Maniacs – they’re everywhere! At least in Vice: Project Doom. While scouting for a quick NES playthrough, I saw the cover art and thought “Yes, I’m feeling 80s. Let’s do this!”. Much like a parody such as the short film Kung Fury, this ticks all the boxes for a classic 80s action film. It reads and plays like a cliche, but I don’t believe its tongue is anywhere near its cheek.
Look through Instagram or Twitter when someone posts a new haul of retro games, and you’re unlikely to see Vice: Project Doom in that pile. Likewise, it’s not a game everyone talks about either. Granted, it’s almost 30 years old, but not one listed as a classic. I can happily say that I went in this with eyes firmly open, without any baggage of whether it was supposedly good or not.
From the outset, it plays like a movie. Close-ups of characters with someone or something out of focus in the background. We’re talking the NES here, so a cutscene is a usually an image – occasionally animated, and some dialogue underneath so don’t expect a Call of Duty setpiece.
The game starts off with an intro which introduces a man with half a face, and another seems to be an assistant chimaera. Half-face man is actually just the insinuated baddie, but we have him in extreme close up and can only see his ominous eyes. They discuss an unnamed party ‘he’ and that he’ll be arriving soon, just like our assumed antagonist did 30 years ago. The ambiguity! Oh, it’s raining as well.
Immediately the film – sorry, game, starts with a car chase. It’s a bit like Spy Hunter, quite possibly the best driving game in the arcades growing up. It’s not clear why, but you can destroy all the vehicles. I’m hoping that they’re all evil; otherwise, I’ve killed a lot of innocent people. After a minute or so, there’s an artic lorry that sprays ammo at you and shoots out cars(?) as well. Blow this up, and our hero, Hart, jumps out and puts his shades on. In the dark. But… the driver gets out and has the hand of a monster. What is this?! It’s Alien Nation, that’s what it is. Or V.
Cut to the city skyline, and we’ve now got a platform game, our hero looking a little like Ryo Hazuki of Shenmue fame. It all starts making sense immediately – what with the guys who have spikes coming out of their backs, crawling on the floor. The 4ft tall flying bugs or the pogoing men in garbs that look like they just finished filming on the set of Big Trouble in Little China. Good job you brought your laser whip. Good job, you can jump too. The constructors who put up the scaffolding will come into work tomorrow and fill their pants as most of the metal beams have fallen down when our hero jumped on them. #healthandsafety.
For all my snideness and trying to be smart, I like this game. There’s a lot of variety, and it’s so corny that it’s brilliant. If someone said this was based on a straight-to-video action movie, I wouldn’t be surprised and genuinely would seek this out. Don’t expect any remakes anytime soon though.
Vice: Project Doom appears to have been a bit of a pioneer for the multi-genre game. There’s driving from the beginning and in a later level, then the meat and potatoes being the platforming action. Even better, there’s a first-person shooter – before the Doom-style FPS and more like Operation Wolf or The Untouchables. It’s jam-packed with action. Ok, so it’s not a real film, but this needs a remake and developed into live-action by John Carpenter. Yeah, I know how old he is, but he’s one of the best around and would be the go-to person. Hell, I might even let him cast Kurt Russell as the lead.
I’ve read comments that people liken this to Ninja Gaiden. Well, hold on to your testicles (or friends’) as I’m going to say that this is BETTER than Ninja Gaiden. That’s right, I’ve pointed the finger at that beloved title. If you’ve read my thoughts on that game, you’d know I love the latter series and ninjas in general, but Vice: Project Doom is such a better game and best of all, actually playable.
As I get deeper into the NES Online catalogue, my view of the games continues to change. Ignoring all the go-to games such as Mario, I’m finding a lot of titles that I’ve a) never heard of or b) never played that turn out to be gems. Vice: Project Doom has fast-tracked its way to the non-existent top ten, and I’ll be playing this a lot more. I’ll go even as far to say I’ll aim to finish it too!
Disclaimer: As is the template for my posts now, I like to add a relevant non-political statement. I don’t hate the NES nor the games. There have been some absolute turkeys – mostly the sports games, but I’m enjoying other titles more and more. It’s not the age – I was playing Spectrum games before the NES, so don’t even go there, girlfriend.