The Scarab is among the most poorly designed units in videogame history. It may not be as terrible as these things from Smash Bros. Brawl, or the Ongogg or whatever from the Halo series, but it’s sheer ugliness is an unsettling reminder of what can happen when designers run out of ideas and just don’t care anymore. In almost every action game since the early days of the arcade there have been basic enemy units who serve as little more than cannon fodder, and usually look stupid so that your murder instinct is activated automatically. If that was the purpose of the Scarab’s design it was a great success, but it still doesn’t make it any less crappy.
Unsurprisingly, there is a sizable number of Metal Gear fans who insist that the Dwarf Gekko is actually “cool” and “funny”, much like how there are a sizable number of Star Wars fans who insist that this guy is actually a great addition to that series. In other words: stupid fanboys who don’t understand what made the franchise great in the first place and split the fanbase into warring factions. (For those keeping score, the stupid fans have won that war.)
In the latest Metal Gear Solid: Rising trailer [here], a Dwarf Gekko makes an appearance and is introduced in this transcript as “Komeko, the three-legged mech mascot” of Metal Gear Solid 4. You’ve probably seen the trailer by now; in it, the little “mascot” spins a watermelon on its finger while Raiden cuts it, then juggles bowling pins, and finally holds up another Scarab, which gets cut in half. Then, I can only assume everyone watching shits themselves with excitement because the graphics are just so shiny. And shiny things are exciting.
But I wonder, when did the Scarab become a mascot of anything? Was the fan reaction that positive? Or maybe just copied me after I decided to make it the official mascot for MetaGearSolid.org! (If you hadn’t noticed it by now, just check out the main page’s banner). Those unoriginal bastards.
Just kidding of course. They probably thought the same thing as me though, which is that by the end of MGS4 the Dwarf Gekko had became promoted to a sort of jack-of-all-trades, good for filling whatever enemy role needed to be filled, while at the same time being cute in a JRPG way*. It manages to provide some slapstick humour, fill your screen as an enemy attack force, and even replace wall-mounted security cameras — there’s just nothing it can’t do (poorly)!
Yet before you jump to the conclusion that it was the fans who reacted so well to the Scarab, please check out the following exchange between international product manager Aki Saito and the lead designer for the Shadow Moses area, Sean Eyestone, during the eleventh “Integral Podcast”:
The discussion begins about 14 minutes into the podcast and continues for quite a while. Aki Saito says the Dwarf Gekkos are “one of the reasons” he “hates this level”, expressing the popular opinion that the unit lacks a strategically satisfying element, and is best to run past without fighting or sneaking. And he’s right. Just think about how lame that is for a stealth action game for a moment. What does it tell you about a unit’s design when the most efficient and enjoyable approach is to simply run past them blindly, ignoring their attacks and patrol routes altogether? Shouldn’t the way the game is designed force you to use your brain, challenging you to “figure out” the area before proceeding and give you some satisfaction? Unfortunately, Metal Gear Solid 4 can’t make up its mind about what kind of game it wants to be, and ends up as a shooter with really convoluted controls. The Scarab simply makes this more obvious. They even give you a Chaff Grenade before reaching the tank hanger, as if to suggest not sneaking at all.
Among Saito’s complaints is the fact that the Dwarf Gekko just “hammer” players once they get discovered, and are frustrating to fight. After enough persistent complaining during the podcast, Sean Eyestone actually admits that he thinks “everyone hates the Dwarf Gekko”. Wait… so why is this the new mascot?
Often, a spammable basic unit like the Scarab is worth some kind of “points” in order to take away the tedium of fighting endless waves of them. By collecting stuff they drop after they die (orbs, gems, coins, or whatever else depending on the game), or automatically increasing your “score” for every little kill, the player is supposed to get a sense of overall progress or accumulation, rather than just frustration and boredom, which is what would otherwise happen. And this is highly effective. The more simple-minded among us get excited by the prospect of collecting as many points as possible, trying to earn a big multiplier bonus so they can hopefully unlock something neat! In old arcade games like Gradius this may be perfect, but the Metal Gear series has always been anti-violence and anti-war, discouraging combat instead of promoting it with something as silly as a (Drebin) point system for every enemy you kill. Not here though!
Storywise, the unit is a plausible addition to the army of Liquid Ocelot, who seems to favor endless amounts of disposable soldiers under his total control to begin with. The technology is a logical exaggeration of real-world R&D projects, and is vaguely reminiscent of the flying CYPHER units from MGS2. Nevertheless, from a story perspective one wonders which of the manufacturer’s scientists insisted that it would be worth the time and effort to program them to be able to put three of these guys in a trench coat and hat, and then send looking like the most suspicious imitation of a human you’ve ever seen.
Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to climb along walls, using their small size and agility to spy using… you know, actual stealth? As “hilarious” and/or “awesome” as it is to spot one of these guys following you throughout the Eastern Europe mission, it’s plain retarded to imagine that any organization would bother to dress these things up and send them to do actual important surveillance work. But oh wait they’re the game’s mascot so it’s just super cool and wicked and hahahaha!!
One last thought about the supposed mascot status of the crappiest unit in Metal Gear history. I’d like to point out that unlike the “Slime” from Dragon Quest or the “Prinny” from Disgaea series, both of which are actually adorable, the Dwarf Gekko wasn’t introduced at the beginning of the series, and didn’t grow on players in order to become a natural, beloved icon. It’s just shoved into the game without rhyme or reason, clogging up the last half of the game like so much turd in the toilet. And now we’re apparently stuck with him.
Here is a touching tribute to their last great huzzah…
…Until Rising, that is.