Hideo Kojima is infamous at this point for his excesses. Many of his best games feature long, drawn-out, non-interactive sequences. Depending on your point of view, these are either great or an abomination that gets in the way of the gameplay. And Snatcher, in many ways, is an encapsulation of both the best and worst of Kojima.
Snatcher began as an MSX and PC-88 adventure game. Or visual novel, if you prefer that term. The version that we got here in the West was an updated version of that game, and it shows. And Snatcher in some regards is no more complex than its Sega CD peers, it benefits from avoiding grainy FMVs. This already puts it a step ahead of the game in terms of aging well. Snatcher makes Kojima’s love of film obvious, yet the limitations of the era kept Kojima from running wild. Instead, he made a game that wants to mimic film but ends up more like an interactive comic. These limitations make for a stronger game in the end.
Of course, the game is highly derivative of several cinematic masterpieces. Blade Runner and Terminator immediately spring to mind. Some find the game to be overrated and uninspired, and this certainly gives them fodder for that argument. But in a lot of ways, the game is saved by being, well, a game. Most players had never seen anything quite like Snatcher, and blatant imitator or not, it made for a unique experience.
And what an experience it is. The game does a masterful job of building suspense, even with the limitations imposed upon it, and you’re always left wondering what will happen next. The audio goes a long way towards establishing the mood of the game, which can both be light-hearted and incredibly creepy. And maybe just a little skeevy, given that Gillian is taken to more lecherous pursuits than most. The bit about censorship, in particular, is both riotously funny and a clear indicator of the political climate in which the game was released. Speaking of censorship, the game is quite gory. It’s actually surprising how much made the cut. Some of the grislier scenes are mostly unchanged in the West, which made the game even creepier, really selling the horror of the situation and ratcheting up the tension.
Kudos have to be given to the voice acting as well. Konami went above and beyond with the talent, ending up with something that sounds impressively natural to English-speaking audiences. It’s a far cry from a “Jill sandwich,” that’s for sure. In fact, other than the recording quality, it compares well even with today’s quality voice work. And the translation is masterful, reading very fluidly and cohesively.
Disappointingly, Snatcher mostly consists of scrolling through menus, finding responses to triggers in the dialogue so the story can move forward. The only concession to what we traditionally think of as “gaming” is a tacked-on shooting gallery. They are incredibly simple affairs, superfluous to the game proper.
In the end, Snatcher is intense and moody, a game that everyone with a strong stomach should play. But it’s less a game, more an experience. And while that might rankle the die-hard, it’s an amazing experience regardless.
Article by Lee Hathcock
GameSpite Journal 12: Snatcher
7 thoughts on “GameSpite Journal 12: Snatcher”
Well, I for one can’t decide between telling you how I barely know her and how I can’t believe I never thought to mention how Kojimania is running wild on you, brother.
I know ratings systems were still a new thing at the time, but Snatcher is a game that really should’ve gotten an M rating instead of a T. It’s got a few really gruesome corpse scenes.
Anyway, while it is a visual novel and you’re usually faffing about trying to figure out how or when to trigger the next cutscene, I have to say I really love how Snatcher is made entirely out of 2D pixel art that wouldn’t be too out of place in a 16-bit game. It’s like somebody made a visual novel out of the stuff you’d normally see before the title screen or in between level cutscenes in other games! But with voice acting!
I’ve never really been attracted to Kojima’s work — in fact, the only Metal Gear I’ve played is Twin Snakes — but I played Snatcher a couple of years ago and I loved it.
Snatcher’s greatest achievement was presenting a 2D world that could be explored in great detail, giving a sense of freedom that’s comparable to more complex, 3D games. Little things like being able to call phone numbers found in the environment, and being able to research absolutely everything on the in-game database.
Sure, it’s kind of silly and derivative from a narrative perspective, but that’s part of its charm. Aesthetically it’s probably my favourite game ever — masterful pixel art, colourful and detailed, with fantastic music on top. It has been my main inspiration for the game I’ve been working on and I constantly return to it for reference. No one makes games that look like Snatcher and now I know why — it’s horrendously time-consuming. I guess that’s why the vast majority of retro games stick to an 8-bit style.
Just to be clear, when I say retro games I mean neo-retro e.g. Retro City Rampage / Sword & Sworcery, not actual retro games.
It’s actually interesting how its simplicity actually works in its favor, as it was just as fun when I played it again as when I did originally years ago. I mean, yeah, it’s basically a choose-your-own-adventure book in video game form, but the excellent artwork and incredible audio really help pull you in even more.
Was always curious as to why Kojima never actually ventured into the film world.
I like graphic adventures like Monkey Island, Shadowgate, etc. We need more of those games. Even text adventures like Zork Zero are amazing. Zork Zero is in fact a masterpiece that sadly a lot of people haven’t played because it makes you read. And reading is a bad word in the gaming world.
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