Capcom were pioneers on the NES, able to balance their output with between arcade conversions and original titles. Even their “ports” to the NES tended to become completely original games, often vastly superior to the arcade brethren. This was especially true in the case of Bionic Commando and Section Z. So it is a bit strange that they would create such a blatant copy of another title. Code Name: Viper is shockingly close to Namco’s Rolling Thunder, to the point I’m surprised they weren’t sued. That being said despite being a rip off this is a solid title that puts up a fight.
Code Name: Viper was released at the height of the war on drugs and so carries an anti-drug message. You are Special Forces agent Kenny Smith, tasked by his superior Commander Jones with taking down a large drug syndicate in South America. The hostages saved will help slowly piece together who is the mastermind behind the increasing drug activity in the region. I question the logic of sending one man to take out an entire syndicate in a far off continent but if Rocky can end the Cold War with his two fists and slurred speech I suppose Kenny can’t complain.
The comparisons to Rolling Thunder and Shinobi can’t be avoided; this is basically Rolling Thunder in everything but name. From the way Kenny leaps, his reloading animation, the level setup with the revolving doors, even the colored coded enemies and their attacks, this is as obvious a copy as they come. Even the weapon selection is the same with your only options being the standard pistol and a sub machinegun. In spite of the similarities to the previously mentioned titles Viper does manage to distinguish itself in a few ways. This is a much faster paced game although you still need to move with some caution. Kenny is a much more nimble protagonist, able to shoot in the air and control his trajectory while airborne. The biggest difference comes in your mission objective.
Every level is two pronged. You still need to make it to the exit before time runs out. Before that you must locate a commando who will give you the grenades needed to blow it up. This hostage can be anywhere and it forces you to enter every door. Initially he is placed in your direct path but later you’ll have to go out of your way to find the bastard. Where entering the doors was optional in those other titles it is mandatory here because of that. You will also find many other captured civilians although if you take too long you’ll find nothing but a decayed skeleton (gross).
It also separates itself in terms of its level design. Each map is huge by NES standards with a sufficient amount of horizontal and vertical platforming. The early stages keep it simple with a single path but by the midpoint they become veritable mazes of tunnels and elevators. Finding that one guy becomes a lot harder as time becomes a more critical factor. Although the game is confined to South America there is a great deal of variety as you’ll visit Mayan Ruins, a village, and even a creepy mansion hideout. There were very few if any games set in the region back then so kudos to Capcom for doing something different as it helped the game stand out even more.
For all of its differences Code Name: Viper shares one more trait with the games that inspired it, high difficulty. The soldiers here are much more aggressive than the goofy looking Geldra, actively seeking you out if nearby. As early as the second level you will run into more armed soldiers and some really devious enemy placement. Your life bar might as well not exist since one shot means death. It only serves to protect you from head on collisions which knock you back Castlevania style. My biggest issue however are respawning enemies. If you double back even slightly enemies respawn which is a drain on ammo. It forces you to keep moving but in a game that demands deliberate pacing it can be frustrating. At least there are passwords to save progress.
Aside from the, uh, borrowed animation Code Name: Viper looks great. The various South America locations are highly detailed with plenty of minor background animation that really bring the setting to life. I’ve mentioned some of the stage locations such as the village but you’ll also visit a warehouse and a factory on the way to the boss’s hideout. It does start to get pretty strange when you are fighting mutants. I’ll let that slide as it is a weird but welcome break from the generic soldiers. The soundtrack is more impressive than the graphics as the music is really catchy and reminiscent of some of Capcom’s Disney work.
This is far from being original but in the end it doesn’t matter as it is better than the NES port of the game that inspired it. Viper is an excellent action title and one that you won’t complete in short order.