Mega CD Cover['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles Konami’s cyberpunk adventure: Snatcher]

Junked

Snatcher is a game that many people know, yet few have played. And if you haven’t played it yet, I don't know that I can change your mind with only a short column even though I will try. One doesn't quite play this game so much as just progress its story. But though its gameplay is lacking, Snatcher makes up for it in just about every other possible way.

The only English-language version was released in late 1994 for the Sega/Mega CD, although many versions of the game were released over three generations of Japanese consoles. The game takes full advantage of the CD format; programming tricks increase the number of colors the Genesis can display on screen, and the extensive voice acting is enjoyable and well produced. While not a commercial success (mainly due to Sega's mishandling of the Sega/Mega CD), it developed an enormous cult following and is highly sought after to this day.

Neo Kobe CityNeo Kobe Pizza

Gillian Seed has recently been assigned to the Anti-Snatcher task force where he will be a Junker eliminating snatchers—artificial life-forms who take the skin of humans and wear it. Both Gillian and his wife have amnesia (which doesn't come off as cheesy as it sounds) and are separated as they try to regain their memories. They make their new homes in Neo Kobe Japan, a city both skeptical and scared of the snatcher invasion which has been leaked by the press. The scene is set for a sci-fi detective story.

While Snatcher is usually touted as being based on Blade Runner, anyone who has read Philip K. Dick's sci-fi novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the inspiration for the film), knows that Kojima was also familiar with it. As both the writer and director of the game, a young Hideo Kojima shows his affinities for film and literature, even as he masterfully presents a piece of media that could only be accomplished as a videogame.

Snatcher is basically a menu-based adventure game; even the navigation goes through menus. Occasionally, you will get a shooting-gallery-esque section where you are to aim and shoot on a grid. The Konami light gun—The Justifier—can be used at these sections (though I can't imagine how it would be possible). Above the menus, you see your location from Gillian's perspective. "Looking" and "Investigating" will become your friends as you throw away logically looking in strategic locations and just search and look at everything a couple times before moving on.

Console The Tears Romantic Cyberpunk

I don't mean to sound negative about the game, just its mechanics. The story is engaging and masterfully told. The characters in the game all feel like more than just two-dimensional caricatures of real people. The relationship between Gillian Seed and his wife is truly touching. Because of the intimate and personal nature of their conversations, I always felt the need to return to the privacy of Gillian's apartment when calling her, even though I could have been anywhere. And just like in his most famous series (Metal Gear Solid), Kojima constantly reminds you that you are playing a game.

I hesitate to give concrete examples for fear of spoiling the parts that make this game so exceptional, but the game twists your perceptions with questions in a conversation tree, with options in the menus, and even by using your TV against you. Snatcher creates some of the most original and memorable videogame moments I have ever witnessed.

Looking above, I realize there is too much to say about the game and all its little touches. Touches like the name of Gillian's mechanical assistant "Metal Gear Mk2," the little homages to Konami games like Goemon and Castlevania, the visual jokes and puns, and personal memos from Konami staff and Kojima himself. All these things are just a small part of the whole—even combined with the clunky controls—that make this one of the best stories told in a game ever. On October 27, 2005, Konami renewed the Snatcher trademark, and although all it means is that US law requires the renewal every five years, at least we know that they have not forgotten the series.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]