I’m ashamed to admit I wrote off Vice: Project Doom for a very long time. I thought the box art was lame so I avoided it. At this point I should also mention that I bought Marvel’s X-Men the same year. Needless to say I was not the most discerning eleven year old. Yet if I would have examined the back of the box I would have seen it for the awesome 2d platformer it is. It is only natural that on a system as diverse as the NES some games would fall through the cracks. But Vice: Project Doom deserved better.
In the future the B.E.D.A Corporation supplies the world with advanced weapons and equipment. Though seemingly benevolent it is just a front. In reality they are aliens planning to take over the world with their new drug Gel. Gel is food for the aliens but transforms humans into mutants. As Detective Hart it is your job to investigate the B.E.D.A Corporation and find your missing partner Reese. The story unfolds in cutscenes after every level and while it isn’t elaborate it is a suitable reward for your progress.
There really is no dancing around it, Vice: Project Doom is eerily similar to Ninja Gaiden. From its cutscenes to its action the game is clearly inspired by Tecmo’s classic. But even that is doing it a disservice as it also combines the car racing segments of Super Spy Hunter and first person shooting action of Operation Wolf to create a game that is more than the sum of its parts. Usually when a game spans multiple genres like this it suffers (Shadows of the Empire) however every part of Vice is excellent.
Hart is armed with three weapons that can be switched at any time. The laser whip is the most versatile. It has decent range for a melee attack and swings in an arc that enables it to hit enemies in back of you too. The .44 magnum isn’t as useful in my opinion. It only travels a short distance and fires in a straight line. In the few situations you would use it covering the distance with the laser whip is more effective. Grenades are your long distance attack but travel in a long arc, making them hard to aim. However the explosion left behind inflicts splash damage which is devastating when timed. Both the gun and grenades use ammo but that isn’t a concern as it drops in abundance.
Platforming comprises about ninety percent of the game so it is good that it is so well designed. I’ve compared this to Ninja Gaiden, in particular the Ancient Ship of Doom. Both games feature a strong mix of mechanical enemies and bio creatures but Vice’s similarities go even further than that. It has its own version of eagles and bats that are just as annoying. One level in particular, stage 7-1 takes place on a train and could be ripped straight from Ninja Gaiden 2.
What Vice: Project Doom does have going for it is its worldwide setting and variety. Tracking down the leader of the B.E.D.A. Corporation will take you around the globe and includes a diverse set of enemies. It is a bit strange though that a company that makes bioweapons employs so many ninjas. For two of its levels you jump behind the wheel of Ferrari for some vehicle based hijinks. These segments are near identical to Super Spy Hunter and serve as a quick diversion. There are also two first person gun battles that work surprisingly well despite the lack of light gun support. The cursor moves quickly and ammo is in ready supply so you can spam bullets. They are also short to avoid frustration. Its surprising how well it switches genre; for what is a small slice of a larger whole they are really well done.
The one area I’m happy the game doesn’t follow Ninja Gaiden is in its difficulty. Vice: Project Doom is almost perfectly balanced initially. Ammo is plentiful, your attacks are pretty strong, and health power-ups drop when needed. You almost have to go out of your way to die in the game’s first half. Midway through it picks up considerably. By South America enemies spawn in groups, attack from behind, and even drop down unexpectedly. The number of instant death pits increases significantly as well as the enemies that knock you into them. It never descends to the level of stage 6-2 of Ninja Gaiden but you will sweat, especially in the final stage. There are infinite continues for a reason, you’ll need them.
Vice: Project Doom is a great game with a low profile. There were many fantastic 2d platformers towards the NES’s life and some were bound to get lost in the shuffle. It is far better than a significant number of similar games held in high esteem and if you loved Ninja Gaiden is even better. Now is the perfect time to discover a hidden gem especially as the game is dirt cheap.