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Code Name: Viper (NES) artwork

Code Name: Viper (NES) review

"People use the word “clone” a lot these days as they talk about video games, sometimes unjustly. Some games really do deserve that unwanted label, though, and there are few titles with a more legitimate claim to it than Code Name: Viper for the NES. That isn't to say that it’s a poor product, however."

People use the word “clone” a lot these days as they talk about video games, sometimes unjustly. Some games really do deserve that unwanted label, though, and there are few titles with a more legitimate claim to it than Code Name: Viper for the NES. That isn't to say that it’s a poor product, mind you. If the original game is good and the clone copies it well enough, the result is going to have some merit.

The "donor" to this particular clone is an arcade game produced by Namco in 1986 called Rolling Thunder. In both games, the standout mechanic is the ability to make extra high, uncontrollable leaps into the air, usually to move the action back and forth between higher and lower levels. Both games also heavily incorporate the use of revolving doors in the background, which can be used to take cover or to find ammunition for either an automatic weapon or a standard pistol.

If you can play Rolling Thunder, then Code Name: Viper should give you little trouble. But though they are quite similar, Capcom's offering from four years later is not without its own slight modifications to help improve the overall experience. Unlike Rolling Thunder's agent Albatross, Viper's Kenny Smith is capable of not only shooting in the air, but also of altering his trajectory in mid-jump.

Another key element and difference is the inclusion of hostages behind many of the doors. One of your goals is to try to rescue as many of these women and children as possible before finishing the stage. However, if you take too long, you'll instead be met with the rather grim visage of a skeleton crumpling to the ground in their place. It’s pretty hardcore stuff for an NES game, and one which got by Nintendo of America's censors, at that.

Your objective in each stage is two-tiered. Besides finding your way to the end of the level, you also want to find your missing allies (at a rate of one per level) among the captives. Find that ally and you'll be rewarded with a grenade which allows you to blow open the door at the end and proceed to the next level. Fail, on the other hand, and you'll have to backtrack in order to find him… a situation that is hardly ideal, especially given the time limit imposed on each stage.

While the core gameplay mechanics seem to have been lifted wholesale from another source, Code Name: Viper still has an identity of its own. In an era where "Winners Don't Do Drugs" was the motto that adorned virtually every new arcade machine you came across, this game follows suit by having Director Jones send 98th Special Forces agent Kenny Smith (who is also known under the eponymous code name of "Viper") down to South America to investigate a large drug syndicate's seven hideouts. And by "investigate," it seems his orders mean that he should shoot anyone who isn't a hostage.

Each stage is preceded by a scene with Smith's helicopter moving across a map to each location, followed by a small glimpse of the locale, a touch that is reminiscent of Capcom's own Ghosts 'n Goblins series. The locales are varied, from jungles to villages to factories, as well as the mansion of the drug syndicate's leader. Once you finish a level, you're treated to a cutscene of sorts that depicts Viper and the ally rescued from the stage convening around a campfire, with the details of a letter gradually being filled in as you go and ultimately informing you who your target is. You're also treated to a scene where the mysterious drug lord watches Viper's progress on his monitor, and then you’re given a handy password so you can pick up where you left off at a later time.

Graphically, the game feels like a re-skin of its inspiration, which is somewhat understandable, given how closely it hews. With that said, this would be a Capcom NES re-skin from 1990, which ultimately means that visually it makes good use of the resources available through the system at the time. It actually looks quite a bit nicer than the NES version of Rolling Thunder that Tengen released only a year earlier. The only questionable part would be Smith's odd choice of pants, which match his exact flesh tone. That’s a slightly awkward choice, to be sure.

The sound is also of the high quality one would expect from NES-era Capcom. This includes catchy tunes used throughout the game's eight stages (though some unfortunately do repeat), and nice sound effects that include an almost ricochet-like sound which echoes off whenever you kill an enemy. Hostages are also given sound effects that are strange but charming, such as a two-tone sound effect to match the two syllables spoken by the ones who say "thank you" and another that doesn't quite match up when you're told "bomb obtained."

Capcom has made a mostly derivative game that still manages to add its own twist and thus stand on its own. One might even argue that it has surpassed the game from which it drew its inspiration, which is understandable given that this one was released four years after its muse. Although it’s stiffer and more unforgiving than modern gamers might be comfortable with, it’s definitely worth a look and perhaps even an update from its developers.

LBD_Nytetrayn's avatar
Freelance review by David Oxford (July 07, 2013)

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