Released: December 1988
US Cartridge ID: NES-PU-USA
Supported Peripherals: Controller
ROM Size: 2 megabit
Mapper: SLROM (128k PRG, 128k CHR)
Based on the star-studded Vietnam War epic of the same name, Platoon for the NES was released two years after the hit film saw a widespread US theater release. Bearing a tenuous connection to the events in the movie, Platoon makes a heroic effort to innovate on the trite and stale ideas that had, by 1988, pervaded the gameplay of most licensed-
based games. While it does falter in its execution, Platoon blends numerous gaming conventions in unique and unexpected ways.
The game is split across four stages (“The Combat Zone,” “The Tunnel System,” “The Bunker,” and “The Jungle Confrontation”), each offering a different take on gameplay while representing iconic scenes from the movie. The first, “The Combat Zone,” provides several objectives, including finding explosives to blow up a bridge, searching a village set deep in the Vietnamese jungle for supplies, and finding a trap door that leads to a subterranean network of tunnels. Playing from the traditional side-scrolling action view, the player-controlled soldier navigates a large jungle maze, avoiding the Vietcong and rigged tripwires. Upon completing the given objectives, the tunnels beneath the village await, where the action switches to an impressively animated first-person shooter, confronting the player with enemy combatants wielding guns and knives. Searching everywhere for flares and a compass, hidden enemy caches loaded with documents, weapons, and other miscellany will need to be searched out from a perspective akin to Kemco’s Shadowgate or The Uninvited. Upon leaving the tunnels, the soldier seeks refuge in a foxhole while waiting for sunrise, picking off enemies relying on the cover of darkness with only a flare gun and a trusty M-16 rifle. Finally, learning of the platoon leader’s culpability in a murder starts a frantic search for Sargent Barnes in a 3-D action stage, similar to those found in Cabal or Contra.
Platoon has many good ideas, though most of the developer’s success lies in the visual presentation. The introductory and ending cinemas, the jungle’s huge character sprites set against detailed backdrops, and the smooth scrolling in the first-person view of the tunnels look impressive, though these are countered by the grainy and comparatively lackluster visuals of the third and fourth stages. The music is irritating, featuring short loops of tinny, uninspired 8-bit beeps that do nothing to enhance the onscreen action, serving only to irritate the player. The controls are reasonably responsive, and rarely hinder progress.
Platoon‘s fatal flaw is its reliance on mazes to extend the length of the game. The first stage is so confusing that the manual recommends that the first-time player draws a map to keep track of their bearings in the jungle, and it requires so much trial and error that most players will likely submit in frustration before finishing it. The second stage provides an on-screen map to help guide the player through another maze, though it shows such a small portion of the tunnel network at a time that its use is severely limited. The fourth and final stage features yet another maze, this time featuring more booby traps and wild ammo spray from enemies than any stage before it, making it feel less like a legitimate challenge, and more like a cheap and desperate attempt to eke out a bit more longevity from this otherwise incredibly short cartridge.
Though there is a lot of creative energy on show in the sheer variety showcased in Platoon‘s gameplay, the contrived attempt to mix such disparate ideas in an action title undermine the game’s potential. While most of Sunsoft’s games can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best that the 8-bit machine had to offer, Platoon serves only to tarnish their sterling reputation, offering rare glimpses of sheer genius undercut by a lack of direction and playability. It is worth experiencing once for sheer novelty purposes, but otherwise is best left collecting dust on your shelf.