Licensed games are notorious for being mediocre at best, but this wasn’t always the case. The first G.I. Joe game for NES is an example of a game that not only perfectly used its license, but was a good game all on its own.
The structure of G.I. Joe is key to why the game works so well. You have five playable characters available from the start, and each of the first five missions requires you to use one of them. You also get to choose two other team members to accompany the preset leader. Each characters has his own strengths and weaknesses. For example, Rock & Roll provides a powerful gun while Snake Eyes has a strong melee attack and a weak “gun” that doesn’t use ammo. Every character works on every stage, but playing to their strengths will make your runs go much more smoothly.
Choosing characters isn’t just a matter of preference, though. You’ll find permanent upgrades for character stamina and weapon level scattered throughout each stage, and these upgrades are kept permanently using a password system. Character death will result in the loss of some of this progress, but you can always re-enter your password and try again. Powerups are given out generously, and you have more than enough to max out every character’s weapon power in time for the final mission.
The missions themselves also have a distinct structure. The first and third parts are simple action sequences, while the middle section of each mission has you exploring a large base looking to plant bombs in certain locations. All three sections end with boss fights, allowing you to bask in a wide variety of G.I. Joe nostalgia, if you’re into that. You even get to ride a few vehicles you may remember as toys during the game.
All the structure in the world doesn’t actually make a game fun, but G.I. Joe has that covered too. Ammunition is limited, though not overly so, so you’ll want to make strategic use of melee attacks where feasible. The different characters’ guns have different strengths and firing patterns as well. There are many incentives to switch up your characters regularly, which keeps things interesting. The platforming is well-designed, though the controls are not up to the quality of the rest of the game.
Whether you have G.I. Joe nostalgia or not, I’d recommend trying the NES game for a deep and satisfying run and gun experience. It’s a short game, but one that’s fun to master and offers not only a second quest, but an expert-level third quest as well.