One Sega CD game has risen above all others to become one of the best games ever. That game? Snatcher. (Spoiler Free)
To understand the greatness behind this game, and the subtlety of its superb game play and story, you must first travel back to 1988. This was the year the game was first released for the MSX line of Japanese computers after numerous delays. It was instantly recognized as a smash hit blend of game play and story, and a worthy predecessor to the Metal Gear series today. This is because the game was produced by the famous Hideo Kojima, leader of the Metal Gear series.
Fast forward to 1992, and NEC’s PC-Engine is taking off in Japan. Konami ports the killer-app of the disk-based MSX game to the disc-based PC-Engine CD-ROM to rave reviews in all of the magazines. Learning Sega was about to launch a CD-based system of their own to combat the PC-Engine, Konami preps a version of the game for the ill-fated Sega CD…
When you start the system, the game loads nice and normally. You’re greeted by the infamous Konami start-up noise from seemingly every one of their games from 1985 to 1995.
Then things get odd. You’re presented with probably the only game intro that is both awesome and very depressing on multiple levels: On June 6th, 1996 (changed from the Japanese version of 1991 to keep things fresh) a mysterious disease (later found out to be a chemical weapon designed to topple NATO) was released in an explosion from a Russian research facility near Moscow. It is carried by the trade winds, and wipes out over half of the world’s population. While this gloomy back story is filled in, you are presented with visuals that the Sega CD simply should not be able to perform. We are talking 256 colors on screen at once (which shouldn’t physically be possible, with 4 times as many colors than even the box the system came says being possible to be shown at once).
Now, as great looking as the cinematic is, it pales in comparison to the fact that while this is happening, a full vocal score is happening. While it wasn’t the first video game to feature proficient voice acting (both Lunar and Lunar: Eternal Blue beat it), it was the first game with such copious amounts of spoken dialogue. And it’s done well to boot.
The entire CD is Red Book audio, and fully uncompressed music. The dialogue totals roughly 3 hours in the game (which is huge, as the game takes roughly 6-7 hours to complete). It is also encoded into Roland Sound Space. RSS is an older form of surround sound that runs a surround sound signal through the stereo hook-up in the back of the Sega CD.
The game play, however, while living up to the great dialogue by using it quite frequently and still having great graphics; could leave a lot to be desired if you came into the game expecting tons of action elements. This game is purely intelligence based, and barring some admittedly intense firefights it is all about being a detective in how you look for things. For example, one of the main puzzles in the game involves a chess piece, a crude drawing and diskette. You have 4 main abilities: “Look” (mostly used to find things to investigate), “Investigate” (looks at things with greater detail), “Use Metal Gear” (mostly to save your game), and finally “Move” (to, well, move).
The action elements of this game are honestly rather sparse, but they are placed in good locations. One of the better examples is just after a very plot-changing series of cut scenes, where you are literally in fear of the outcome of the next turn of events when you are attacked. The gun system works one of two ways: If you only have a controller, you can shoot at one of 9 spots on a grid where enemies appear. The second and by far more satisfying way to use the combat system is to use the Konami Justifier light gun from Lethal Enforcers, making it play like Lethal Enforcers. You have a life bar, and as enemies attack it is depleted. If it is depleted all of the way you die and have to reload from your last save point.
So, based on its merits, such as its amazing story (which you perhaps noticed I went through great pains to try to avoid covering), fun investigative objective, intense action scenes, great graphics, awesome sound and mostly non-linear game play balanced out only by its rather short length (which is admittedly only a constraint because of the physical size of the game, which literally fills the entire CD). And truthfully, I prefer amazing quality to mediocre quantity. So, Snatcher for the Sega CD gets a 10 out of a possible 10 in my book. Its only potential downfall is its rather short length, which is more than made up for by all of the secrets within the game.
As a footnote, if you ever find this wonderful game beware of its adult content. There are no real sexual scenes or anything like that (those were mostly edited out of the Sega CD releases), but there are some very disturbing images within the game. While the game was edited slightly for content in the English versions of the game, all of the graphic scenes were mostly left intact. This means violent scenes, some blood and quite a few more disturbing things left unmentioned to preserve the story. So, despite the game being rated Teen by the ESRB, I would suggest that no one under 18 play it unless you are prepared.
Also, if you manage to import the PSX or Sega Saturn versions of the game, keep in mind that they are less complete than both the Sega CD and PC-Engine versions of the game, with less cut scenes; and also keep in mind that nearly all of the more graphic scenes were edited out of the game in one way or another, be it complete re-drawings of some areas, mosaics being applied over the offending image or sometimes even completely dropping the area from the game. The most complete one is a toss-up between the Sega CD version, which had extra scenes and light gun support; and the PC-Engine version that looked better, was (slightly, mind you) less edited and was the last release of the game to feature Kojima as the Director.