As one of the games recently announced at Nintendo’s pre-Tokyo Games Show press conference to be supporting the new additional circle pad cradle, one of the most important tests any preview could show was whether Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D would really benefit from it.
Cordoned off in a special 15 years+ area along with Driver: Renegade 3D and Resident Evil Revelations, the demo saw Snake sneaking around the opening area of the game in the Russian jungle, wading through swamps, taking down enemy soldiers, and wrestling with unsuspecting alligators (though I only managed to get tail-slapped in the face multiple times).
I’m not going to lie– the controls were extremely difficult to get the hang of in the first few minutes of the game, although it perhaps didn’t help that I came to the demo mid-action with Snake being shot at on all sides after another expo-goer had abruptly abandoned the console and left. I was stuck crawling around on the floor, completely baffled by how to get up, run away and take cover until a soldier finally put me out of my misery. As I waited to be taken back to a checkpoint and my initial panic and frustration subsided, the loading screen thankfully gave a handy run-down of the controls. Once I had taken in those instructions, it all became a lot simpler and a lot more natural.
Players have to cleverly use the gyroscope to make sure Snake doesn’t fall off the bridge.
But does Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D need the cradle? Yes and no.
Using the a-b-x-y buttons to manoveure the camera wasn’t actually as bad as you might have heard. Perhaps the copious amount of hours I’ve sunk into Xenoblade Chronicles without using a classic controller have softened the blow of not having another circle pad available, but I had absolutely no problem using 3DS’s face buttons (essentially the same as the Wii Remote’s d-pad) to move the camera around. It felt comfortable and didn’t hinder my gameplay experience in the slightest. It might not ultimately be as smooth or as graceful, but this will come as good news to anyone still wary about the affectionately dubbed “frankenstick”.
However, this relief was somewhat short-lived. Instead of the camera being the prime nuisance this time round, it was the d-pad. The d-pad has the mammoth task of controlling crouching, crawling and standing as well as weapon and item toggling, but the real problem lies in its unfortunate positioning just below the circle pad.
Aiming with L and firing with R was just fine, and I can definitely live with moving the camera around with the face buttons, but when you want to come out of crouching and start running again, your thumb essentially has to be in two places at once. It was very stop-start, and this is not something you want to be dealing with when you’re in a tight spot and need to react quickly and efficiently. The touch-screen did alleviate some of the weapon/item toggling issues, but it’s a shame that Snake’s overall movement feels so hampered by this setup.
Slow and steady often does win the race, but it’s no use when you’ve made one too many errors and are desperately trying to duck for cover.
And it’s in this context where the additional circle pad would possibly be a very welcome blessing (as much as I hate to admit it), provided they actually assign the d-pad controls back to the face buttons where they would normally be on a home console. There’s currently no news on whether that will be the case (if not, then I don’t think the cradle will make the slightest bit of difference), but it would make considerably more sense as well as potentially enhance the playing experience if they did.
Either way, the issues I had with the d-pad (and by extension the widely reported problems with the camera) hammered home a real wake-up call that 3DS’s current form simply isn’t built for porting home console games with such complex control systems, and it was clearly straining under the weight of this burden (and I haven’t even mentioned the slightly dodgy frame-rate during cut-scenes). I never thought I’d say that 3DS was substantially lacking in power, but Snake Eater 3D seems to be almost pushing the boundaries a little too far.
It was sad to see the frame-rate constantly struggling to keep up with the cut-scene.
It was certainly one of the best looking 3DS games on show (although I think the “best graphics” crown must go to Resident Evil Revelations), but this demo also lacked the polish and shine that you would expect from a Metal Gear Solid title. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy playing it though– I appreciate that porting a game of this magnitude must be no mean feat, but it’s clear that there’s still some kinks that need to be ironed out.
The 3D, on the other hand, was certainly a welcome addition, adding an appreciated sense of depth to Snake’s lush environments. One thing that did bother me though was how the 3D automatically turned itself off sometimes when I was crawling on the floor and the first person perspective was too close to the ground in front of me. It didn’t cause too much of an issue, but it was a little disorientating at first.
At the end of the day though, I’m someone who already has access to copy of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater for PlayStation 2 (but hasn’t played it yet). As such, this demo experience was more or less make or break for me– do I shell out for this game again on 3DS or do I just haul out my PS2 and initiate a temporary defection? For me, I think I’d be more inclined to give Snake Eater 3D a miss in favour of the original PS2 version if I was desperate to play it, but at the same time I’d probably also be willing to put up with the potential hand-cramping and discomfort if Snake Eater 3D‘s price dropped enough to make it worthwhile.