Hideo Kojima's Metal Gear Solid for the PlayStation is a venerable classic. Seeking to build on this success, Konami brings a similarly titled side story to Game Boy Color. While dubbed Metal Gear Solid, the game actually takes place many years before and in lieu of the universe portrayed in the PlayStation release. It seems a secret government project, codenamed Babel, intends to revive the Metal Gear program, but members of the Gindran Liberation Front have hijacked the new prototype instead. Returning to the jungle base Outer Heaven, site of Snake's previous battle with Big Boss in the original NES classic, it's up to you to stop them.
Metal Gear Solid for the Game Boy Color offers 13 single-player levels, 180 VR missions, and a two-player duel mode. Even though the action is displayed in 8-bit color, Snake can still sneak, crawl, hide, and use a wide array of weapons and tools, just as in the PlayStation game. From the R5 rifle and Nikita missile launcher to infrared goggles and cardboard boxes, there is a total of 19 items to collect. Defeat every level and VR mission, and you'll unlock further goodies, such as a sound select option and a time attack mode. Rounding out the list of features, a battery save ensures progress will not be lost once the power is off.
From a gameplay standpoint, Metal Gear Solid lives up to its name - solid. Each level requires a fair amount of sneaking and planning, and unlike the pasted-in tactics of Red Storm's Rainbow Six, MGS pulls you into the mind of a special-forces soldier. Should you hide behind a crate or crawl past the guard? Maybe you should create a diversion and run away. Whatever the situation calls for, MGS puts the decision into your hands. If you make it through the game, you'll have hiked through flooded sewers, crawled through miles of ducts, traversed tricky conveyor belts, survived poison gas, found your way via night-vision goggles, dealt with vicious attack dogs, and improvised a variety of solutions to other similarly harrowing situations. Should you tire of the single-player levels, the game's 180 VR missions offer up an experience just as addicting as that in last year's PlayStation VR Missions title. The game's two-player mode, while mostly a variant of capture the flag, isn't too shabby either.
Unlike the PlayStation MGS, the handheld release does not allow backtracking to previous areas. While this raises the possibility of overlooking useful tools, the game's level design precludes bypassing important items. Linearity is also a concern, but the length and variety within each level somewhat offsets this fear. Ultimately, the most glaring gameplay fault stems from enemy AI, or lack thereof. It's one thing to be hiding silently out of view, but it's quite another to pop a guard who is mere inches from another, only to watch the survivor walk past as if nothing had happened. While this is faithful to the PS MGS, it's still disappointing to know that enemy troops are bussed into Outer Heaven on the short bus.
Visually, Metal Gear Solid exudes refinement. Each level, though not overly colorful, is drawn in a way that emphasizes utility and clarity over extravagance. The game bears a passing resemblance to the NES Metal Gear titles, but the sleek lines and high animation level lift the game much higher. Snake's shimmy when walking, his recoil when punching, and the enemy's shrug of boredom are just a few of the game's many visual details. If there is one drawback to the game's graphical style though, it is the onscreen radar system. While a 27-inch television can display solitary moving pixels distinctly, the GBC screen cannot, and discerning enemies via the radar is difficult. This qualm is academic though, as the amount of graphical detail along with a surplus of lush cutscenes pushes the game to new heights of quality.
Many would argue that the PlayStation Metal Gear Solid's soundtrack is what keeps passion for the game burning long after every VR mission and both endings are but a faded memory. The same rings true for the Game Boy MGS. Musically, the game is haunting. Every track - whether it's the slightly uptempo stage-one jungle music, the depressingly suspenseful cello backbeat of stage six, or the frantic crescendos of stage 11 - echoes with a pleasing balance of drama and reservation. The same cannot be said, though, about the sound effects. Though the game uses a variety of sounds for movement and environmental ambience, nothing stands out as particularly innovative or impressive. There's no digitized speech, there's no distinction between weapons, and the same explosion effect is reused countless times. It would be unfair to call the sound effects bad, but they're not varied either.
Despite minor gripes, Metal Gear Solid is, without equal, the best tactical-espionage title on the Game Boy Color. The plot further explores the mythos of the Metal Gear project, reveals the truth behind Colonel Campbell's retirement, and divulges a secret or two about the origins of Snake's "legend" status. The gameplay is engaging, the visuals enjoyable, and the soundtrack phenomenal. From the initial meeting with Delta Force member Chris Jenner to the final battle with Black Art Viper, MGS pulls you into a handheld gaming thrill ride you won't forget.