Real name: Gunther.
DEVELOPER: Arc System Works
RELEASE DATE: March 1990
EDIT FROM THE FUTURE: According to GameFAQs, the original source I used for this review, Code Name: Viper was developed by Capcom. LIES. Turns out it was developed by Arc System Works, which makes the following review a little… awkward. Still, my intentions were pure, dangit!
Capcom has a history of being an awesome game developer and of recycling their main franchises to Hades and back. What I, as a Capcom fan, was not aware of is that they are guilty of recycling other companies’ franchises as well. Code Name: Viper is basically Rolling Thunder in a coat of jungle war-paint. The enemies, the reloading system, the amount of damage you can take, the doors you enter, the way the main character jumps and shoots and ducks, is all the same. All Capcom did was add hostages and remove the signs on the doors signifying where bullets are. These “borrowed” elements do not lessen the game’s appeal in any way, though. Capcom’s additions to the core Rolling Thunder experience arguably make it better and more interesting. In fact, I enjoyed playing Code Name: Viper so much, I will call the game an “homage” to Rolling Thunder instead of a rip-off.
For those that haven’t experienced a Rolling Thunder game, here’s the gist of Code Name: Viper. You play as a one-man commando whose goal is to rescue hostages and get to the end of the stage. Hostages are hidden behind slightly camouflaged doors in the background of the stage, but there is nothing to signify which doors hold hostages, so you’ll have to enter every one to find them. Doors also hold extra bullets, but they can also pop out enemies, so a quick reaction time is necessary. Enemies tactics differ based on their clothing. For example, grey and blue-colored enemies don’t shoot, but any other colored enemy shoots. Pink enemies shoot one bullet at a time, while beige colored enemies shoot several bullets at a time. You never know what color will be lying in wait for you, which keeps you on your toes at all time. You have two hit points, but if you take a bullet, you’re dead instantly. If you run into an enemy with your person, you’ll be sent flying back and only have one hit point of damage. Hidden behind one of the doors in the level is a hostage that will give you a grenade, which you must use in order to beat the level.
The one problem I have with Code Name: Viper is the constantly regenerating enemies. With Rolling Thunder, once you killed an enemy, they were dead, no questions asked. This was nice because in later levels, enemies would often swarm around you. In Code Name: Viper, enemies regenerate all the time, sometimes to the detriment of moving forward in the stage. In level one, for instance, there’s a section where you have to jump from the top of a statue down to the ground, but there were a couple enemies below waiting for you. If you wait a little bit, they’ll jump up like idiots and you can shoot them. I didn’t jump down immediately after I shot the two enemies, and two more took their place right away, preventing me from jumping down unless I wanted a hit taken off. It doesn’t really detract from enjoying the game completely, but it can be frustrating. If you’re an aggressive shooter and you memorize which kind of enemies regenerate from different sections of the level, you’ll quickly become the Head Viper of Killing Fools.
As much as it pains me to say, I do believe Code Name: Viper is the better game compared to Rolling Thunder. As I mentioned earlier, the additions to the core gameplay – the element of rescuing hostages and of never knowing what each camouflaged door holds – really gives depth to the otherwise simplistic run-and-shoot style. Rolling Thunder, however, has a neo-modern vibe and unique art direction that propels it past Code Name: Viper in my mind. I also grew up playing Rolling Thunder and nostalgic sentiments are hard to break, as most long-time gamers can attest. Nevertheless, Code Name: Viper is a fantastic game, and proof that, not only can Capcom make people buy the same game repeatedly, they can take other already decent franchises and make them better. That, my friends, is very difficult to do.