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G.I. Joe (NES) artwork

G.I. Joe (NES) review

"Even if you arenít interested in the license, this is a thoroughly entertaining action game that I would recommend you experience."

As a child of the 1980s, I always wondered why the cartoons I loved werenít turned into video games more often than they were. The tales of good versus evil found in He-Man, Thundercats, and The Transformers seem perfectly suited for the interactive space. While I may have been left wanting when it came to most of my cherished childhood interests, though, at least I have G.I. Joe for the NES. Not only is it a great representation of the cartoon and toy line upon which it was based, but itís also a fine action game in its own right.

Set across six missions, G.I. Joe offers the player a simple mandate: find and destroy the Cobra secret bases, and eventually take down Cobra Commander and end the terrorist organization for good. Each mission is headed up by a team leader. The player can choose two other Joes from the list of five playable characters. The first stage in each mission presents the path towards a base, and is mainly your opportunity to gather power-ups that will upgrade each soldierís weapon. The second stage tasks the Joes with planting explosives in strategic positions within the Cobra base that they have discovered. After a mini-boss battle, itís up to the team to escape over the course of a third stage, followed by a fight with a major Cobra general.

This simple mission structure is the backdrop for some great level design. Each mission takes place in a very different location, from a jungle in one case to arctic tundra and deserts in others. The Cobra bases are large and contain tons of hidden areas filled with those all-important weapon upgrades, and each base is more labyrinthine than the one before it. There is a great amount of detail to each level, and even some welcome background and foreground animation, such as missiles that launch from far in the distance, only to land right in the path of our intrepid Joes.

Iím less than thrilled with the time-sensitive nature of the game, however. Timers in games have never been something Iíve appreciated, but in G.I. Joe the time crunch seems far more oppressive than usual. The first stage is always a breezy, linear affair, but in the base stages thereís a need for speed when planting the explosives. Basically, the timer for the second stage carries over through to the rest of the mission. Failing to find and plant the explosives in a timely manner results in less time you can safely spend fighting the mini boss, which in turn means less time to get through the final stage and boss battle. I prefer to go at my own pace, and G.I. Joe ends up being more stressful at times than I would have liked.

This is a minor gripe for a game that otherwise leverages the G.I. Joe license for all itís worth, though. In particular, the little details are what make this game special for me, a lifelong fan of the franchise. Available character portraits come straight from the toy box art of the time, and the art for the Cobra enemies during the cutscenes fits with the style of the cartoon that was on the air at the time. All of the enemies are taken straight from the toy line, from the basic Viper grunts to Toxo-Vipers and Range Vipers. Their wonderful vehicles are well represented, both in boss fights and in the form of Cobra gear that can be hijacked in the field.

Of course, the real star is the squad of Joes, and the five main characters (Duke, Snake Eyes, Rock Ďn Roll, Capt. Gridiron, and Blizzard) really shine. Each character feels unique and sports the appropriate weapons, which each possess distinct firing patterns. Snake Eyes can decimate Cobra troops with his katana and jump ridiculously high, for instance, while Rock Ďn Roll carries twin Gatling guns and throws a mean punch. The characters look very close to their action figure source material and also animate quite nicely.

This is just a nice-looking game across the board, actually. The big, detailed sprites are instantly recognizable to anyone who may have played with these toys as a kid. The vehicular boss battles fill the screen and seem extra menacing, what with all of the missiles and gun fire crisscrossing the area. The game tends to suffer from a good amount of flicker, especially when the controllable vehicles come into play. Still, itís clear that developer either KID did its research or worked closely with Hasbro to really nail the look of G.I. Joe. In doing so, the team produced a game that stands on its own in the graphics department, despite any deficiencies due to 8-bit hardware.

Despite my issues with the in game timer, I should emphasize that the core action featured within G.I. Joe is great. The characters have a great jump, which Iíve always felt is key to any side scrolling action game. They also possess the ability to shoot overhead and beneath their current location, which is a useful move that was inexplicably removed from the sequel, G.I. Joe: The Atlantis Factor. Pitfalls are a big problem with this game, as itís common to take a hit and get knocked back into a cheap death. Although the game offers unlimited continues, any progress made in leveling up weapons is lost. Itís possible to get by without upgrading the guns, but having to start over after losing an entire team to insta-kills can prove quite annoying.

Of the myriad of cartoons and toys I loved as a kid, very few of them were ever turned into NES games. Thatís really unfortunate, but Iím glad that G.I. Joe exists as a video game, and that itís so great. Even if you arenít interested in the license, this is a thoroughly entertaining action game that I would recommend you experience. If you have the added context that comes from familiarity with the source material though, this becomes something much more.

AlphaNerd's avatar
Freelance review by Julian Titus (May 25, 2013)

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