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RELEASE DATE (NA): March 1990 GENRE: Action/Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

Formerly titled "The Dodging of a Thousand Bullets and Dudes in Coloured Berets."

Code Name: Viper was one of those Capcom NES games that seemed to get lost in the fold. When it was released in 1990, it didn't really stand out amongst the other major titles that came out that year, such as Mega Man 3, Castlevania III, Super Mario Bros. 3... Hmmm, come to think of it, the game might have been a huge success if it had been called Code Name: Viper 3. But, as was the case with many oft-forgotten NES games, Code Name: Viper was a lost gem in the library. least, in some ways it was.

Formerly named "Ningen Heiki Dead Fox" (roughly translated to "Dead Fox: The Human Weapon"), the North American version of the game has absolutely nothing to do with its Japanese counterpart title. There is no "human weapon" to be found here. Instead, you play as the hero with the slicked hair, Kenny Smith, who is the actual "Viper". His overseeing officer, Commander Jones, sends you on a dangerous mission where you must travel to South America to learn more about a large-scale drug syndicate. You'll eventually discover, however, that (and I do warn of a spoiler right after this next parenthesis) Commander Jones has been running the drug cartel this whole time, making you really scratch your head as to why he'd have his best soldier try and solve the mystery. Some players may be surprised that certain elements of the game, such as the strong focus of drugs as a power factor, survived the legendary thrashing process of Nintendo of America's olde censors. I suppose there would be few other explanations as to why Mr. Smith was sent to South America... except maybe to discover the arcane secrets behind Carnivale.

Mr. Smith must survive through seven different missions in various areas throughout South America. But for whatever reason, everyone's on high alert to kill the poor guy. And unless you have top-notch reflexes yourself, they'll succeed. Soldiers with various colours of garb all have put aside their differences for a common goal: to kill you. You can tell based on their colour how dangerous they'll be (and how many hits it takes to kill them). Gray ones, for example, take a single hit and won't fire back at you, thus making them easy targets. Purple ones, on the other hand, WILL fire back. Heck, even the freaky green ones will pounce from the treetops!

Yes, you're pretty much guaranteed to perish more than a few times.

You'll be able to memorize their statistics soon after you encounter each one, but pretty much all of them are a nuisance. Take them out quickly; they do NOT ascribe to the classic Capcom mantra of "off of screen, out of mind." You only also start out with two hit points, and although you CAN get more, their availability (picked up via rare items) are few and far between. Direct contact with an enemy results in loss of one hit point; a bullet causes two HP damage (and, most likely, immediate death). Just...shoot before they can. You can sneak out of their way by jumping to a higher or lower platform, but they are typically smart and, after looking around and seeing that you're not there, will follow you up or down. The only way to shake them... is by sending them to their graves! Ooo, scary. On the plus side, don't worry about taking the time to carefully dodge and destroy them: you won't run out of time very easily. You could probably stop halfway through a level, grab a sandwich, and come back and finish the level with a bit of time to spare. (NOTE: Don't actually do this. Eat first, play later.)

Also in your travels are doors. So... many... doors... Many of them are, sadly, empty. But it's still important to visit each one. Some may contain additional ammunition; others will contain hostages that, after rescuing you, will say "THANK YOU" in an eerily digitized manner; and within each level is a door hiding an informant with a bomb you must use to blast open the door to the next level. Get there without the bomb, and you'll be backtracking faster than a politician with an open fly. You'll spend quite some time in and out of doors; unfortunately, if an enemy is standing in front of it as you come out, you'll bump into him and sustain injury (and believe me, it happens).

I also particularly appreciate how the manual says, "To converse with any character throughout the game, press the A button." But there really aren't too many people with whom you get to chat, aside from Commander Jones at the beginning and end of the game and your informants at the end of every stage. If you try and talk to the enemy, you'll likely die. Don't do that.

Code Name: Viper boasts a gritty graphical style that does help to portray the seedy nature of his mission. His surroundings are often bleak while boasting a good colour palette (favouring orange a tad too much at times). They range from jungle environs to semi-swanky palaces and even a factory (perhaps for the manufacture of drugs). That factory, by the way, is filled with spikes. I believe that's a primary criterion for Capcom games. While the game has decent graphics for what it needs, the soundtrack feels lacking. Though there are catchy tunes within, the sheer number of tunes is not as catchy. There are only four songs to cover the eight main stages, plus a few more to cover the outstanding areas of the game (password screen, talks with informants, etc.). All of the tunes seem to have a smooth mix of South American and even Middle Eastern influences, making your journey feel a tad more chic.

One more thing needs to be said, if it hasn't been implied already: Code Name: Viper is HARD. On Easy mode, it's hard. One slip of the thumb, one stray bullet, one poor jump... they can all lead to an unfortunate demise and a significant trip back to an earlier starting point in your stage (and each stage is pretty lengthy, so you may have to retrace your steps a long way). You need top-notch reflexes to even get past the first stage, so if you have shaky hands or the reflexes of a morphine addict, don't even try this one. And you only get passwords after completing THREE stages, not just one. I find that to be ridiculous. Nonetheless, Code Name: Viper is a hidden gem to be sought out. It isn't particularly rare or expensive, so there isn't much holding you back from trying it out (unless you lack a functioning NES deck) -- and no, it's NOT available on the Wii's Virtual Console service, sadly.

Oh, but...

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