar Jockeys in their lives. Did I mention it’s got one of the best soundtracks of the year?

Superhot (PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox One)

Best Indie Games of 2016

With one of the more unique gameplay conceits to come around in some time, Superhot was awesome, yet it didn’t quite manage to live up to its full potential. With a wicked cool menu system, storytelling method, and visual style, the game tasks you with shattering digital bad guys in a virtual first-person shooter. The twist is that time stands (almost) completely still unless you’re moving or shooting. The game is fairly short, but the unique mechanics put an almost puzzle-like spin on expected FPS gameplay, and the sparse, mysterious, and intriguing narrative which frames the whole thing is super cool. Superhot’s full asking price has for some been historically hard to swallow, but it’s a no-brainer if you catch it on sale.

Furi (PC and PS4)

Best Indie Games of 2016

Furi is an underrated gem that I suspect didn’t hook nearly the number of fans it deserved to. It’s got excellent style and gameplay chops, an interesting story setup, and a great synthwave soundtrack featuring the likes of Carpenter Brut, Danger, and Waveshaper. Essentially just one long boss rush, it’s the very definition of “no filler,” consisting of nothing more than awesome bosses and short walks (with some great environmental design and mysterious, intriguing narrative exposition) between them. With designs by Takashi Okazaki of Afro Samurai fame, the characters are all fantastic, and while there’s some transitional animation jank that occasionally gets in the way of the grandeur, Furi is otherwise beautiful to behold, fantastic to listen to, and a blast to play. It can be beaten in about 2 hours once you’re a veteran fighter—or if you just happen to be amazingly talented—but will take the average player 7 to 9 hours to get through on their first run.

It also happens to support several different languages, and allows independent selection of text and voice. The English and French audio tracks are fantastic, but do yourself a favor and switch to the Japanese track for a truly stunning set of performances.

One Night Stand (PC)

Best Indie Games of 2016

I confess that I fell in love with One Night Stand. It’s a very short visual novel-style story that encourages multiple playthroughs to get different endings, and has charm, personality, and a refreshingly different take on relationships and sex (at least as far as their presentation in games goes). It’s also got a really cool visual style and only costs a couple bucks. If you enjoy slice-of-life games and more laid back experiences, there’s really no going wrong here.

Crypt of the Necrodancer (PC, PS4, Vita, iOS)

Best Indie Games of 2016

If you’re a fan of roguelikes but have been looking for a different take on the genre, look no further. Crypt of the Necrodancer has everything you love to hate about permadeath dungeon crawling, and then adds in a rhythm game. It’s a simple idea that radically changes the formula, having you explore dungeons and fight monsters all while trying to do everything on a beat. Super catchy music, great art design, and a joyful sense of humor make this one of the goofiest games you’ll want to throw your controller at.

Hyper Light Drifter (PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Xbox One)

Best Indie Games of 2016

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the deadly serious Hyper Light Drifter. With some of the most gorgeous pixel art design and implementation you’re likely to see, including some absolutely brilliant cutscenes, Drifter takes the 16-bit Zelda formula and turns it into a top-notch character action game. It’s got an entirely wordless story that’s surprisingly compelling, and its world simply begs to be explored. With fantastic and difficult bosses, a bunch of interesting upgrades to acquire, and a metric ton of secrets to find, developer Heart Machine knocked this one out of the park.

The Witness (PC, PS4, Xbox One)

Best Indie Games of 2016

Jonathan Blow’s latest opus is as intriguing as it is polarizing. It’s got some of the same narrative tone that irritated some people about Braid, but the gameplay is the real star. A puzzle game through and through, The Witness tasks players with exploring a beautiful, surreal, and seemingly abandoned island, solving 2D maze puzzles to progress through its various locales. If that sounds weird, it is; but even weirder is the fact that it works without being a quarter as lame as it sounds. The game explains so much about itself using interesting environmental cues and difficulty progressions that curiosity, exploration, learning, and progress all feel like equal parts of the whole. It’s a hard game to explain, and one better experienced than talked about. If you’re at all a fan of puzzle games, The Witness is one to make time for.

Project Highrise (PC)

Best Indie Games of 2016

Project Highrise, the second game from SomaSim, is a building and management loveletter to fans of Sim Tower. It’s not perfect, but it’s got a lot of heart, a lovely art style, and offers a lot of design freedom. I spent more time than I expected trying out new strategies and learning the ropes, and while some balance issues continue to exist in the long game, most people will find it to be an accessible and fun creative sim, certainly one of the best released this year.

Prison Architect (PC, PS4, Xbox One)

Best Indie Games of 2016

Prison Architect has been around for a good while. An early access game with a long and illustrious development, its final release is one of the best building and management simulation combos you could possibly hope to find. It’s got a wealth of content, tons of options, and more than a little personality for being so artistically simple. Introversion has made many great games, all worth looking at, but Prison Architect is one of the best. The scale of the prisons can get immense, and the thought one can put into their design makes building and modifying them constantly engaging no matter how many times you start over.

ABZÛ (PC, PS4)

Best Indie Games of 2016

There are two undersea-world indie games on the market right now (well, two that I’ve played, anyway), and Subnautica is still in early access. Its counterpart, ABZÛ, is also its antithesis. Where Subnautica is scary, oppressive, complex, and huge, ABZÛ is quiet, introspective, simple, and focused. It’s less a game and more an experience, and whether it appeals to you personally or not is anyone’s guess, but it absolutely stands as one of the most finely crafted indie experiences of the year, one that enraptured and moved me to a startling degree. It lives up to its pedigree (Flower and Journey) and then some, providing one of the most beautiful environments I’ve ever explored—in artistry if not raw tech—and one of the most memorable soundtracks in years. It can be finished in a handful of hours, but those hours are likely to stick with you a long, long time.

Thumper (PC, SteamVR, Oculus, PS4, PSVR)

Best Indie Games of 2016

Thumper is undoubtedly one of my favorite indies this year. Dubbed a “rhythm violence” game by developer Drool, this description doesn’t seem inaccurate. It’s ostensibly a rhythm game, but instead of using instruments or abstract button presses to keep rhythm with pop or rock tunes, you control a space beetle racing along a relentless track in a surreal, drug-trip environment while using timed button presses and stick movements to navigate the track, avoid damage, and score points. The game’s music is dark, atmospheric, and percussive in an unusual way, eschewing the usual melodic fare of most rhythm games, and it fits the tone perfectly. This is a difficult game that requires quick reflexes and good memorization skills, especially in its latter half.

But getting through it is only half the battle. Each section of each level is ranked according to score, and multipliers go up if you progress without missing a beat. You can pass turns unmolested by simply holding the primary button and the appropriate direction, but pressing the direction at exactly the right moment gives you extra points at the end of a section, and there are several other functions that perform similarly. Doing a long, complex section of track without dying feels great, but doing it perfectly is on a whole different level. There’s a “plus” mode as well, which tasks you with doing a level continuously, without failing, dropping the section-by-section methodology of the normal mode.

What sets Thumper apart from most games is that nothing is wasted. It’s lean, but it doesn’t merely work to avoid excess, it includes only what’s absolutely necessary and uses it to full effect. It’s one of the most focused experiences out there, leveraging its simple strengths to build slowly into complexity that feels almost overwhelming. If it sounds intriguing to you, do yourself a favor and dive in. Even without VR, it’s incredibly immersive and intense, and will deeply satisfy adrenaline and score junkies.

Darkest Dungeon (PC, PS4, Vita)

Best Indie Games of 2016

Similarly intense and oppressive, but lacking any particular need for rhythm, is Darkest Dungeon, a tactical, squad-based dungeon crawler with team management mechanics. It features permadeath, so your many heroes are always at risk, and there’s no savescumming to pull them back from death, making it especially devastating to lose a high-level hero you’ve been with for some time. But not only is mortality an issue, so is sanity. A heavily Lovecraftian game, Darkest Dungeon inflicts all kinds of mental and emotional strain on your heroes, leaving you to manage who risks going back into the dungeon and who sits the next one out.

With awesome Mignola-esque artwork, the actual best narration ever by Wayne June, and brutally tactical combat, Darkest Dungeon is not only one of the best indies this year, but one of the best games, period. With a new expansion set to drop in the near future, the madness has only just begun.

Devil Daggers (PC)

Best Indie Games of 2016

Topping the list is what almost, almost was my game of the year, bested only by Overwatch and DOOM. I wrote one of the first handful of reviews for it, and was shocked at how good it was both then and dozens upon dozens of hours later, when I’d seen and discovered so much more.

If Thumper is the intense, distilled essence of the rhythm game, Devil Daggers is the pure, unadulterated adrenaline rush of the first-person shooter. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a more perfect, finely tuned game. This is not subjective, although the value will certainly not be apparent to everyone, as Devil Daggers is built with a very particular audience in mind. It’s a hardcore, skill-based shooter masquerading as a simple score-attack arcade arena. Survive as long as you can, shooting as many enemies as you can, until you’re killed yourself. One hit spells the end of the game, and the average run lasts only about a minute or so, depending on player skill (my own record time is a little over five minutes). The progression of enemies never changes, though it’s chaotic enough that it never quite plays the same, and for people who can’t last very long, even the meager $5 asking price might seem like too much.

Yet what many of these people will miss is one of the finest pieces of craftsmanship I’ve ever seen. This isn’t just the purposely lo-fi graphical presentation, the impeccable sound (which is extremely important to player positioning), or the specific enemies and their behaviors, but is also the nature of the player’s weapon, the enemy spawns and their timing, and the way players can gradually peel back an astonishing number of layers to the deep gameplay. I’ve personally put more than 105 hours into it, and despite this investment have still not been able to reach the game’s penultimate encounter. (The game never ends, but there is a point where the progression stops and finally begins repeating.) My high score puts me at rank 901, which is in the top 1.08% of the 83,150 people on the leaderboard currently. That should be all you need to know about how high the skill ceiling is in Devil Daggers.

Best Indie Games of 2016

This is a game that won’t be for everyone, but it’s made waves through the industry, with 3-man Australian developer Sorath earning the respect and admiration of those who appreciate exacting design. I absolutely can’t wait to see what the future holds for them. Not everyone will appreciate Devil Daggers to the degree that I do, but the barrier to entry is only $5 at full price. Come meet me on the leaderboards—if you’ve got the guts!

Honorable Mentions

Okay, so I know there are some obvious choices missing from this list, and most of you are saying, “But what about [xyz]?” Some games I simply didn’t get to play long enough to form an editorial-worthy opinion, others I had spoiled for me because I had to edit reviews and features on them prior to playing, which killed their impact, and still others were popular but didn’t resonate with me as much as they did for most. That said, the consensus between critics, players, and myself is that all of the following games are fantastic in some way or another and are worth your time. A few of them we hope to offer full reviews for in the near future.

Owlboy – a long-anticipated platformer that finally saw release in 2016 to much fanfare.

INSIDE – a puzzle-platformer in the vein of LIMBO. From, well, the developers of LIMBO.

Salt and Sanctuary – Dark Souls the Metroidvania. Tastes great, less filling.

Stardew Valley – “I can’t believe it’s not Harvest Moon!”

Tumblestone – Non-Tetris in a really solid package.

Tricky Towers – Like, actually non-Tetris with a unique twist. With online and local play.

Clustertruck – Defies description. Just watch a trailer.

House of the Dying Sun – Space-dogfight your way to vengeance for the Emperor.

Let It Die – The latest from Grasshopper Manufacture. Non-abusive F2P third-person action RPG.

Quadrilateral Cowboy – Hacking puzzle-capers with a fantastic sense of style.

VA-11 HALL-A – Waifu bartending—no, really. And way, way better (and less dismissive) than that sounds. A stunning release from Sukeban Games.

Grim Dawn – While it didn’t quite make the cut for one of the best of the very best, it’s an awesome Diablo 2-style action RPG that anyone can love.

Starbound – Finally out of early access, with some unfortunate release decisions that hold it back somewhat.

The Final Station – For train and zombie apocalypse enthusiasts.

The Silver Case – A remaster release of Suda51’s seminal classic. You already know if you want this.

Cursed Castilla – A high-grade retro masterpiece in the vein of Ghosts n’ Goblins.

Subnautica – Technically still in early access, so it doesn’t qualify for a 2016 list, but this is (for me) hands down the best survival game on the market, and one I spent a ton of time playing, admiring, and reading about in 2016. It’s more than earned a mention here, especially since you can get it for only $10 on sale until the end of the year. Has some significant bugs and engine troubles that need addressing, but still an indie game like no other.

Before I close here, please bear in mind that there are many, many other games that deserve recognition but we simply can’t include due to time and space constraints. There are also undoubtedly other amazing experiences that have flown entirely under our radar. If there’s something you think we’ve missed that you want people to know about, please post your experience in the comments! We’d love to hear about everything we didn’t get the chance to play this year.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Ron Atwood

    October 19, 2018 at 7:17 am

    Hi Michael great list but I saw that you don’t have an article about Best Indie Games of 2018 🙁 Maybe you would like to check an old-school FPS named Project Warlock before you do it?

    Best!

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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.

max raid battles

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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