"Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater" is easily my favorite of the series, so when word came last year that a port would be making its way to the 3DS, I was pretty excited. The game was actually demoed at the E3 2010 Nintendo 3DS premiere, and it looked great. But, at that time, it wasn't much more than an interactive video, letting you rotate the camera around Snake without giving you any direct control. I played the latest demo for the game this week, which contained actual, honest-to-goodness gameplay, and I came away with some concerns.
The problems rest squarely on the controls. The graphics look pretty much on-par with how the game looked on PS2, and all the features have made the transition (in addition to some 3DS-specific ones), but the controls are a serious concern.
Like Native Americans hunting the buffalo, Kojima used every bit of the PS2 controller when designing "Snake Eater." Every button and analog stick has a purpose, and some of them actually served double duty, depending on which triggers you were holding down.
The problem is that the 3DS has considerably fewer buttons than the PS2 controller. By my count, it's one analog stick and two triggers shy of the Dual Shock.
THE 3DS CONTROL LAYOUT
On the 3DS, the four face buttons take on the role of the right analog stick, handling all camera controls. The left analog moves Snake around and the d-pad lets you change Snake's stance, going from prone to standing depending on how long you hold it. The left trigger lets Snake aim, while the right trigger fires his gun. If you're not aiming, the right trigger activates CQC which lets you take enemies hostage. Once an enemy is in your control, different taps of the right trigger can knock an enemy unconscious or kill them outright.
It's games like this where the lack of a second analog stick on the 3DS is particularly noticeable. Trying to line up a shot using buttons instead of an analog stick just feels strange. That's not to mention the unintuitive use of the d-pad and the ridiculous, branching control inputs dedicated to the right trigger.
In its current state, the demo was pretty limited on touch controls, keeping things to just changing inventory items and seeing the mini-map. I'm hoping that some of the more important controls, like the CQC grab, will be added to that lower screen to make things a bit easier to understand. But, even then, it's clear that "Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D" feels a bit shoe-horned onto the platform.
Later this year, Konami is remastering "Snake Eater" for Xbox 360 and PS3 as part of the "Metal Gear Solid HD Collection." Based on my playtime with the game on 3DS, it's seeming like the console version might be the safer bet if you're looking to get the best possible "MGS" experience. I'm hoping there are improvements in store for the handheld version, but right now it feels like the runt of the litter.