Inside ‘Snatcher’, Hideo Kojima’s Cyberpunk Masterpiece
Of all the adventures of its ilk, of its era, it’s the one that stands up as a classic today.
Hideo Kojima. You know him: Creator of skin-breathing assassins, chicken hats, and cutscenes that last an entire afternoon. You know him, now—but do you know him before he really made his name with Metal Gear Solid?
Kojima's credits outside of all things Metal Gear are few and far between, but some are genuinely remarkable. And Snatcher, first released back in 1988, is one such game—and one that is painfully unavailable for contemporary systems, despite it holding up both visually and narratively as a pastiche-filled, lovingly fourth-wall-breaking graphic adventure.
That original release was for the MSX2 and PC-8801, and limited to Japan only. It was updated for the PC Engine in 1992, adding an extra, third chapter to its Blade Runner and Invasion of the Body Snatchers-influenced story.
And it's this expanded version, with enhanced graphics and occasional voice acting, that was translated for the game's sole English-language port, released in 1994 for the Sega CD—that's the Mega CD for everyone outside of North America (like me, hi).
But as a relatively late release for Sega's outgoing 16-bit peripheral, it ultimately sold in handfuls, pumping the price of used copies today up to eye-watering amounts.
I played it on Mega CD, in the mid-'90s, borrowed from a friend's brother. But even though I've never personally owned the game, my time with it, two complete playthroughs, left a significant impression.
Enough that whenever I think about games that are missing from the here and now, this is the one I always land on. Because I genuinely don't think it's dated like so many of its platform peers, or other cyberpunk-ish adventures of its era.
I mean, does anyone want to play Burn:Cycle in 2017? Hell no. But a Kojima-directed affair in which you're an amnesiac special agent, charged with weeding out robotic imposters, the "snatchers" of the title, within the population of Neo Kobe City? A game that's funny, silly, dramatic, gory, and never once loses sight of its own status as a video game, explicitly acknowledging that it is being played? Hell yes.
Kojima's talked before about bringing Snatcher back, for a sequel. But calls on what happens with the game aren't his to make nowadays.
Of course, you can play the game in English today—emulation frequently finds a way with older games, although we couldn't possibly condone uncertified avenues of investigation. And if you speak Japanese, Saturn and PlayStation versions are available, and inexpensive. But those Sega copies? The only proper English release out there? You're going to need a much bigger wallet.
And of course, as great as Snatcher is—and it really, really is—it's not worth what market forces have declared its value to be, i.e. way north of £200 for a decent-condition copy. (And I've seen some listings for well over £300, which is just, what.)
The game is a curious but coherent merging of point-and-click environmental analysis, semi-open-world exploration, visual novel-like passages of prolonged conversation, and first-person shooting. Its cast is an appealing mix of strong female informers and allies and ostensibly good guys who aren't all they appear to be.
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The protagonist, Gillian Seed, is an oddly adorable new recruit of "JUNKER," an anti-Snatcher task force. He kind of creeps on an array of women, but seeing his approaches get shot down never gets tired. His sidekick, "Metal Gear Mark II," is a video phone on legs, and would reappear, redesigned slightly, in Metal Gear Solid 4—Kojima laying aesthetic roots here for what would come much, much later in his career.
And Kojima's talked before about bringing Snatcher back, for a sequel—in 2011, he said that such a game would have to sell over half a million copies to be worthwhile, a figure far north of what the original sold. He added, though, that while he was too busy to spearhead such a project, he'd welcome another director taking the helm.
Of course, calls on what happens with Snatcher aren't Kojima's to make nowadays—the game is the property of Konami, who to date have expressed no public interest in reviving it, either as a rerelease, which would work for me (on the Switch, just imagine), or something more obviously sequel-shaped. (Or even prequel-shaped, given the existence already of Sdatcher as a radio play.)
But as its cult appeal continues to grow, and those Sega copies remain unaffordable, people like me will continue to ask about Snatcher, to wonder what could be. And you never know—someone might just be listening where it matters.
Send Mike the money to buy a Mega-CD copy of this sucker by contacting him via Twitter. Joking/not joking. (Joking).