Developer: Vic Tokai
Publisher: Vic Tokai
Released: September 1988
US Cartridge ID: NES-G3-USA
Genre: Action Adventure
Supported Peripherals: Controller
ROM Size: 2 megabit
Mapper: MMC1 (128k PRG, 128k CHR)
Based on the characters of the iconic Japanese manga (1969 – present), Golgo 13: Top Secret Mission follows the exploits of Duke Togo, better known to the world as the inimitable superspy Golgo 13. When the American NES title appeared in 1988, its license was unrecognizable to the majority of the American public, as only four Golgo 13 books featuring English translations of the manga had been published at the time of the game’s release. Despite its hero’s lack of recognizability and Nintendo’s censorship board, Golgo 13: Top Secret Mission effectively conveys the same tone and maturity as its source material. Its avant-garde approach to gaming (later mirrored in Konami’s The Adventures of Bayou Billy) frames its compelling narrative within the context of several game types, each presenting its own challenges and objectives.
Following the mysterious explosion of a helicopter over New York City, Togo finds himself framed for the hijacking of materials related to a CIA developed top-secret biological weapon. FIXER, a shadow organization that believes the DREK group (a thinly veiled allusion to the Nazi regime) is responsible for the accident, enlists the aid of Golgo 13’s renowned sniper skills to uncover the plot and to eliminate the head of DREK. Styled as an espionage thriller in the illustrious tradition of James Bond films, Golgo 13’s pursuit of truth takes place across twelve different acts, each named for a revered cinema classic.
Travelling between East Germany, Greece, Brazil, and Antarctica, Togo will battle through each area in a mix of traditional game styles, including 2D platforming (like Rolling Thunder), first-person maze exploration (similar to The Goonies II), first-person shooting (reminiscent of Operation Wolf without a Zapper), and side-scrolling shooting (akin to Gradius). These segments are often punctuated by animated dialogue scenes that serve to further the surprisingly complex plot or to provide hints on the next task.
The gameplay is largely comprised of good ideas hampered by mediocre execution. While the design showcases a lot of variety, no one single aspect stands out as particularly strong: the platform stages feature a wide range of locales and points of interest, but the controls are touchy and slow to respond, often resulting in annoyingly cheap hits. The mazes quickly become beleaguered battles of attrition with the player’s level of patience (even with the maps included in the manual), with one maze being a brutally complex three-floor monstrosity, and another, a dead end trap with no solution. The first-
person shooter stages, initiated with a pistol shot from the corner of the screen, are simple and fun diversions involving taking out targets with a crosshair, and the helicopter scrolling-shooter areas are enjoyable, though the excellent controls and well-balanced level of challenge are countered by the severe amount flickering that tends to disguise enemy projectiles. While the game seamlessly transitions between these modes on a regular basis, the lack of consistency in quality undermines much of its impact.
The graphics are simple yet highly stylized, suiting the action well in most game modes. Though not attractive, the stage visuals feature a fair amount of detail, and are easily identifiable by their recognizable landmarks and scenery. The mazes, however, are nothing but monochromatic hallways devoid of decoration or landmark objects, making them as tedious to look at as they are to play. The dialogue scenes are the high point, featuring well-done manga-style animated portraits for each character. The game music is unobtrusive but fitting, lending the appropriate feel to scenes without drawing any attention to itself, and the title theme is one of the catchiest in memory.
While Golgo 13: Top Secret Mission‘s gameplay could be generously referred to as uninspired and perfunctory, its storyline is first-rate. The plot is full of twists, with surprising revelations and acts of betrayal lying in wait at every corner. Being refreshingly adult in nature, the game respectfully and maturely broaches topics like sex and politics in a rare nod to the 18+ segment of the NES’ fan-base.
It’s rare that an action game relies so heavily on its narrative structure, but ultimately Golgo 13: Top Secret Mission is saved because of it. It is a game that is not worth playing for the gameplay, but for the novel cinematic experience.
|Golgo 13: Top Secret Mission
Vic Tokai, 9/1988
| ゴルゴ13 第一章神々の黄昏 (Gorugo 13 Daiisshou: Kamigami no Tasogare) /
Golgo 13 Chapter 1: Twilight of the Gods
Vic Tokai, 3/1988