Video games

Video Game Review – Vice: Project Doom (NES)

US Cover Art for Vice: Project Doom

US Cover Art for Vice: Project Doom

When one thinks of cinematic action-platformers for the NES, the first one that comes to mind is Ninja Gaiden. It is, probably, the first game to feature out-of-engine cut-scenes in-between levels, to frame the story. To be frank, not a lot of games during the 8-bit era aspired to the heights set by Ninja Gaiden in the presentation of its story (which was, to be fair, ankle-deep at best).

One of the few that tried to go where Ninja Gaiden went before was Vice: Project Doom for the NES from Sammy. It tries to expand on Ninja Gaiden both in terms of story and gameplay by changing the setting to something closer to 3o-seconds in the future (with an police officer protagonist), and by adding additional gameplay elements such as driving shump sequences and shooter segments. Does the game achieve the same level of quality attained by Ninja Gaiden, does it exceed it’s quality, or does fail to attain those lofty heights?

The Premise: Going from the manual:

“A small band of alien survivors landed on Earth several centuries ago. In order to survive in this new environment, they produced a neon green gel which provided nourishment.

In an effort to blend into human society, they developed clones. As centuries passed, BEDA Corporation came into being. This was a company which manufactured and distributed electronic and technological equipment; however, behind all this the company was also responsible for the maintenance of the alien race.

The neon gel had a very different effect on humans. It became a substance that was sought after by some of the world’s wealthiest abusers. The gel is mass produced by BEDA Corporation for profit, but the side effects proved to be lethal for human users.

Vice officer Quinn Hart, along with his partner Detective Reese, set out on assignment to locate the manufacturers of the mysterious gel. During the investigation, Reese disappears. Since his body has never been found, he is believed dead.

Now, Hart must go alone to uncover the source of the gel and the force behind it. His skills, nerves and ultimately fate are at stake in this deadly plot for survival.”

As a note – none of that information is included in the actual game – so if you bought the game used, without the manual (like I did), you wouldn’t get any of that, ditto with the preview in Nintendo Power magazine. So, here’s the plot as I saw it, from playing the game without the manual.

“Detective Hart, police officer in future Earth, stops a rampaging heavily armed truck. In the course of defeating the driver, and examining the body, he finds that the driver was mutated into something that was no longer human. In the course of investigation to root out this menace, he uncovers a world-spanning conspiracy, and some of his fellow officers close to him will be put into deadly peril.”

The Good: The platforming elements can get tricky at times, but generally they work out pretty well.  It manages to avoid some of the worst problems of Ninja Gaiden & Mega Man platforming. That’s not to say it isn’t without problems (the jumping is a little floaty), but otherwise it’s okay.

The game has unlimited continues, though you can get extra lives from coins dropped by enemies, which is an excellent touch, considering that far too many well regarded NES games limited your continues for, basically, no good reason.

They start the game off in media res, something most Bond movie fans will probably be familiar with (the pre-credits sequence), but in this case before you get the title screen of the game, you’re getting gameplay, which is something that, really, most video games from this era don’t do.

The Bad: Now, after I read the background description in the manual, the game made sense. Until I read that section of dialog, the game’s plot didn’t make sense at all. Even when the villain was explaining things to the main character (in a “Before I kill you Mr. Bond” sense), it didn’t make any sense at all, which was very disappointing. Otherwise there isn’t particularly any bad engrish or anything like that in the story and again – once you get that plot snippet from the manual, the game’s story basically makes sense.

The dialog, though, can get really bad at times, with the game tossing in some of the most predictable of the action movie one-liners (when the main character has to go to a foreign country to continue the investigation, he quips about taking some vacation time early, when he heads to the final showdown, he quips about the perfect ending to a rotten week. Oh, and there’s the standard “Come get some”).

The Ugly: There is some lag during the shump segments, which can make things difficult. There is also some problem with “Goddamn Bats” (not always bats, but always flying creatures) knocking the player off of ledges during jumping segments. While they can be avoided, they are a bloody nuisance. There are also time-limits on the levels, which, for a home console game, rather than an arcade game, is pointless. The boss fights are a bloody nusance, and there are no passwords in the game – so if you have to put the game down to do something else you have to start over.  Finally, the last boss fight engages in one of the deadly sins that Ninja Gaiden III is criticized for. If you die during the last boss fight for any reason, during either form, either due to damage or running out of time, you have to start one “screen” away from the boss’s room, and you’ll have to navigate some tricky jumping to get to the boss fight again. Did I mention the boss has two forms?

Fortunately, through the wonders of emulation, if you’re playing the game through that route, save states and Game Genie (or even just Game Genie, if you’re playing on a home console), can alleviate a lot of those problems.

The Verdict: With the exception of the lag problems and maybe the boss fights, there is absolutely no excuse the programmers have for having not addressed any of my complaints in the game. Now, the game did tease a sequel (which never came) which could have addressed my complaints, but I’m not going to cut a game slack for its sequel, whether it exists or not. Currently, this game is not available on Virtual Console, so the only options to play this game is through emulation or E-Bay (or a local game store that sells retro games). If you’re going to buy this game, don’t spend more than $5.00, including shipping, unless you’re getting it with the box and booklet, then $5.oo + shipping added on to that is okay, but no more than that.