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Codename: Viper

Back in the 80’s clones of popular games were a dime a dozen.  Well I guess you could say that still persists even to this day.  Super Mario Brothers was revolutionary, so naturally everyone proceeded to follow in its footsteps.  Of course they didn’t analyze why it was so revolutionary, they simply figured if they chuck a cute character and some floating platforms in a game they’d strike gold.  Tetris and the numerous games that followed in its wake were of the same ilk.  In this case, Capcom created a clone of Namco’s Rolling Thunder.  It’s weird in that I played this before Rolling Thunder so the two get switched around in my brain

You assume the role of Kenny Smith, who is tasked by his commander, Director Jones, to investigate a large drug syndicate in South America.   Your job on each stage is to rescue as many hostages as possible while working your way to the end.  One hostage in particular will provide the grenades necessary to reveal the exit.  At the end of each level you are given partial clues that will in time reveal the mastermind behind the drug activity.  Looking back it never occurred to me until years later that this was released at the height of the war on drugs.  Remember when every arcade machine had the “Winners don’t use drugs” message? I honestly hope they weren’t expecting to get a sales boost just because of that.

Make no mistake this is identical to Rolling Thunder in gameplay with a few exceptions. Had they named the game Codename: Rolling Thunder no one would bat an eye.  Just like Namco’s classic you can jump or drop down between floors to avoid attacks.  Kenny is a more athletic protagonist and can change direction in midair if you’re fast enough.  The numerous doors that dot the landscape can be entered to obtain power-ups but can also serve as cover.  By holding up you can hide indefinitely to wait for enemies to pass by.  A direct collision with an enemy will only knock you back but Kenny isn’t so resilient that he can survive more than one gun shot.  You only receive 2 weapons in the entire game: the pistol you start with and a machine gun. Other power-ups come in the form of more ammo, time, health and very rare extra lives.

The 8 levels in the game will take you all around South America.  Confining the game to one set continent might sound stifling but there’s a great deal of variety in the locales you’ll visit, from the jungle to a warehouse, a South American village, and even Mayan ruins.  While there are numerous hostages to save the P.O.W mandatory in completing each level becomes harder and harder to locate as the game progresses.  As the levels progress the number of doors increases, meaning you’ll have to check every one to find the man you need.  By the fourth level the stage layout becomes more maze like, not that you’ll ever need to worry about time running out.

In the early going there isn’t too much enemy variety.  The majority of the time you will face different colored soldiers, with their color denoting their attack pattern.  It quickly becomes a priority to memorize which ones take more than one shot to kill since they’re usually quick on the draw if given the chance.  The latter stages in the game start to get tricky when newer enemies are introduced such as hawks and more aggressive soldiers.

Codename Viper isn’t very challenging but it does have its share of cheap tactics.  There are far too many moments where enemies will pop up from cover with no warning or dart across the leaving little time to react.  These cheap deaths are frustrating and make the game a series of trial and error at points unless you have beyond lightning reflexes.  The password saves help but honestly aren’t necessary as this isn’t a long game, not that I’m complaining.

I do wonder how Capcom got away with this release and were never sued by Namco.  All jokes aside there’s nothing ground breaking here, just a solid game.  Although Codename: Viper lacks any one stand out feature its good for at least an hour or two of entertainment, especially if you are a big fan of the Rolling Thunder series.

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