Snake’s Revenge is the U.S./Europe-only NES sequel to Metal Gear, which famously not only was not created by series creator Hideo Kojima, but is reportedly is the reason he decided to make a sequel (Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake for the MSX2, which we didn’t get here until much later). As such, it occupies a strange place in the Metal Gear series, where it’s officially non-canonical. But then, so is the NES version of Metal Gear, so it kind of works out.
Snake’s Revenge is very much a case of two steps forward, two steps back from its predecessor. The game actually has much better stealth mechanics than Metal Gear. You are rewarded for hand-to-hand stealth kills with rare but invaluable ammo or ration drops, it’s much easier to determine when guards will see you, and with a few noteworthy exceptions the guard placements are generally quite fair. The consequences for being seen are also much greater, as you’ll have to fight off a squad of enemies rather than just running to the next screen. Like Metal Gear, “stealth” here means undetected kills far more often than sneaking past the guards entirely. This isn’t a modern stealth game, but your stealth skills will nonetheless be put to good use.
Snake’s Revenge improves upon Metal Gear in some other ways as well, with a much more usable interface, better graphics, and a less confusing though far more linear progression through the game. There are more interesting items and usable weapons, and all in all, Snake’s Revenge has all the pieces to be a great sequel.
Unfortunately, Snake’s Revenge is also trying to be an action game, and in that it fails spectacularly. The boss battles are largely unfair and extremely frustrating, including one in particular during a train sequence where every time you lose you’re forced to re-do the entire sequence. The similarities and differences between the tank bosses in this game and the original Metal Gear are a good example of the general differences between the games: both require land mines to defeat, but the tank in Snake’s Revenge has several ways to kill you instantly and cruelly and reset the fight.
The game also features terrible side-scrolling sections which are generally no fun at all. Even when you get a handle on the ridiculous sight mechanics (ducking is enough for guards to not notice you when looking in your direction), the guard placements in this section are often unfair and you’ll often find yourself venturing through water that is filled with unfun mechanics.
On balance, Snake’s Revenge is still a pretty fun game. It’s much more linear than its predecessor, which is good in that it allows for a very large game world without being utterly confusing, but bad in that you can miss things that will make your life much more difficult. Most of the early sections have one useful-but-not-vital item you can miss, and there’s no going back. Like Metal Gear, Snake’s Revenge gives you a password only upon a final game over, so if you do miss one of these items there’s a good chance it will cost you a good chunk of gameplay to go back to it.
Snake’s Revenge doesn’t play like the eventual Metal Gear Solid series, but it nonetheless feels like a logical progression from Metal Gear. The action sequences are poorly considered, but the game mostly works. If you want more old-school Metal Gear, well, you should probably pick up an MSX port of the original games. But after that, try Snake’s Revenge. It’s decent!