Sunday, 14 December 2014

Vice: Project Doom (NES)

Vice Project Doom title screen
Today on Super Adventures, I'll be playing this NES game for an hour or so. The Japanese call it Gun-Dec, but in America it's known as Vice: Project Doom. It doesn't seem like it ever reached Europe, but here I shall call it Vice Project: Doom, because that just flows better to me somehow.

This had better be about a vice cop who ends up being the one man who can stop a supervillain's scheme to doom America by dumping cocaine into the water supply or... starting a chain of casinos in... high schools or something. I dunno, I just want to see a proper b-grade 80s action movie plot here.


Half of a transparent supervillain's head drifts across a turbulent sky. A storm is coming... JACK STORM, VICE SQUAD. Sorry, I'm just making shit up now. You can't have that name by the way, that's my original character.

Oh, it was meant to be a moody reflection in the man's office window as he gazes out across the world he schemes to dominate. Very Lex Luthor. Calling his latest scheme 'Project Doom' is also the kind of thing he'd do now that I think about it.

Uh, okay this has just taken a turn for the cryptic.

'He' spends most of his time with.... 'them' but he can't be brought to 'this guy'.... because he must come.... on his own! After all, the villain came 30 years ago! Came to meet... himself?

It's raining..........


MEANWHILE.


Well it's not raining over here, as our hero Hart slides on screen to take a call. Lots of sliding in this game I've noticed.

There's a maniac loose in the city, and it's up to Hart to take them down, nice and easy! He's been given no description of the driver or his vehicle, so I guess we drive down route 246 until we see someone who looks suspicious and then it's show-time! !! 


STAGE 1-1.


Wow, I was not expecting this to be a top down driving game. Well, more like a top down shoot 'em up really, as I slide across the street in my hover car blasting everything in my path.

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure I'm meant to be shooting anyone as I was actually ordered to take down exactly one maniac. But I shot one of those blue cars by mistake earlier and he dropped a coin, so I took that as a sign to cut loose. Plus look at all these barriers I'm smashing through! Not only is it a really nice effect for a NES game, but it's a clear sign that these folks should not be on this highway. Speeding down a closed off road is just the kind of thing that a maniac would do, and that's apparently enough justification for me to take them all down.

And now I'm fighting a truck with a five-way cannon mounted on the back.

This might be the maniac I'm after, or it may just be someone who decided that the best defence on these dangerous sci-fi streets is to kill the lunatic in the sports car with the missiles before he gets you. Either way I'm still going to chase him in my sports car and blast him with missiles.

Not much to say about the gameplay here; he's sliding side to side and shooting things downwards, I'm dodging them and shooting things upwards. You can tell by my health bar how much of a challenge it's been so far.


A FEW SHOTS LATER.


He totally put those glasses on just before saying that. Check the last cutscene again, he wasn't wearing them in the car.

Also, what is he talking about? He didn't even give them a chance to surrender! He just hammered him with missiles until there was one more smoking wreck blocking the motorway. Well okay technically it was me who did that, but it's not like there's a 'turn on sirens' button in the game.

Huh, the maniac turns out to be some kind of monster and there's stuff in the truck, talk about the creeps!! Fortunately our good friend Christy decided to slide on screen out of nowhere, so she can run a check on it for us.

(I have no idea who Christy is).

The plot thickens, huh? Hmph, hmph, hmm....

I guess this mysterious 'guardian angel' is going to fill in some of the blanks now and put us on track for the next level.

But first, the title screen! It's not the first NES game to have a prologue before the titles (Final Fantasy does it for instance), but it's not something I see often.


STAGE 2-1.


Dead in 15 seconds, good start there. In my defence Hart just wouldn't jump off that falling platform!

I've absolutely no idea where I am or what I'm doing by the way, as my guardian angel didn't get back to me after the title screen. I went from that cutscene, to the titles, then straight to this. I guess Hart must have just spotted these monsters down the road and decided he'd leave his car parked next to the truck wreck he's meant to be investigating to go slice them up with his lightsaber. 

Hang on, I've just thought: brown leather jacket, blue jeans, last name Hart... is this guy any relation to Flashback hero Conrad B. Hart?

Seeing as they were made by entirely different developers half a world away from each other, I'm going to guess... no.

Okay, what the fuck? Every platform in this stage collapses when I touch it; have these creatures been nibbling on the support beams or something? Even the floor's out to get me right now!

Lovely night for it for it though. I like the water effect in the background.

It seems that I can switch between blade, gun and grenades at any time, so I decided to get clever here and try taking down pumkinhead from a distance with my pistol... didn't exactly work out in the end though.

Hang on, actually I ended up with more health than I started! Seems that the pumpkin man had a giant piece of meat stashed under his blanket, which Hart grabbed and ate mid-jump to take advantage of its miraculous healing properties. Makes sense, though there's just one thing I still don't understand: why is a man with a blindfold and knives in his back crawling back and forth across a conveyor belt on his hands and knees?


STAGE 2-2.


Here's another question: why is this werewolf wearing heels? They're entirely impractical in a fight and it's not like he needs the extra height... doesn't make any sense to me.

This actually seems like a good set up for the first proper boss fight, as it's immediately obvious what I need to do to beat him and not all that hard to pull off, but they've given me plenty of opportunity to screw it up. It's a test of basic dodging skills, and I'm giving myself a solid C grade so far.

I can run along the beams! Well I could until he stopped throwing them and then exploded at least. I guess these plasma rounds make a suitable substitute for silver bullets.

Hey, Sophia turned up!

I have no idea who she is either, though she's actually brought me something I can work with this time. It turns out that the 'stuff' from the truck leads to Kim Ron, whatever that means, so I suppose Hart's going to go up to his house and kill him now. That seems to be how this works.


STAGE 3-1.


You know, if it wasn't for the all the cats this would be a really nice neighbourhood. Nice looking anyway; this is one of the prettiest games I've ever seen on the NES, and far slicker than my crude gifs make it seem.

I've been trying to dodge the cats but it's not actually all that difficult to deal with these creatures if I time it right, as Hart's sword attack has a decent arc to it:

I've played so many 8-bit platformers with crappy blade attacks that it's so nice to get my hands on a weapon that hits enemies above and behind me too. Man, I'm just happy that it hits everything in front of me, instead of only poking foes at waist level. Also, for anything but pumpkinheads and girder throwing werewolf bosses, the blade's been a one hit kill weapon so far. This is a damn fine sword.

Well okay technically it's a laser whip, but c'mon.

While I'm praising the game for stuff, I should probably also mention that you can run while ducked. Bet you can't name many other platformers that let you do that.

I haven't even got the faintest clue what's going on in this place. Is this where they make 'stuff' perhaps? It'd probably help if I could read Chinese.

I'm not the biggest fan of item drops that force you to hang around each defeated enemy for a second or two to collect your prize, but the sounds these coins make when you collect them is so satisfying that I feel like letting the developers off this time. I've also been collecting boxes with G and B on for grenades and bullets respectively, as the ammo for my other attacks is limited.


STAGE 3-2.


Six hits. Eight seconds. That's how long I lasted against Kim Ron (or whoever this guy is). I hit him back four times though! I just have to do that 16 more times without getting hit. Should be as easy as... swimming to the fucking Moon.

Hang on, do you reckon this could be Hart's mysterious guardian angel from earlier? I just realised that they both seem to wear a cape and they have a similar thing going on with their heads.


A COUPLE OF RETRIES LATER.


Shit. I only got two chances to take him down before finally I ran out of lives, and now that's it I suppose.


STAGE 3-1. AGAIN.


Hey, it put me right back at the start of 3-1 again! Well the good news is that the game apparently has infinite continues, but the bad news is that now I have two levels to replay before I can even reach that boss fight again. 100 seconds of gameplay leading up to the same 8 seconds of failure. Nothing like a good long run up to make hitting a brick wall of difficulty even more painful!

I don't know about you, but shit like this utterly demoralises me. I did decide to give 3-1 another shot, but now that frustration has set in I've been making stupid mistakes, so I'm going to stop here. I haven't given up just yet, but I need to take a long break to see if my enthusiasm comes back.


MUCH LATER.


I ACTUALLY BEAT THAT PURPLE BOOTED STICK-TWIRLING FUCKER, I DO NOT BELIEVE IT! I didn't actually get a screenshot of it, as I was kind of preoccupied with pulling off an incredibly unlikely victory at the time, but I promise you that it is entirely possible for a crap gamer like me to beat him fairly once you've learned his pattern. You just have to learn that pattern 8 seconds at a time.

My reward: some more information about the 'stuff' in the truck! I've learned that we still don't know shit about it. But the dirt on the maniac driver's clothes was from South Central America, so Hart's going to fly to the only town he's heard of there, because there's been news of 'trouble' and there might be a connection! I've no idea how this guy ever became a detective. I don't even know if he is a detective! I don't know anything!


STAGE 4-1.


Man, what is it with this game and cats? Were guard dogs just too normal for this evil organisation? Demon wolves a little too obvious?
"Commander, Detective Hart has infiltrated our secret high-tech industrial TV studio/factory type place!"
"Quick, distribute plasma cannons to the guards and unleash the frenzied kittens!"

Hart's desperate pleas for peace and reconciliation go unheeded. There's no cutscene attached to this, it just flashed up after the level.


STAGE 4-2.


Oh I see, it was introducing the rail shooting stage, as Hart finally loses his shit over having to dodge cats all afternoon and goes on Power Ranger murder spree. Mostly Green Rangers, though there's been an occasional Yellow one as well.

What's weird about this is that he's still using the same gun, you can see his ammo count go down, but now his bullets are suddenly able to hit things more than 5 meters in front of him! Oh shit his ammo is really ticking down there, I need to make sure I shoot a couple of those B boxes next time they drop or else I'll be in trouble here.

Oh, now we're flying to South Central America? So what was all that shooting in the TV studio about?

Also, of course Hart was a mercenary before joining the force. He was probably in 'Nam too.


STAGE 5-1.


Waterfall jumping interlude! In retrospect I probably should've jumped over to the wall on the right there and waited for the next set of logs to arrive.


STAGE 5-2.


I'm not feeling all that dumb for taking some damage here. I mean there's almost certainly a safe path I could've taken during that... incident, but you'd need to watch those pink tribesmen bouncing around in slow-motion for a while to figure it out. Man It must take some real nerve to go out in public painted entirely pink like that... which is why I guess they're in the middle of the rainforest instead. Sure helps them pop from the background though

Fortunately I can afford to take a bit of damage, as Hart's got a decent sized health bar and he only loses a block per hit. There's usually a guy near the end of each level carrying a chunk of healthy meat, so if I can avoid getting ganged up on again I should be fine. It's not been an overly cruel game so far.

I got Ninja Gaiden'd! Back to the start of the level then I guess.

Bloody bird enemies, man. They're even worse when they're conspiring with the shuriken-spitting flying fish. Why is it any of their business what's happening above the water anyway? I'm no threat to them! You don't see me carrying a fishing rod do you? Hart can't even swim.


STAGE 5-3.


Hey, I'm fighting the Starship Enterprise! Oh no, wait, now that it's come out on screen I can tell that it's some kind of one-wheeled mobile missile platform thing stolen from Dr Robotnik. All I have to do here is wait for it to fire off all its infinite missiles and the imbalance of mass will no doubt cause it to tip forward... or I could try hitting the weak point some more.

This guy doesn't seem so bad compared to that last boss fight, way back in Chinatown. He still kicked my ass in seconds mind you, but I found it easy to grasp what I did wrong this time. Though I don't understand why I have to replay stages 5-1 and 5-2 before fighting him again. All those fish...

In fact I think that's an excellent excuse for me to quit playing right now.


LATER, ON STAGE 6-3.


Okay I kind of accidentally beat the rainforest boss and then found myself playing through the next two levels as well, but I really am done with the game now. This guy seems like a nightmare to fight.


CONCLUSION

Vice Project: Doom is a really nice looking NES game. Of course that doesn't mean all that much in 2014, and it likely didn't mean that much in 1991 either, months after Nintendo had finally joined everyone else in the fourth console generation. It's definitely preferable to it looking like ass though.

It's just a shame that all the stylish cutscenes are wasted on a story that makes no sense. I'm sure it's probably a victim of a bad translation, but just try explaining that to my poor brain, which has been working its hardest to figure out what this game is about. I know it's a just NES platformer and I shouldn't give it much thought, but they worked so hard on those scenes, getting all those people to slide in and out of frame just right.

I suppose I should mention what I thought about the gameplay while I'm here. Actually first I'll tell you what I thought about RoboCop 2's gameplay. I played that NES platformer a few months back and I hated every minute of it due to its awkward movement, tedious combat, and ridiculous quota of items to collect on each stage. It wasn't fun to move in that game, and that's a problem in a genre about finding fun in movement. I bring this up because everything RoboCop 2 fucks up, Vice: Project Doom gets right, and I probably wouldn't have liked it as much as I did without first experiencing what bad is like.

It doesn't seem to be a particularly interesting or innovative platformer, and getting kicked back a few levels after failing an seemingly impossible boss fight has been making it very possible for me to tear myself away from the screen and do something else instead, but the game captures the joy of being a tough ex-mercenary possibly alien vice detective solving the mystery of a truck full of 'stuff' by jumping around in the street and harassing cats, and I'd say it's worth a look.



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1 comment:

  1. Birds and missile from Boss stage 6-3 can be destroyed by laser whip. Just saying

    ReplyDelete

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