VICE PROJECT DOOM / American Sammy / NES
Vice Project Doom jocked Ninja Gaiden really, really, REALLY hard. The gameplay feels an awful lot like Ninja Gaiden 2, minus wall-clinging and with maybe just a soupcon of Sunsoft's Batman game added. It's got the broody atmosphere and art style. It's got the between-level cinematics. It even has the fgjjfkfjgkfjg birds swooping around and the ninja that jumps out of the pits and throws three stars at you. But if you're going to blatantly copy something in the video game world, you can usually get away with it as long as you do it really big and really well, and Vice mostly succeeds on that count.
Probably how the Koch brothers wake up every morning
The game is set in a cyberpunk future, and we play as Hart, some sort of cop/PI/bounty hunter or something. We start out in a typical day of responding to a traffic call by running dozens of civilians off the road to their fiery deaths in a reckless high-speed pursuit, but Hart soon finds the driver of the Rogue Truck he was after has weird mutant claw-hands and was packing an advanced laser rifle. This leads to an investigation which in turn leads to high-level corpo-government conspiracies with biological weapons and etc.
A la Batman, Hart can flip between three weapons. He's got a laser whip that for all the world looks like a big sword. Then he's got a pistol that doesn't fire very far for some reason, and some firebombs that go a little farther and make a nice 'splosion. The latter two have finite ammo that enemies drop. A tip to the uninitiated, there's an occasional Operation Wolf-esque first-person shooting level, and you'll want to hoard most of the pistol ammo and firebombs for those as if you run out there you're basically helpless.
The action is zippy and the levels mostly well-designed, and you're kept on your toes by a mixture of stationary projectile-fire-ers and enemies that suddenly rush you from off the screen. The one major mis-step here is the driving and first-person shooting levels. I've slammed these "multi-genre action games" before (Mafat Conspiracy, Fayou Filly) for doing three or four types of games poorly instead of sticking to one and doing it well. Fortunately, Vice mostly nails its core platforming, but the other levels are gratuitous and the game would have been better if they were excised. The good thing is there's only two of each and they don't last very long, so they don't drag the game down into the depths.
The cinematics and story also aren't as good as they were in Ninja Gaiden. I know, who's playing an NES platformer for the story, so I didn't hold this against the score. But the artistic direction of the cinematics isn't as good, with too many stiff talking heads and repetitive shots. And the story got a bad localization, is sometimes complete nonsense, and seems more concerned with rearranging concepts from Ninja Gaiden than being original. You know how when you were a little kid, when you got a creative writing assignment in English class, if you were really into some particular game at the time you'd probably write a crappy re-arrangement of the game's major plot points? Yeah, that's what this is like.
Mistakes here are never serious, though, and it's all redeemed by the solid and satisfying platforming. Vice can hold its head high as a legitimate Badass Platformer despite not being all that original.
* Gameplay Video