Metal Gear Solid Mobile

Metal Gear Solid Mobile - Mobile Phones (2008)

This entry is part 20 of 20 in the series Metal Gear

Even in a series as prolific as Metal Gear, it is not immune to missing or lost releases, and there are blind spots in the series that many don’t know about or haven’t heard of. Metal Gear Solid Mobile is one such game. It is a ‘lost’ game in the series, released solely on mobile platforms & not widely publicized. It’s also unique in how advanced it was for a mobile game at the time. MGS Mobile reaches toward the level of the console games, despite a smaller screen & keypad controls, and it gets might close that lofty aim.

Announced at an event to mark the series’ 20th anniversary, MGS Mobile came at an exciting time, with MGS4 & Metal Gear Online on the horizon. The game was supervised by the folks at Kojima Productions, and development was handled by Ideaworks Game Studio. The London-based studio had a history of porting games to the original N-Gage, like Tomb Raider and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, making them a natural fit for a game targeting similar specs. Initially released in Japan on services like i-mode in early 2008, it made its way to North America, first on Verzion phones, and later in the same year for the N-Gage service, Nokia’s attempt at turning their taco-based console into a wider software platform for mobile devices.

In the time between MGS1 & MGS2, Snake & Otacon find out about the development of a new Metal Gear, thanks to Revolver Ocelot leaking the plans for REX. Snake infiltrates an unnamed facility with the mission of stopping its development. He contacts Victoria Reed, a programmer working on the project, who fears her work will be used for war and violence. While there, terrorists infiltrate the facility, lead by the mysterious Commander. All is not what it seems, as Snake is drawn toward Metal Gear once more. The narrative is predictable & it doesn’t make any big swings, but unlike some other mobile titles, it feels appropriate to the series. Much of the story takes place in codec sequences, with no voice acting and minimal cutscenes used.

Just looking at screenshots of the game will remind players of the PS1 original, though at a much lower resolution, and that’s what’s roughly delivered in the play department. Snake sneaks around, hangs from edges, aims from the first person, hides in lockers & under tables, and make noise to distract guards. He can only move in four directions and sidling walls doesn’t require holding a button – necessary choices, given the keypad controls on flip phones. It does create some annoyances, like when Snake affixes to a wall in the excitement of an alert phase. Taking from MGS3, Mobile allows players to use their phone’s camera to change the color of Snake’s suit to whatever it’s pointed at. The same concept would be reused in the 3DS port of Snake Eater. If the phone doesn’t have one, Snake can point at things in the game world. Another camera based puzzle involves moving a cursor up and down to hack frequencies with the codec.

Mobile‘s a well-rounded package, despite the platforms it was on. The main mission itself is brief and easy, maybe taking about an hour or two. VR missions are included, functioning as tutorials just like the PS1 original. However, the short playtime makes it easily replayable, and the N-Gage service, at least, integrated achievements and leaderboards, creating incentives to speed run the game or do a pacifist playthrough. Blue bug-like icons, or ‘base anomalies’ as the achievements page puts them, are hidden on walls and floors, and snapping a picture of them with the in-game camera collects them.

What Metal Gear Solid Mobile lacks in production values and polish, it makes up for in authenticity and effort. It does a lot with a little – feeling like a Snake Tale from MGS2: Substance or DLC for the PS1 game, if such a thing existed – so it’s a shame that it got stuck on phone platforms no longer in service. Hideo Kojima lamented the lack of preservation for video games, in a tweet during the summer of 2022. One has to wonder if he was thinking of this game, among others.

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