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Impossible Mission (DS) artwork

Impossible Mission (DS) review

"Back in the early eighties on the Commodore 64, Impossible Mission was a well named game. Aside from the obvious reference to a popular espionage series, the game's difficulty lived up to the title. You were a secret agent infiltrating an evil genius' stronghold, hoping to capture him before he could launch a nuclear missile. To accomplish this, you explored the rooms of his hideout, searching assorted furniture for puzzle pieces that you then had to combine to find a password. "

Back in the early eighties on the Commodore 64, Impossible Mission was a well named game. Aside from the obvious reference to a popular espionage series, the game's difficulty lived up to the title. You were a secret agent infiltrating an evil genius' stronghold, hoping to capture him before he could launch a nuclear missile. To accomplish this, you explored the rooms of his hideout, searching assorted furniture for puzzle pieces that you then had to combine to find a password.

Each room was however guarded by robots that were deadly to the touch and could also shoot a short range burst of electricity. Robot behavior differed; some were slow, some fast, some stood still. Some came charging at you when they saw you, others shot on sight or according to a timed pattern. Some walked a fixed patrol, others suddenly changed their behavior when you came close enough. Learning their behavior and avoiding them while searching for puzzle pieces was the meat of the game. Many rooms also featured bottomless pits to be avoided, and occasionally a floating ball-shaped sentinel tracking you down. Each death to any of these hazards meant a 10 minute penalty to your time, and you were on a strict six hour time limit.

23 years after the original game comes the DS version, containing both a full remake of the game and an "original" mode which looks, sounds and feels just like it did on the Commodore, although it's not entirely true to the original. Overall, although the game is still not a cakewalk, it is significantly easier to win than it used to be.

Playing the remake, the first thing that's immediately obvious is the overhauled graphics, and a choice of 3 characters (purely cosmetic, but if you want to play a female agent or even a cyborg, now you can). The original game's 6 hour time limit has been expanded to 8. The room layouts are the same as before, but have had a major graphical overhaul. In the original, they looked empty except for the robots and the furniture to be searched, with a plain background in green, yellow or blue; now the rooms are packed with machinery and detailed backgrounds, making them feel much more alive and successfully conveying the sense of an evil genius' lab straight out of an espionage movie. The downside, however, is that the rooms have become so cluttered that it's become harder to see just what you're supposed to search, and at times even the robots are hard to see. Several times I ran into one that I completely overlooked.

In addition to the looser time limit, the game has been made easier in other ways. As in the original, which room is where in the hideout is randomized, as is where the puzzle pieces you need to collect are hidden. In the original, however, robot AI was random too - a robot that randomly patrolled in one game might suddenly chase you or shoot at you when you come near in another game. Here, a specific robot acts the same from game to game and thus you can learn their behavior and the "right way" to clear a room with experience. Search time for furniture has also been cut, so that you can often quickly check out a desk or a bookcase while the patrolling robot is off in the distance. In the original, fancy jumping and luring robots away was necessary because you rarely had enough time to search a room undisturbed. It still happens sometimes, but not nearly as often.

Some issues the original game had have been addressed here - the ingame map now marks rooms you have fully explored so that you can easily see if you missed anything. Downright bugs such as getting killed because a robot on the other side of the room fired a shot into the wall, or not being able to jump over certain robots because a low hanging ceiling messed up your jump (it wasn't supposed to) have been fixed. Also, a saving option has been added, vital for any handheld game as far as I'm concerned.

A new bug was introduced, however. In the hideout are two optional rooms where an aural/memorization puzzle can be solved to obtain special passwords that can be used to make exploring a little easier (for instance, by temporarily disabling the robots in a room). The puzzle involves clicking a number of icons, each of which produces a musical tone, in the correct order from lowest to highest. Unfortunately something went dreadfully wrong with the audio here and some tones are inaudible, or plain offkey, and what sounds like the correct order is often rejected in favor of something that does not sound right at all. Thankfully, the passwords that can be won here can also be found while exploring the rooms regularly so this is not game breaking.

Apart from this issue, and a few small issues with the touch screen (used for assembling the password from puzzle pieces found) where your stylus taps are rarely not recognized until you close the menu and reopen it, this is a smooth remake, albeit a lot easier to complete than the original. If you crave it, something almost entirely like the original version is available too. By choosing "original" when starting a new game, you get a graphically accurate port of the 1984 game, including the original sound effects and synthesized voices. It's even back to the original 6 hour time limit, but the improvements in the game's map, the fixing of the original's bugs, the non-random robot AI and the quicker search times are all still there, so even this version is a lot easier than it was in the eighties. In fact, since the original does not share the bug with the audio puzzles and the cluttered look of the new rooms, it may in fact be easier to complete than the remake. The only real nag here is that if you do win, you get an animated victory sequence that was added for the remake - the original victory screen was not included.

All in all, this version of Impossible Mission is faithful enough to the original to draw in the nostalgic crowd, and accessible enough to be playable by somebody who was not reared on its original fiendish difficulty. On the other hand, without that challenge, the game goes stale more quickly than you'd like. After a couple of hours with it, I finished both modes with plenty of time to spare, even though I never beat the original (and still can't). Games from its era got their replay value from needing lots and lots of retries to finally win it. Without that, Impossible Mission is simply over too quickly. I'd only really recommend this for nostalgic purposes - if you grew up on this game as well you'll probably like being able to take it on the road. I know I do. But even then, as authentic as it looks, it's just not the game it once was.

Rating: 6/10

sashanan's avatar
Community review by sashanan (November 07, 2007)

Sashanan doesn't drink coffee; he takes tea, my dear. And sometimes writes reviews. His roots lie with the Commodore 64 he grew up with, and his gaming remains fragmented among the very old, the somewhat old, and rarely the new.

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