Saturday, December 8

Metal Gear Solid Ghost Babel Review

I played on: Gameboy Color and Emulator
I paid: £19.99
Available on: Gameboy Color
Notes: This game is non-canon to the main Metal Gear Solid plot.

Ghost Babel is a Gameboy color exclusive and Solid Snake’s first portable adventure. The idea of taking the Metal Gear gameplay with you on the go was novel at the start of the millennium. Now, however, we have a number of games both in and out of the series main canon on portable consoles. Can Ghost Babel stand up to Snake Eater 3D on the 3DS or Peace Walker on the PSP? The short answer is, yes but only for those really invested in the series. The long answer is as follows.

Ghost Babel tells quite an interesting story set after Metal Gear but not canon to any of the other games. This means that although Mei-Ling and Colonel Campbell are here it’s nothing to do with the PS1 classic Metal Gear Solid. There is no mention of Liquid Snake, the Patriots or any of the series defining story points other than Outer Heaven from the MSX Metal Gear. Due to this some of the newer and more casual fans might be confused or put off by this story. Although I enjoyed it at times, the lack of voice acting and fully animated cutscenes did make it less compelling than most games in the series. Metal Gear has always been ridiculous and astoundingly camp but Ghost Babel lacks this same flair. You can tell this game tries to have the same energy as it’s console counterparts but it lacks the hardware to do so. There’s a lot of details that are copied directly from the other games in the series. The main villain taunts Snake from a helicopter, you have to rescue the lead Metal Gear engineer, blow a wall up with C4 and so on. Without changing very much this could easily be a port of the first Metal Gear Solid.

The basic gameplay is very similar to Metal Gear 2 but not as impressive or enjoyable. You control Solid Snake breaking into an enemy base. The camera takes on a top-down view with you able to run, crawl, use items and weapons. Most levels involve you trying to find an item or person while navigating a maze-like area that fails to feel connected to other parts of the world. The problems start with the radar at the top right of the screen. During Metal Gear 2 this radar showed 9 connected screens, how they connected and the locations of enemies on each screen. This simple little map allowed each area to feel connected and simple to navigate. During Ghost Babel, this radar only shows the area directly around you within 1 screen. This creates the same issue Metal Gear 1 had with areas feeling nonsensical, unconnected and confusing. To put it simply the terrible map makes moving around an annoying experience. As movement and navigation is the basis of most the gameplay this flaw cripples Ghost Babel.

Poor navigation is not Ghost Babel’s only problem, however. Let’s talk a bit about padding. Padding is when a game tries to extend its playtime with busy work for the player. When done well the odds are you won’t even notice it because it’ll be enjoyable and often short. For an example of good padding, we can look at Resident Evil on the PS1. It’s very rare to be able to just access the area you need to get to. You will often need to solve a puzzle, fight a boss or find a key to progress the story. These objectives are the most enjoyable parts of the game and give you a reason to uncover the secrets of the mansion. Ghost Babel is an example of padding done badly. The previously mentioned maze-like layout of environments and pointless need to backtrack boring and uninteresting areas is just part of this. From the 8th stage onward you have to use the Nikita remote mission launcher to destroy the power to an electric floor. Fans of the series will recognise this from both Metal Gear, Metal Gear Solid 1 and 2. These games had you find the Nikita and then use it to destroy the power source to the floor once per game. During Ghost Babel, you do it a total of 7 times while having to navigate the horrible environments between each instance. This takes a part of the previous games that I really enjoyed and just forces you to replay it over and over until it’s no longer fun. The entire game is like this with its padding and it kills any sense of pacing or enjoyment.

To focus on a positive let’s talk about how good this game looks. All the screenshots shown here are from an emulator so I could capture gameplay. When you’re playing on an actual Gameboy the normal problems such as reflections on the screen and no backlight make it hard to see. I do love the graphics through with them reminding me a lot of the beautiful sprite work from Metal Gear 2. One thing that Ghost Babel improves on over the MSX game is the animation during gameplay. Every movement Snake makes feels fluid and natural in a way the earlier games couldn’t. The bright vibrate colours and simple but detailed sprites create a style that feels faithful to both the early MSX games and the newer PlayStation titles. This gives a best of both worlds charm to the visuals found here. Sadly they fail to hold up during cutscenes with a beautiful but ultimately boring pixel art picture displayed while beeps and bland text spill out the plot.

Metal Gear Solid Ghost Babel is a game that I would have loved back in 2000 just for the chance to take the Metal Gear action with me. The problem is that I can now play better Metal Gear games on the go. I’m glad I finished this game because I’m a huge Metal Gear fan but I can’t see myself rushing to replay it. If I’m away from home and fancy some Metal Gear fun then I’ll pick up the 3DS port of Snake Eater or Peace Walker. As it is, Metal Gear fans should at least emulate this but more casual fans would be better giving it a miss.

Recommendation Rating: 4 out of 10.

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