Vice: Project Doom
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • NES
  • Developer:
    • Aicom
  • Publisher:
    • Sammy
  • Released:
    • JP 04/26/1991
    • US November 1991
Score: 85%

This review was published on 12/11/2016.

Vice: Project Doom, known as Gun-Dec in Japan, is a side-scrolling platform video game developed by Aicom and published by Sammy for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Famicom. It was originally released in Japan on April 26, 1991, and North America in November 1991. Being that this game was released so far into the NES' lifespan, it wasn't too popular when it first came out, though it did still manage to get on the cover of the 24th issue of the Nintendo Power magazine. Now, however, the game enjoys a stout cult following, mostly thanks to the Internet. Upon initial inspection, Vice will seem like nothing more than a mere clone of the Ninja Gaiden series on the NES, but it's far more than that: it also rips off the arcade classics Spy Hunter and Operation Wolf. Joking aside, this is actually one of the best NES games ever made, and its derivativeness doesn't take away from that.

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During an indiscriminate time in a fictional future, there existed a company called the B.E.D.A Corporation, which manufactured and distributed electronic and technological equipment. However, the company was secretly a front for alien beings that had been living on Earth for centuries. The aliens developed a substance known simply as "Gel," which was initially used as a food source for their kind, but now also acts as an addictive and highly dangerous drug to humans. B.E.D.A began selling the neon green Gel on the black market, and since it's fatal to humans, this resulted in many deaths. Quinn Hart, a no-nonsense officer of the Vice unit, is sent to investigate B.E.D.A after his partner, Reese, vanished while on a previous case. During his investigation, Hart will make many startling discoveries about the origins of the B.E.D.A Corporation, its true purpose, and his place in all this. Hart's lover and fellow agent, Christy, along with their acquaintance, Sophia, will provide assistance during the mission.

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In a move that's rather peculiar for an NES title, the title screen to the game doesn't reveal itself until after the first stage. This is done to set up the dramatic tone of the story, which is communicated to the player via cinematic sequences very similar to the ones from the Ninja Gaiden series. Such sequences generally occur before or after stages and reveal a little more of the unfolding plot, while also giving a little context to some of the locations you explore. The plot is rather convoluted and campy, but it does manage to be interesting, if only for how over the top it is, especially towards the end. There are tons of plot twists, perhaps too many, and it's set up as a thrilling crime drama. You may find yourself looking forward to the next scene, although probably not for the reason the developers intended. The story tells itself without wasting much of your time, which is ideal considering this is an action game. Plus, you can skip all the scenes with the touch of a button.

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Considering it's a late era NES release, it shouldn't come as a surprise that this game has some of the best looking graphics on the system. Just about every color that the NES is capable of displaying is put to excellent use here, giving the environments an immense vibrancy, though it never overdoes things. Several of the backgrounds utilize sophisticated parallax scrolling effects to give fluidity to the world. A good example of this is the wavy water beneath the neon lit city background in stage two that is simply breathtaking, or the fast moving background in the train stage. All the character and enemy sprites are also fairly good looking, as most of them are tall and intricate. The animations aren't half bad, either. Unfortunately, the music isn't anywhere near as good as the visuals, being comprised of mostly forgettable, sometimes awkward sounding tunes. The soundtrack is by no means bad, but it's not as catchy as it should be.

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For most of the game, you control Hart in linear side-scrolling action stages that are reminiscent of Ninja Gaiden. You press left or right on the d-pad to make Hart run in those directions, down to duck, and up to climb ladders. Unlike most NES games, Hart can also run while ducking if you hold down and either left or right, which is pretty handy. The A button makes Hart jump and the B button is used to attack. Hart is armed with three weapons: a laser whip, a .44 magnum, and grenades. Yes, you read that right; the guy's got a freaking laser whip! If that's not awesome, then I don't know what is. Anyway, the laser whip is a melee weapon that functions more like a sword, and it's Hart's primary weapon. The magnum and grenades are ranged attacks, with the magnum's bullets going in a straight line and the grenades traveling in an arc. These weapons have limited ammo, so you must use them wisely. Most defeated enemies will drop bullets and grenades to replenish your supplies, in addition to coins that give you an extra life after you get 100, and health restoring items like drinks and meat. The controls are extremely tight, plus the different weapons add a degree of strategy to the game, as you need to know when to use what.

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Despite mostly being of the side-scrolling variety, Vice starts off with a surprising overhead car chase, which is where the game takes some heavy inspiration from Spy Hunter, particularly Super Spy Hunter. These car stages play like overhead shoot 'em ups, or vertically scrolling shooters. To control them, you use the d-pad to maneuver the car, the B button to fire its gun, which has unlimited ammo, and the A button to shift gears, which alters the car's speed. The objective of these driving sections is to shoot down all the enemies that get in your way while you avoid colliding with the sides of the road. There are also tons of objects on the road that you can harmlessly smash into, like traffic cones and barricades, and while they do slow you down, plowing into them is super satisfying. Due to the high speed action they provide, these thrilling car stages are surprisingly good. Including the intro stage, there are only two stages in the whole game that play like this. That's okay, though, because their scarcity prevents them from ever getting stale.

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The last type of game play you'll encounter is akin to a light gun shooter, minus the light gun. This is where the Operation Wolf similarities kick in, though the shooting segments of Bayou Billy are another apt comparison. For these sections, you're given a first-person view of the action as you shoot down countless foes that attempt to bamboozle you from all sides of the screen. Some will shoot you while others will try to stab you. Since you can't dodge their attacks, the only way to remain unharmed is to kill them before they have a chance to hurt you. Here, you use the d-pad to move the crosshairs, the B button to fire your gun, and the A button to throw a grenade. All the bullets and grenades you've collected in prior sections carry over into these parts, so you still have limited ammo here. The difference between bullets and grenades during these sequences is that bullets hit a tiny spot, whereas grenades damage a wider radius. Defeated enemies still drop items and you collect them with the crosshair. Like the car sections, there are only two first-person shooter segments in the game. Again, that's a good thing, because while these segments are decent enough, they're easily the weakest part of the game.

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While they're all good, the side-scrolling bits of the game clearly outshine the car and first-person shooter segments. The goal is to simply make it to the end alive, but obviously, there'll be plenty of enemies and obstacles along your path. Those enemies and obstacles include collapsing girders in the city area, martial artists in Chinatown, a jungle with regenerating killer weeds, a warehouse with moving ladders that carry you into harmful fans, and a bit right out of Super Mario Bros. 2 where you jump on logs that fall down waterfalls. You don't take much damage from things, but like Ninja Gaiden and Castlevania, enemies and hazards are strategically placed near bottomless pits to take advantage of your increased knockback. As a result of that, you can tell that a lot of thought went into the stage design. The bosses are also good. One boss will throw iron girders at you, which are essentially moving platforms you can stand on, but will hurt you if they smash into your face. It's a pretty creative battle that uses some neat coding tricks. The game starts off easy, but gets quite hard later on. It never gets as hard as Ninja Gaiden, though, and you've got unlimited continues.

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Easily one of the system's best, Vice: Project Doom is an NES game that everyone should play. Everything about this game is near perfection. It's got incredibly good graphics, some of the tightest controls out there, and intense side-scrolling action that would put fright even into the likes of Ninja Gaiden. Additionally, the car and first-person shooter sections provide a nice break from the intensity of the side-scrolling segments, but they never overstay their welcome. This game's weakest link is its music, which is still decent. There's a reason almost every retro gamer mentions this game, and now you know why. Not playing this game is a vice.

Word Count: 1,627

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