From the pages of the past! Ads of yesteryear – Snatcher

Anything Metal Gear is probably what Hideo Kojima is most often associated with, especially after the runaway success of the Metal Gear Solid series from the PSX onwards. The man who once sought the bright lights of Hollywood as a filmmaker and ultimately became a game developer never gave up on his storytelling aspirations – or in using games to give players a taste of his imagination.

Snatcher for the Sega CD was one of those moments, though the original game had come out way back in ’88 on the NEC PC 8801 and the MSX 2. It was also mostly text. But more surprisingly, because of time constraints, the last act, which had the ending, was left out. No ending!

I wonder what would have happened if the same backlash against ME3 hit Snatcher in the same way (we’d probably have to fast forward the development of social media by a decade or so, though, to get the proper effect). Hideo Kojima might never have made another game because of the humiliation. Someone else would have to invent the CODEC. Revolver Ocelot and Solid Snake might never have had that sit down with their fists. There would be no free DLC on the PS3 to try and explain everything for MGS4…

But, Konami would get a rare second chance to get things right by having Kojima and his crew do a director’s cut style remake that would go on to be the classic most everyone would recognize today. It was a kind of “HD” version for its time, recut and remastered for new tech.

This new Snatcher arrived on the PC-Engine in ’92 for Japan which would be the version ported over for the Sega CD. Not only did the PC-Engine version feature retooled visuals and audio, it also had the complete ending that didn’t make it into the initial release in ’88.

The Sega CD version came out in ’94 though it was subjected to a bit of censorship for certain things that would have caught censors’ hair on fire in North America such as panty sniffing or staring at an NPCs breasts. Occasional nudity was hidden behind touch ups and the age of one of the characters was also altered because of a shower scene leaving the game with a firm ESRB T rating.

But the core story and action were exactly the same and the localization was exceptional. This didn’t help the game sell, however. In an interview with Junker HQ, a Snatcher fan site, translator Jeremy Blaustein who worked on Snatcher’s localization had written that it only sold “a couple thosuand units at most in the US”.

Snatcher for the Sega CD also came out at a time when the peripheral was on its last legs, if it had any legs left to stand on. It’s no secret that the Sega CD was something plagued with garbage games, though a few diamonds in the rough stood out like Snatcher. Sony’s Playstation and the Sega Saturn were due out in ’95 in North America. The Saturn, especially, had already come out in ’94 in Japan, further dooming the Sega CD to being an expensive doorstop backed by a largely terrible library of titles.

Today, Kojima’s cyberpunk story is considered a true classic and an extremely rare one at that with copies going for as much as $150 used on sites like Ebay and even higher if they were in much better condition. Whether they actually sell through at the sometimes exorbitant pricing that the sellers ask for is another question as I’ve seen sales average between $100 and $120 for a complete version (as in case, manual, CD) in pristine condition. Even more with the Justifier light gun peripheral that it was compatible with. However, if you can read and understand spoken Japanese, and have a compatible system or emulator, the Japanese versions of Snatcher that were released for the Saturn, the Playstation, or even for the PC-Engine tend to be much cheaper.

Is it worth it, though? I’d say yes, but only if you can get it at the right price. Hardcore Kojima or cyberpunk fans will probably want this game no matter what, though, and it helps that it’s also a damn fine adventure game.

Snatcher mixes together investigative gameplay and some action both glossed over with sci-fi that draws from the wide net cast by Kojima’s imagination over films such as Blade Runner. Robots that look like humans, a dystopian future with skyscraping high rises and flying cars, and a hard nosed detective trying to solve a high tech crime in a society too busy to care about anything else except how to get by day to day. As a “Junker”, it was your job to destroy renegade “Snatchers” – those human looking robots trying to assimilate into society – that were sighted. The only thing missing from this story was someone that looked like Harrison Ford!

The uniquely Japanese art style and soundtrack were exceptional, holding up today especially if you’re a fan of the hyper-detailed tech that was something of a signature for older anime. Adventure mechanics, such as grilling NPCs for info on a variety of topics and exploring the world around you via a menu of set choices, fleshed the world out with amazing detail – something that made Snatcher highly reminiscent of PC-based point ‘n click adventure titles.

The action was focused on the shooting sequences which had you blast bad guys against a 3×3, first-person grid which encompassed your aiming. I didn’t mind the action bits too much, but later on, some of them could get pretty unbelievable making me almost wish that I had the Justifier. They’re doable, though I needed a lot of practice. There’s also no way around them, either, if you just wanted to get on with your investigation.

The game also gave you a miniature “navigator” that looked like, and was called, “Metal Gear”. With it, you could receive calls, a little technical backup on what is being observed, and pretty much save anywhere you wanted which was also somewhat innovative at the time for a console game.

Snatcher was a huge, and refreshing, surprise for me. It boldly took a unique approach to console gaming with something that wanted to flex your brain power more often than your reflexes. Traveling around talking to NPCs, playing in the shooting range to improve my aim, putting together clues to figure out what to do next, and getting immersed in cyberpunk made this one of my favorites on any system, though I still wished that the shooting bits were a little less restricted.

Snatcher has also continued on to be a fan favorite and most recently, fellow developer Suda51 wrote up a radio drama based on the game and its characters that have been translated with subtitles for everyone to enjoy. If you’re curious about Snatcher, it’s a good place to start and get a taste of what it’s like.

I also wish that the game did a lot better sales-wise in the United States, or that it would finally come out as a downloadable on a service like PSN or XBL for more people to enjoy it. As a small piece of Hideo Kojima’s development history, it’s a fascinating look at where he’s been and an eye opening preview of his ongoing attention to narrative details. As much as I like his work with MGS, I’d love to see him flex the same mental muscles and play with the same director’s eye that he had used for games like this one if only because it would be something different. And it might even as awesome than anything else he might have done.

The ad below was clever, though typical of Konami’s marketing in leaning a lot more on wowing their audiences with multi-page spreads and colorful show pieces. A few small shots of Snatcher don’t really do the game much justice and I’d even hazard a guess that players probably still didn’t know what to make of it, further contributing to its low sales.

Hideo Kojima also wasn’t as well known, or as huge a game dev celebrity that he is today in the West, nearly twenty years ago in the early ’90s. The successes of MGS or Zone of the Enders haven’t yet come around to make him a household name among gamers.

Still, nice ad. Hopefully one of these days, there’ll be one for a downloadable version of the game. Or one for a “Hideo Kojima Best Of” collection featuring Snatcher and Policenauts. It can happen, right?

Snatcher ad

Snatcher is a great game for cyberpunk enthusiasts. Also, if Blade Runner were a Japanese game, this would probably be exactly what we'd get. Probably without the killer plague thing, though.

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