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Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode (NES) artwork

Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode (NES) review

"It's only fair that a relatively obscure anime spawn a relatively obscure game. For the clueless, Golgo 13 is a Japanese comic book character who eventually starred in live-action and animated features. Duke Togo, the main character, generally going by his codename Golgo 13, is an assassin for hire. He only takes the most difficult and ''impossible'' missions. His sniping skill is unmatched by any in the world, so his handiwork comes at a high premium. Vic Tokai's Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode (1..."

It's only fair that a relatively obscure anime spawn a relatively obscure game. For the clueless, Golgo 13 is a Japanese comic book character who eventually starred in live-action and animated features. Duke Togo, the main character, generally going by his codename Golgo 13, is an assassin for hire. He only takes the most difficult and ''impossible'' missions. His sniping skill is unmatched by any in the world, so his handiwork comes at a high premium. Vic Tokai's Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode (1988) follows Duke Togo, on a mission of espionage, murder, and deceit. 

The game begins with a scene of CIA helicopter flying over New York City. On board is Cassandra-G, a deadly bacteria. Suddenly the helicopter explodes over the Statue of Liberty. The CIA investigates the wreckage and discovers the virus is missing, presumed stolen, and concludes the incident was a result of a KGB plot, with the help of Golgo 13. 

However, Togo had no part of this plan. Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode takes Duke on a mission around the world to recover the Cassandra-G virus and clear his name. On the way he will meet plots and resistance from those responsible for the theft of the virus and help from agencies that want the virus back. 

Golgo 13 has what is quite possibly the best plot setup of any NES game; the entire thing plays out like a James Bond movie. The game's most famous scenes are those where Duke has sex with some of the leading ladies, complete with cheesy dialog! Indeed, it is a wonder Top Secret Episode escaped censors since the game is chock full 'o sex and violence. People are murdered (not defeated), and Nintendo made no attempt to hide the fact that Duke's primary purpose in life is to kill people. The slightly hokey translation gets in the way every once in a while, but it doesn't detract too much from the game's plot. 

Top Secret Episode consists of seven acts and five modes of play. An act may consist of several modes of play along with dialog segments that advance the game's plot. The bulk of the game is side scrolling action where Duke can jump-kick and shoot enemies. Other modes of play include helicopter piloting, scuba diving, 3-D first-person perspective maze crawling, and even a cool scene where you see through a sniping scope in order to pick off a fellow sniper from the top of a TV tower. 

Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Unfortunately, Golgo 13 isn't half as fun as it should be. Though there are many modes of play, most of them are virtually the same. The helicopter scenes are just poorly designed horizontally scrolling shooter stages. Scuba diving in underwater labyrinths adds an element of exploration, but the levels are so simple there are not many directions to go. Finally the 3-D mazes break up the monotony somewhat, but the design and controls are so confusing you'll end up getting lost and irritated. Every stage is virtually the same. There's nary a special item in the game, and there are no real spy-type missions. 

Not helping matters is the stiff and frustrating control. It looks as if Vic Tokai was going for a ''realistic'' feel, but they failed miserably. Enemy agents prepare to shoot at you out of visual range, and you'll end up walking into your fair share of bullets. Collision detection is pathetically bad; Duke's damage zone extends far beyond his person. For some reason, Duke can only shoot while standing, while the most common generic enemy only shoots when kneeling. This gives you the inconvenient necessity of unsuccessfully jumping over a barrage of bullets until the foe decides to stand again. Annoying. At full life Duke can't take more than four or five hits, despite the fact that his health meter soars into the hundreds. 

At least the game isn't overly difficult. Getting killed is pretty easy, but you can just continue ten feet back from your current position as many times as you want. The only real challenge of the game is sitting through the whole session. Getting through all seven acts takes hours. 

As a side note, Duke is highly acclaimed for his sniping ability. Then why is it that you go through the game with a slow shooting pistol rather than the customized M-16 which made Golgo 13 so famous? Duke's hand-to-hand combat ability is not up to legend, either. All he can do is jump-kick, and you'll end up taking more damage from touching the guy than he does from having a foot land in his face. Stupid. 

However, Vic Tokai did the visuals correctly. Duke finds himself on city streets populated with colorful buildings, in heavily guarded fortresses with a metallic feel, and even the in nation of Greece, complete with nifty Greek architecture. Cinema scenes are highly detailed. Duke is more than recognizable; he looks just like his anime counterpart. The girls are even pretty! Especially awesome are the full-screen shots of Duke from the title and pause screens; a superb palette and effective shading give our protagonist a menacing look. The sprites are a bit funky, though, suffering from color uniformity and awkward perspective: Duke's legs appear to be six feet long. Perhaps Vic Tokai attempted some kind of ''comic book'' look or something. It didn't work. 

Moving on to music, Golgo 13's title theme is one of the best tunes to grace the NES and is worthy of a listen even outside of the game. Unfortunately, the entire rest of the game's music is forgettable. Almost without exception the music are dull and uninspired; half the time you won't notice music is playing. Sounds are standard where they exist; there aren't many. The gunshot sound is the most notable, and most other effects are quasi-annoying, plain tones. 

All there is to be experienced in Top Secret Episode can be accomplished in about a half an hour, so beating the game is only for the dedicated. However, the game is not without its charm. The helicopter sniper scene is very special. You only got to do it once and it was short, but it added a distinctive level of depth to the game. For that brief moment, you were Duke Togo, and you were seeking a fellow sniper through your scope. It's the pinnacle of the game. Additionally, the gratuitous sex scenes add raw character to both Duke and the vulnerable ladies he comforts. 

These days we are spoiled by classics like Metal Gear Solid and Goldeneye. Games like these redefined the ''spy game'' genre by mixing covert operations with intense action. While Golgo 13 in no way approached the gameplay of the aforementioned titles, the foundation is in place. Vic Tokai got the plot and scenery right, but Golgo 13 fails to inspire us with its mediocre gameplay and repetitive stages. A password system would have helped greatly with a game of this length. Still, Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode is certainly worth twenty minutes of your time. After that, it's up to you whether or not you want to find out the secrets of Cassandra-G.

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Community review by whelkman (May 26, 2008)

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