Games time forgot: Metal Gear: Ghost Babel

I briefly talked about it on this week’s RetroforceGO!, but it bears repeating: Metal Gear Solid for the Game Boy Color, originally known as Metal Gear: Ghost Babel, is probably the best Metal Gear title nobody’s heard of.

You’d assume that since it’s on the Game Boy Color, it’d have really ugly graphics. Given the reasonably old handheld it’s on, you’d assume that it’d be plagued by the same sort of irritatingly arbitrary enemy AI of the first and second Metal Gear games. You’d assume the non-canon story would make the game a pointless waste of time.

You’d be wrong on all three counts. Hit the jump to see why.


That, basically. That video right there is as non-spoilerish a story summary as you’re likely to get, given the nature of the Metal Gear games.

Basically, the story is par for the course where the Metal Gear series is concerned — which is to say, a group of terrorists steal a Metal Gear in an effort to become a powerful worldwide army and Snake is brought out of retirement to stop them. Only the names of the bad guys separate the initial scenario of any given Metal Gear game from another.

After landing in Outer Heaven — I mean, Zanzibar Land — I mean, Shadow Moses — I mean, Galuade, Snake teams up with Holly — I mean, Meryl — I mean, Christine and Dr. Marv — I mean, Otacon — I mean, Jimmy the Wizard to destroy Metal Gear and uncover a massive US-backed conspiracy — I mean, destroy Metal Gear and uncover a massive US-backed conspiracy.

Ghost Babel differs mainly from the other titles in that none of it is actually canon. Not unlike Snake’s Revenge, Ghost Babel functions as an alternate sequel to the first Metal Gear, as a parallel universe version of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake.

In an odd way, that’s what makes Ghost Babel really stand out: the Metal Gear games are primarily appreciated for their epic, sprawling storylines, yet Ghost Babel‘s is more or less irrelevant to the overall series and the game still remains surprisingly enjoyable.


Ghost Babel borrows some mechanics from both the original Metal Gear games, and the more technologically advanced Solid titles. As a result, Ghost Babel works as a neat sort of hybrid which successfully bridges the two series in gameplay terms, if not narrative ones.

The bad guys don’t have big, blue cones of vision, but their impossibly difficult AI has been significantly scaled down from the original MSX titles. I can’t get more than a half hour into the original Metal Gear, but I beat Ghost Babel within a few weeks; it’s difficult, but fair (and is nicely divided up into stages, to make it easier for occasional play). Enemies won’t magically see you through boxes after a minute of standing around, and the security cameras have a well-defined field of vision.

Many of Snake’s gadgets and weapons from Metal Gear Solid are back, along with some familiar faces including Colonel Campbell and Mei Ling. The sexy-as-hell 2D graphics have the fluidity of a PSOne game mixed with the NES’s color palette and pixel count.

In a way, Ghost Babel manages to take all the good stuff from the original Metal Gear titles, while replacing all the bad stuff with MGS mechanics and ideas. The boss fights are wonderfully different from one another , the story is reasonably engaging considering one of the bosses is actually named “Marionette Owl,” and the stealth gameplay works better than you’d expect it to on a handheld.

Actually, Ghost Babel includes two moments that, in my mind, actually outdo the Metal Gear Solid games in some respects. Firstly, the final confrontation against Metal Gear (viewable below), where the player must run from the stomping behemoth and trick it into stepping on land mines before attacking it directly with grenades, may actually be my favorite fight against the actual Metal Gear robot in the series’ history. Where the boss strategy at the end of the first Metal Gear Solid title could be easily summarized as “shoot a bunch of stinger missiles at that big robot,” Ghost Babel‘s fight against the bipedal nuclear tank actually consists of several stages.

Secondly, there’s a bit at the end of Metal Gear Solid where Liquid tells Snake that he only signed up for the mission because “you enjoy all the killing.” Snake grunts, “WHAT?!,” as he tends to do, and then the conversation continues without Liquid really pointing out any concrete evidence behind his assertion. In Ghost Babel, however, the main bad guy has roughly the same argument with Snake…except he’s got some numbers to back it up. After condemning Snake for his bloodlust, the villain actually tells Snake exactly how many enemy soldiers he’s killed throughout the course of the game; generally speaking, this tends to hover around at least 50 people, and it really makes Snake (and the player) consider the bad guy’s point. The entire scene functions as a cool sort of precursor to the boss fight with The Sorrow in MGS3, where the player has to manuever around the ghosts of every soldier he’s killed.

I thought it was cool.

Why you’re probably not playing it:

For starters, the English localization team stupidly decided to call it Metal Gear Solid rather than Metal Gear: Ghost Babel. As a result, I’m sure many American consumers figured the game to be a low-fi remake or port of the PSOne classic rather than a standalone game in its own right.

Secondly, it is on the Game Boy Color. I know a lot of people bought a GBC (I still have mine right next to my Game Boy Camera), but that little handheld exists in the period after true relevance, but before nostalgia. If you’ve got one, great; if you don’t have one, you’re probably not rushing out to find one on eBay.

Should you check out Ghost Babel? If you really love the gameplay behind the Metal Gear series, I can’t recommend it enough. If you’re more into the storylines and don’t really care about the gameplay, it might be worth taking a look if only out of curiosity. It’s absurdly easy to NOT emulate, all things considered, and maybe one day it’ll hit the Virtual Console.

Anthony Burch