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Patrick Hope: Snatcher a spectacular game for lackluster Sega CD system

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Patrick Hope: Snatcher a spectacular game for lackluster Sega CD system
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

The Sega CD has an absolutely terrible reputation among gamers. There is a reason for this. Most of its games are extremely bad.

Sega decided to double down on full-motion video (FMV) games, which were like interactive movies, and produced what seems like a metric ton of them for the system. Pair this with filling out the library with ports of Genesis games and there wasn’t a whole lot to get excited about for the system.

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There are really about 10 great original Sega CD games, with about a third of those being Working Designs titles that I talked about a few weeks ago and another being an obligatory Sonic game.

But the crown jewel of a largely lackluster library may be a title released to almost no acclaim and created by a then-unknown producer.

That game is Snatcher.

Snatcher was developed and published by Konami, and was the brainchild of Hideo Kojima, who went on to ascend to gaming god-hood by creating Metal Gear Solid. Like the original Metal Gear, Snatcher was originally created for the Japanese MSX 2 computer all the way back in the late 1980s and was ported onto a bunch of systems like the PC Engine, also known as the Turbografx 16 in America, and the Sega CD system.

Originally marketed as a “virtual comic,” Snatcher fits into the spot somewhere between what would be considered adventures games and the genre that has become known as visual novels. While you have to solve puzzles and occasionally get involved in shooting sequences — Snatcher supports the Genesis Justifier light gun peripheral — the real money is in the game’s narrative.

Like you would expect from a Kojima game, Snatcher tells a very complicated and compelling story. In the game’s universe, an explosion in Moscow in 1996 called The Catastrophe released a biological weapon that killed half of the world’s population and predictably permanently altered the geopolitical landscape.

Snatcher is set 50 years later in the city of Neo Kobe, which has been dealing with the problem of extremely human-looking robots that have been kidnapping VIPs, killing them and taking their places in society, hence their nicknames being “Snatchers.” No one knows what the Snatchers are up to, but everyone is very scared of them.

You play as Gillian (with a hard “g”) Seed, an amnesiac and one of the few members of the elite anti-Snatcher police force known as the Junkers. Along with your robot buddy, Metal Gear, who looks exactly like the Metal Gear Mark II that Otacon gives Snake in Metal Gear Solid 4, you have to figure out what’s going on and stop the Snatchers.

Kojima, who has been credited as one of the first game designers to really start blurring the line between games and movies, definitely took inspiration from classics like Blade Runner and Terminator in creating the game’s story and world, with murderous robots in a cyberpunk dystopia.

There are black markets, sleazy nightclubs and abandoned ruins of the late 20th century everywhere. Gillian is a hard-boiled detective right out of a futuristic Dashiell Hammett novel with Metal Gear being a wisecracking foil of a sidekick. The two of them encounter a diverse, well-developed cast, including the brilliant but alcoholic engineer Harry Benson, the eccentric informant Napoleon, the popular model Katrina Gibson and Gillian’s estranged and amnesiac wife, Jamie.

It’s a very diverse cast that feels right at home in the world.

But a great setting, story and cast can only go so far as the writing takes them, which may be where Snatcher excels the most. Thanks to a great localization and voicework, which I guess is a running theme with the few stellar Sega CD games, everything in Snatcher comes alive. The main story keeps you wanting more, all the way to the big ending, which includes probably the most satisfying amnesia reveal ever.

The characters all come alive and there are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments, such as Gillian’s awkward encounter with the operator of “Loveline” and much of the banter between Gillian and Metal Gear. There are even references to other video games, like the nightclub named Outer Heaven, which is populated by people dressed as Konami characters like Simon Belmont and the guys from Contra.

This is juxtaposed with a plot which, like you would expect from Kojima, deals with some pretty heavy issues and does so quite well.

Sadly, Snatcher performed poorly in sales. In an interview conducted years later with the website Junker HQ, localization director Jeremy Blaustein said Snatcher — being released late on a failing system to almost no fanfare — only sold a few thousand units. This low run and the fact that it hasn’t been re-released at any point since 1994 have made it one of the most-sought after and most expensive games on the Sega CD, with even a disc-only copy usually costing at least $200.

Pair that with a game that isn’t the most interactive in the world and has some pretty intense violence — how it got a Teen rating, I will never know — and Snatcher is not for everyone.

But if you’re willing to pony up and want an incredible story, there are few better experiences out there.

Patrick Hope is an attorney in Dickinson, N.D., and a video game columnist for The Dickinson Press. He writes about video games of all genres, from the first systems to the latest in technology. Email him at patrick.d.hope@gmail.com.

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