Sunday, March 19, 2017

G.I. Joe: The Video Games

It's the 35th anniversary this year of my favorite toy line, the 3 3/4" G.I. Joe action figures. Of course, when I was a kid I loved the cartoon as well but in the '80s there weren't many home video games to play based on the license. In the '90s there were a couple but if you didn't have a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) you were out of luck. There have been six official games released in North America, as well as a couple of Action Force (international name for the license) games released in Europe. There was an unofficial fan made game released in 2012 and updated in 2015 that is free, and not a bad effort for a smaller scale game. My hope is for the license to one day receive the same treatment that Transformers received from Activision and High Moon Studios not long ago. Before I get into more details on that let me first go over the games that do exist:

  • G.I. Joe: Cobra Strike (1983) - Atari 2600 
  • G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (1985) - Apple II, Commodore 64
  • Action Force (1987) - Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum
  • Action Force II: International Heroes (1988) - ZX Spectrum
  • G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (1991) - Nintendo Entertainment System
  • G.I. Joe: The Atlantis Factor (1992) - Nintendo Entertainment System
  • G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (1992) - Arcade
  • G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) - PlayStation 2 & 3, PlayStation Portable, Wii, Xbox 360

Electronic Gaming Monthly #18

Cobra Strike is a rather generic game. If you removed G.I. Joe from the title you might not even realize it has anything to do with the franchise. A large cobra snake moves side-to-side horizontally shooting downward while soldiers run across the bottom of the screen. Two players can use the paddle controllers to shoot the snake with stationary guns at each side of the screen and slide a shield back and forth to protect the soldiers. A third player can join the game as the snake which is a nice touch. I own this one and it's not a great game; it could use some more content but then it is an Atari 2600 game. At the very least they should have had cobra planes dropping bombs instead of a giant snake.

Electronic Gaming Monthly #19
I've played a fair amount of the 1985 Commodore 64 game too. That one has two modes with one being a shootout between a Joe and a bad guy. While not an amazing game, for myself in the '80s I thought it was cool to be able to control 16 characters from the cartoon. It's not a deep game by any means and I didn't care too much about the other mode that involved driving a vehicle from an overhead perspective. The only other official G.I. Joe game I've played is The Rise of Cobra and I didn't enjoy it much at all so I didn't play it for long.

Taxan is responsible for the first G.I. Joe game on NES and that's considered to be the best home release while Capcom made the other NES game and that received above average reviews. They're both somewhat late 8-bit releases though considering the Genesis released in 1989 and the Super NES hit the U.S. in 1991 so the 16-bit age was upon us at that point. I'm sure it made sense from a business standpoint since there were a lot of NES' in homes but a Genesis version certainly would have been welcome.

GamePro - February 1991
GamePro - April 1992

The poorly made movie tie-in is the only G.I. Joe video game we've received since 1992 and although that is disappointing, it is also understandable considering the license isn't as big as it was 25 years ago. While I'd like to make the argument that Transformers -- also a popular toy line and cartoon in the '80s -- has had quite a few games in the last decade so G.I. Joe should too, it's rather easy to see why that's not the case. For one, Transformers are giant robots that transform into vehicles which has much more global appeal than a license that is comparable to the U.S. military. Secondly, the Transformers movies, despite what you may think of them, have raked in a ridiculous amount of money worldwide and more are on the way keeping the brand in the spotlight in a big way.

Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear -- Black Thorn
For as long as I can remember, any time I play a military-themed video game I tend to think about how well the game might work as a G.I. Joe game. I played a lot of Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear (1999) and while that game aims for realism, replacing the Rainbow Six team with Joes and the generic enemies with Cobra soldiers would still make for a good time. Aside from squad-based shooters, the real-time strategy and first-person shooter genres are a great fit too. It's really not difficult to find a game that could work perfectly with the license.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
I'm also a fan of open-world games and last year I found myself playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. That game, without a doubt, could be converted into an amazing G.I. Joe game. Set the game on Cobra Island with Snake Eyes and his wolf Timber replacing Big Boss and D-dog. As other Joes are rescued they can become playable, added as support characters, or join the base crew (on the U.S.S. Flagg of course).

I'll stop rambling off my dreams now and move onto one of my favorite games that you can actually sort of turn into a G.I. Joe game yourself. On October 9, 2012 2K and Firaxis Games released XCOM: Enemy Unknown. XCOM is a turn-based strategy game where a military force battles alien invaders, and players can edit their soldiers' names, including nicknames, and appearances. It goes without saying that I turned my team into a squad of Joes and while the aliens aren't quite Cobra, it worked well enough. That was good and it only got better on February 5, 2016 when Firaxis' sequel XCOM 2 was released.


XCOM 2 adds quite a bit more to the character customization, even offering voices in a variety of languages. This is one of the best choices G.I. Joe fans have to play an excellent modern game with the ability to create their own characters and get them to resemble the action figures fairly well. The base game has plenty to work with but users can also purchase downloadable content or download fan-created items for more customization options. Although the game begins with standard weapons you will need to upgrade them as the game progresses, making the combat a bit more futuristic but then in the cartoon the guns looked more like they were firing lasers than bullets.

XCOM 2 - G.I. Joe Action Figure Comparison

Most XCOM fans believe the only way to play is in iron man mode where you only get one save file and the game auto-saves with each move a player makes so soldiers that die stay dead. If you play that way you'll want a large pool of soldiers to draw from and I just happen to have one with 84 G.I. Joe characters that I'd love to share. It's easy to import and export the character pools for the PC version and the file size is small. If you'd like to try out my characters (created using only the base assets) just use the blog's contact form and I'll email the file to you. It's a great starting point even if you want to make your own characters. They're easy to edit and users can just as easily make any character appear only as a VIP to work at the base rather than take part in missions.

XCOM 2 - G.I. Joe Action Figure Comparison

Originally I created some Cobras to represent in-game enemy VIPs but they rarely made an appearance and don't really have an impact on the game. Plus, many of the Joes wear green and/or brown fatigues and were born in the United States, and I wanted some more variety. Therefore, I created quite a few of the bad guys and also took some liberties when creating the Joes, like changing their birthplace and having them speak in other languages. One thing I did not do is copy all of the action figures' file card information but there is room to do so. Instead I only entered what an action figure's file card lists as their role into the bio field. Also, I had to make up some nicknames and real names since a few characters, such as Snake Eyes and Zartan, have their actual names classified.

Toy Soldiers: War Chest
Hasbro has worked with Ubisoft (Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon) recently to bring their board games to consoles and PCs, and even licensed G.I. Joe to it for use in Toy Soldiers: War Chest so if a G.I. Joe game does get made any time in the near future Ubisoft could be the publisher Hasbro looks to first. If you're curious, Toy Soldiers is a tower defense game where you can take direct control over some units to blast enemies with. The retail Hall of Fame Edition includes the G.I. Joe (and Masters of the Universe!) content or it can be purchased separately if you buy the digital version.

Micro Machines World Series
Surprisingly, the upcoming Micro Machines World Series has some G.I. Joe items in it as well. I don't know that you can control anything Joe related though; they might just be background objects that act as obstacles in races. In any case, it's good to see the license continues to be used in video games so there is at least some reason for G.I. Joe fans waiting for a game to have hope that it is still possible to get a new, complete game. Even an official computer game mod for XCOM or another great game could be enough to satisfy fans like myself.

1 comment:

  1. In a new trailer for Micro Machines World Series it is now clear that players can control a Cobra H.I.S.S. tank.