Friday, December 16, 2011

G.I. Joe: The Atlantis Factor (NES)

Being the holiday season and all, it's only fitting to discuss a toy that swept the nation whenever I was a child in the late 80's and early 90's. It was the action figure playset under every Christmas tree. Kids would trade 'em, toss 'em out of windows in their two-story houses, bury them in the backyard and melt them in the microwave. They were tough little buggers and were a little slice of 60's American military propaganda revamped for the cold-war era. I'm talking about G.I. Joe, kids. The cartoon was everywhere, the toys were hot-selling Christmas must-haves, and everyone's older brother would light them on fire using nothing but a magnifying glass and the power of the sun's u.v. rays. That's science!

Naturally any trend this hot would have to be capitalized on with a video game series. The first G.I. Joe game for the NES was released by Taxan in 1991 and it's a darn fine action shooter. The Atlantis Factor is a Capcom produced sequel to the original and keeps much of the same magic from the original game the same by adding some variation here and there. There are some elements I like about the first game better than TAF, such as being able to pick your team in the beginning rather than having to unlock your members throughout gameplay. However, The Atlantis Factor is a heck of a game in its own right and can have a comfortable place in your NES collection next to other great TV and movie license games. Just keep Jaws and Gilligan's Island far away from it.

Samuel L. Jackson here means serious business

G.I. Joe the Atlantis Factor is an action/shooter that plays a lot like a cross between Contra and Mega Man. The story picks up after the end of the first game where your Joes destroyed Cobra Commander and smashed up his crew. They discovered that their island was atop the remains of the lost city of Atlantis and discovered a power that would resurrect Cobra Commander and help them to take over the world!

It was either this or Raul Julia as M. Bison. Of course!

Your mission naturally is to jump, punch, kick, and shoot your way through a series of badguys on your way to destroying Cobra once and for all. One of the cooler features of TAF is the ability to select your next stage/path ala Super Mario Bros. 3 or Castlevania 3. You start your mission with General Hawk and as you progress through the game you will unlock different members of your team such as Wet Suit, Snake Eyes, Duke and more. Some members have different specialties and thus different advantages and disadvantages depending on the stage you're playing. One of the other bonuses of having other team members is that they also double as your lives - you lose a member of your team and you still have at least another to take his place. To the best of my knowledge you have infinite continues and at the very least have a password system to keep your place but it's nice to have those other teammates in a pinch.

"Lookit the door, Johnny!"

A neat feature of TAF is that you can level up your players skills. While it's certainly not as thorough or full-featured as an RPG game would be, it's still satisfying to pick up those little POW power-ups and gain new fighting skills like kicking and spray shots. It also acts as an incentive to select your other teammates every now and then in order to level up their health meter and skills so you're not up Cobra creek without a Shark 9000. The only downside to any of this is the absurd way in which powerups appear in the game. Occasionally they will be stationary or hidden behind pillars and on top of platforms. This is perfectly acceptable as per the official rulebook of "Solid Game Making 101." However, every time you blow up one of your opponents a power-up will spring from their head like a rubber bouncy ball and fly in the opposite direction so if you don't jump in midair immediately after killing said bad guy, it will fly half way across the screen (potentially never to be seen again.) While power-ups are plentiful in this game, it's amazingly frustrating to have to track down power-ups like much-needed ammo or health. Why on earth couldn't it just drop to the ground instead of going all Contra-style and fly over my head never to be seen again?

Hawk traded his combat boots for Jordans

With the graphical and musical limitations of the NES in mind - this game has some top-notch presentation. Your Joe team members don't look overly stock and are identifiable as individual characters rather than just palette-swapped army dudes. The level designs are for the most part top-notch, although the first G.I. Joe did a few more interesting things graphically - such as having enemies leap from the foreground to right in front of your character - and by having some more depth of field. That being said, there's still a lot to love about the graphics in TAF, and even the lesser levels are no worse than some of the lazier Mega Man levels which were basically assembled with blocks, pipes and other industrial looking things. The only major peeve I have with the level design is that one of the first jungle levels has so many bushes and canopies that it's hard to tell which are usable platforms and which are just part of the background. Also in that particular level you have to take a few leaps of faith that may or may not land you in a pit. The music is totally rockin'. I would definitely say that the soundtrack to this game is up their with great action games such as the Mega Man and Ninja Gaiden series.
Hey kids! Guess what is and isn't a platform!

The game is not perfect - you have a few things from the first game that should have made it over to the sequel such as setting up a team from the jump and being able to switch characters on the fly. However, this is an excellent example of a game that took a fairly shallow premise (action figures turned cartoon where your military guys blow up bad guys) and made it into two very well polished NES gems. Anyone who enjoys action games such as Contra, Mega Man, Bucky O Hare, and even Ninja Gaiden will be able to find a lot of quality gaming in G.I. Joe Atlantis Factor. It's available now from Lukie Games and would make a wonderful holiday gift for someone you love - even if that person is yourself!

Ok, so not a scuba mask - but you get the idea.