Snatcher – “Childish Fiction”

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Back in the 80’s, games couldn’t stand further from cinema; while film had already achieved its pinnacle as an art form, the state of the art for the video-game realm was embodied in the likes of Miyamoto’s “Legend of Zelda” or “Super Mario Bros.”. Good games not withstanding, these works were meant for young kids and teenagers, their cultural and artistic value being relatively small, if at all existent. It was then expected that video-game developers would turn, sooner or later, to cinema as a way of finding inspiration for video-games. The first steps in that direction were given in the late 80’s; amongst those early visionaries was Hideo Kojima.

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“Metal Gear” (1987) was Kojima’s first video-game, an ode to Hollywood pop references of  the 80’s, with “Rambo” serving as a major inspiration, but also borrowing elements from “Escape from New York” or “Terminator”. “Snatcher” was its followup, but then, Kojima chose to pay an hômage to one of the greatest movies of all times – “Blade Runner“. It’s impossible not to think  too much about it, as every element in “Snatcher” seems to derive at some level, from Ridley Scott’s masterpiece: from the dark cyber-punk depiction of the future, to the ever-looming menace of a race of killer cyborgs (though in “Snatcher” they resemble more closely Cameron’s “Terminators” than the actual replicants), down to main characters’ personalities and visual characterization.

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As an unofficial interactive translation to “Blade Runner”, “Snatcher” is a success. The player embarks on a noir mystery, searching for clues regarding the main character’s past, while simultaneously hunting down killer robots that mask themselves as humans. Despite the game being incredibly linear, there seems to have been a great effort in making players feel like a true Private Investigator, by making them solve clever criminal puzzles, through the discovery of each piece of evidence and its consequent interpretation. And though, in essence, the game plays like a simple text adventure game, it makes excellent use of its sparse aesthetic elements, using simple animations as a form of emulating film, and upping the tempo with well placed sound effects and music, which can heighten the sense of discovery of a particular clue or anticipate a nearby plot-twist. There are also a few  shooting sequences to punctuate the investigation; these add a much needed surprise factor to whenever a cyborg is found, further enhancing tension while the player is investigating clues.

It is obvious that “Snatcher” goes as far as the medium could go at the time it was designed. Kojima creates his own devious world filled with his trademark post modern humor, and all these little references to Hollywood cinematography, but he never ceases to impregnate it with a consistency and level of detail that simply doesn’t exist in most games today, let alone those from twenty years ago. He also does a thorough background search on the scientific, social and political themes that he then molds and solidifies into an arresting thriller, filled with intrigue and drama. Like all of Kojima’s games, “Snatcher” elevates the writing quality of the means, in a search for the narrative depth that we grew accustomed to in cinema.

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And yet, one can only get a bitter taste when Kojima so often invites a comparison between his video-games and the 7th art; a comparison to which all his games fall on the short end of. “Snatcher’s” aesthetic, while clearly inspired by the noir-ish ambiance of the movie, features warm color palettes [more prevalent in the later versions than in the less detailed, yet more consistent, MSX original] and an upbeat electro-jazz soundtrack, which clash severely with the gloomy dystopian mood. Kojima’s writing, though light-years ahead of his peers, is polluted with Anime tropes and immature sexual jokes that can only be seen as childish, especially when compared to the somber nature of “Blade Runner’s” drama. Not to mention that the most important story layer of “Blade Runner” – Philip K. Dick’s own existential dilemmas – is completely absent from the video-game; in exchange, we get a story about an egomaniacal soviet scientist who wants to take over the world. In film, we get a powerful existentialist science fiction drama, but in the video-game version, we get a Saturday morning Japanese cartoon… sadly, it’s the story of our means.

score: 4/5

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  • Comments (2)
  1. Nice review: but Snatcher comes with a very high price tag to someone who is playing the game for the first time more than a decade after its release.

    Kojima’s game design philosophy is quite unique. Although I do not approve the corporate trap he led himself into with the MGS sequels, he has always made intelligent videogames with great commercial appeal. He’s also very good at achieving that balance in my opinion.

    But what I disagree with the most is your mention to the original MSX palette, whose lack of vivid tones is but a deficiency of the system and not a choice per se. See how the PC Engine (SEGA CD) version tends to abandon the initial anime drawing style and color scheme towards a much more uniform picture. Snatcher, unlike Dreamweb or Shadowrun, does not attempt to accurately emulate the aesthetics of Scott’s Los Angeles.

    See this comparison.


    Personally I enjoy the MSX version just as much, but I can’t agree with your claim.

    Cheers Sensei!

    • ruicraveirinha
    • May 28th, 2009

    Thanks for the compliments, as always, it’s great to have you comment on my silly reviews.

    Yes, the palette of the original MSX is surely a consequence of its limitations, even though the choices that came with those limitations were not. And I can agree that Kojima’s team probably never intended to replicate “Blade Runner” on an aesthetic level; though you must admit, that there are constant architectural and aesthetic references to it. But all that’s besides the point.

    “Snatcher’s” world is dark and gloomy, filled with corruption and amorality and is, in many ways, dystopian. We can agree that a logical visual translation to that world should focus on those feelings and ideas. The MSX version has a strong, consistent prevalence of blue-ish tones and dark, muted palettes. In the end, I simply feel that those better represent the world of “Snatcher” than the higher quality, yet more colorful Anime aesthetic of later versions. Whether that cohesiveness of the original’s dark palettes came by accident, or simple limitation of its medium is indifferent. What matters to me is the end result, and not what causes lead to it. I understand you’d prefer the following versions (that show extensive care, nonetheless), but the original simply strikes me as more emotionally oriented and consistent with the ideas of the game.

    Thanks for the remarks, Sensei!!! Cheers!

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