25 Years of NES Part 15: G.I. Joe and G.I.Joe: The Atlantis Factor
Duck Tales and Capcom’s other Disney games may have been the best licensed games on the NES, but there were plenty of other good ones. Like Sunsoft’s Batman, which was a very good game even if it was only vaguely related to Batman? (To be fair, Burton’s Batman was only barely Batman related either.) A pair of licensed games, one of which happens to have been published by Capcom, that were very good are the G.I. Joe games: G.I. Joe and The Atlantis Factor. I am not a huge G.I. Joe fan. The cartoon was a little before my time. I had tons of the toys, but most of them were scavenged from yard sales, leaving me with little knowledge of the series mythology. This lack of knowledge may explain why the rest of the internet seems to scorn The Atlantis Factor but love the first game. Perhaps there is some place where it contradicts some tenet f the GI Joe story, I don’t know. Personally, I would call the Atlantis Factor the better game.
The first game was a very straightforward action game with a few twists. The first was that every mission had the player made a team from five available Joes: Duke, Snake Eyes, Rock-n-Roll, Blizzard or Captain Grid-Iron. The game designated one character the leader, the player chooses the other 2 team members. Which of course meant you choose Snake Eyes and another, because who is going to leave the ninja. The other twist is in how the game is structured. Each mission has three stages. The first was infiltration, a go from point A to point B level. The second part usually took place inside a base and had some sort of rescue or sabotage goal. The third stage would be a boss battle with a recognizable Joe foe. There is some variation, but this was the basic set up. The first G.I. Joe is an original and well-made game, even if it is just short of spectacular.
While the basic gameplay stays the same, the sequel changes thing up a lot from a structure stand point. At the start of Atlantis Factor, the player has only one character to choose: General Hawk. Instead of six discreet missions, the Atlantis Factor is one big mission. In order to get a full team, the player must find or rescue them on the island. In addition to Hawk, the player gains access to: Wet Suit, Roadblock, Storm Shadow, Snake Eyes and Duke. What is great about the Atlantis Factor is the open structure. Taking a page from Mega Man’s book, the player can choose the order to tackle the levels. There are routes all over the island and the player can beat them in the order he sees fit. The levels do get harder the further away from the starting point you get, but as the player advances, more Joes and weapons are unlocked.
The characters in Atlantis Factor all have unique abilities. Wet Suit can go underwater, allowing access to parts of levels that would normally be able to get to. Duke can shoot up, Roadblock can crawl under obstacles; each character can do something. Each of the weapons gained, as well as fists, can be powered up, though each character has to power up with each weapon. It is a little tedious at times, but it gives each Joe specific strengths depending on which weapons he is good with.
The complaints about Atlantis Factor are mostly spurious. It lacks some graphical tricks that its predecessor used with parallax scrolling and enemies attacking from the fore and background. While it was neat, it provided little actual gameplay benefit. It is less of a flaw and more of a sad footnote. Some say that the characters lost their individuality, but I’ve already shown how that is not true. Whatever individuality that was lost was more than mad up for in the increased number of other options available. The most frequent complaint is about the bosses and mini-bosses. In the first game, they were roughly the same size as the Joes, giving the boss battles a more “realistic” feel. In Atlantis Factor they were hulking Goliaths to the players David. This is a poor change, but not an insurmountable one.
These are two fine NES action games. G.I. Joe is a compact and well-designed game that more than deserves its solid reputation. The Atlantis Factor, far from being the pathetic cash-in that squandered its predecessor’s potential, is an ambitious and mostly successful evolution of the first game.