G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • NES
  • Developer:
    • KID
  • Publisher:
    • Taxan
  • Released:
    • US January 1991
Score: 75%

This review was published on 01/26/2017.

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is a side-scrolling platform video game developed by KID and published by Taxan for the Nintendo Entertainment System in North America in January 1991. As its title implies, this game is based on the G.I. Joe franchise, which originated from an old comic strip in the 1940s by Dave Breger called Private Breger. Private Breger was renamed G.I. Joe during World War II, and in 1964, the toy company, Hasbro, produced a series of toys based on G.I. Joe. Hasbro marketed the G.I. Joe toys as "action figures," because the company felt that referring to them as "dolls" would scare away their intended demographic of young boys. This tactic apparently worked, because the G.I. Joe line of toys sold rather successfully throughout the 1960s and 1970s. In 1982, the action figures made a comeback as G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, featuring a bunch of new toy soldiers with codenames, cards with biographies, and a line of villain toys. Alongside the toys, the G.I. Joe brand also had an animated television show produced by Sunbow and a comic series produced by Marvel. Naturally, a few G.I. Joe video games were also created, like this one. Out of all the G.I. Joe games out there, this is one of the best.

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"Yo Joe! He'll fight for freedom wherever there's trouble, G.I. Joe is there." In case you have no idea where that quote is from, those are the opening lyrics to the G.I. Joe animated TV show from the 1980s. On the show, G.I. Joe is the codename for an elite strike force comprised of personnel from all branches of the United States military. Their primary purpose is to fight against a terrorist organization known as COBRA, led by a mysterious man known only as Cobra Commander. As with most villainous groups in fiction, COBRA's main goal is to take over the world through any means necessary. The plot of this game plays out just like another episode of the TV show, except there's a bit more finality to it, as your mission isn't simply to thwart COBRA's latest nefarious scheme, but to completely obliterate them instead. Are you a real American hero?

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This game has six playable characters, all of which are Joes from the TV show. You've got the squad leader Duke, arctic soldier Blizzard, popular silent ninja Snake Eyes, specialist in hand-to-hand combat Captain Grid-Iron, and gatling gunner Rock 'n Roll. Back then, Snake Eyes was so popular that he was advertised on the game's box. Each mission will force you to use a specific character as the leader, but you can pick two more to join the operation. During play, you can press the start button to freely switch between the three characters assembled for that mission, which is handy because each character has a separate life bar and different attributes. General Hawk is the final character you get to play as, but he can't be used until the final leg of the game, where he's mandatory. If you're a fan of the show, then this cast should be a treat.

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While the characters all differ in one way or another, they all control similarly. In other words, you press left or right on the d-pad to march in those directions, up to look upwards, and down to duck. You can also latch onto certain ledges or walls by coming into contact with them. The A button is mostly used to jump while the B button is mostly used to attack. All characters have a melee attack, usually their fists, and a ranged attack, usually a gun of some kind. You can switch between the two types of attacks by pressing the select button. Ranged attacks can be aimed up or down in addition to left or right by holding the respective directions on the d-pad as you press B, though shooting downwards can only be done while in midair. While in melee mode, you can throw grenades upwards by holding up on the d-pad and pressing B. Guns have limited ammo that can be replenished by picking up bullets dropped by enemies, but grenades and melee attacks are unlimited. It's a lot to take in, but fairly intuitive once mastered.

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Each Joe has four different stats: Stamina, Jump, Punch, and Weapon. Stamina determines the length of the character's life bar, Jump is how high they jump, Punch is how much damage they do with their melee attack, and Weapon is usually the damage output of their gun. Generally, ranged attacks are weaker than melee attacks, which oddly results in fists usually doing more damage than guns in this game. In addition to that, Joes have different weapons. For example, Snake Eyes uses a sword as his melee weapon and shoots out fireballs using esoteric "Ninja Magic" as his ranged attack, which is the only ranged attack in the game that doesn't consume ammo. This is good for the team, because ammo is shared between Joes. Besides the dagger Blizzard uses, all other characters use their fists for close quarters combat. Likewise, all Joes except Snake Eyes use guns, though each gun fires different bullets, with most of them firing in a Contra-like spread pattern. Also, General Hawk has a jetpack that allows him to fly, which rocks. Being able to control different characters is definitely the game's main standout feature.

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Besides life recovery rations, extra ammo, and temporary invincibility granting bulletproof vests, the main power-ups you'll be keeping an eye out for are gun upgrades. Every time you collect four of these, the current Joe's gun will be upgraded, allowing it to shoot more bullets at a time. This even works for Snake Eye's fireballs, despite them not being fired from a gun. It's also possible to upgrade a Joe's life meter by picking up certain extremely rare power-ups. Upgrades remain even after you complete a mission, so it pays to use all the Joes to spread everything out. However, you do lose upgrades every time a Joe dies, and you lose everything on a Game Over. If a Joe dies on a mission, you'll be sent back to the beginning of the stage and must use a different Joe, and you'll get a Game Over if all three Joes on your current team die. There are infinite continues, however, and also a password system. The passwords actually retain your upgrades, too. Similar to most KID games, you have to beat the game thrice to see the best ending, and it gets harder each time.

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Occasionally, you'll find unoccupied enemy vehicles you can steal. These vehicles are very similar to the ones in another NES game developed by KID called Low G Man: The Low Gravity Man. When you find a vehicle, all you have to do is press down on the d-pad to enter it. Once inside, the vehicle's life bar will replace the character's, essentially temporarily extending your longevity. Obviously, the vehicle explodes after its life bar is fully depleted, but you can press the select button to exit it before then if you want. As for the vehicles themselves, there's the Cobra Pogo, which jumps really high and launches bullets in nine directions, the Cobra Interrogator, a one-man helicopter that flies around and fires a barrage of bullets, and the Cobra Buzz Boar, a wheel-like vehicle that can climb walls and ceilings. The vehicle system adds some more flavor to the game.

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Every mission is split into three stages. The first and third stage of every mission is a linear jaunt from point A to point B with tons of enemy soldiers and machines in between to keep you occupied. However, the second stage of every mission tasks you with nonlinear hunts where you must place a certain number of bombs in designated spots before being allowed to leave through the exit door. These designated bombing spots are denoted by checkmarks, and you simply touch the checkmark to place the bomb. Actually finding them within the time limit is the true challenge, but the bottom right of the screen does tell you how many you have left to locate. There's also a boss at the end of every stage, many of which are pulled directly from the TV show. You'll face off against such threats as the Cobra Condor Z-25, Metal-Head, and Voltar. Even the villain from G.I. Joe: The Movie, Golobulus, makes an appearance in this game.

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Even if you aren't a fan of G.I. Joe, this game is still worth checking out. Certainly, being a G.I. Joe fan will make the game a little more enjoyable, but it's got enough merits to stand on its own two feet. It's got decent graphics and sound for an NES game, solid game play, varied objectives, multiple characters, vehicles, and a neat power-up system. There are a couple of issues with the game here and there, such as the later bomb placing stages being a bit of a chore to play through, but this is still one of the better games on the NES.

Word Count: 1,544

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