Another Mission: Impossible movie has recently come and gone, and I have found myself lost once again in the magic of that hokey 60’s spy show. The adventures of the original Impossible Mission Force have been a delight to me for years. The tension of a disguise almost uncovered, the absurdity of the gadgets and techniques rolled out with every episode, and the satisfaction of seeing a miraculous and crazy plan work out in the end all build up to make a really goofy, but thoroughly enjoyable experience, although it is definitely not for everyone.
Most people are familiar with either the original series or the Tom Cruise films, but there was another series. In 1988, an attempt was made to bring the series back into the limelight. Originally envisioned as a remake, it ultimately became a continuation with the original team leader Jim Phelps (played again by Peter Graves), coming out of retirement to take over the new Impossible Mission Force team. The IMF in this show is now a much larger organization with many different teams operating at any given time.
Jim’s new team consists of master of disguise Nicholas Black, engineer and technician Grant Collier (son of original IMF agent Barney Collier), combat and weapons specialist Max Heart, and infiltration expert Casey Randall, who is eventually eliminated on a mission and replaced with Shannon Reed of the secret service. The missions taken on by the team are as wacky as the old days, with just as many gadgets and coincidences, but it ultimately failed to resonate with audiences and was cancelled after only two seasons.
Although I agree with the general consensus that this series lacked the charm of the original, it is a shame that it didn’t take off. Mission: Impossible was a unique show and there wasn’t anything quite like it until the TNT series Leverage, which used a very similar formula to M:I, but with a greater focus on comedy. However, before the revival series ended, there was a video game adaptation, brought to us by the Konami shell company Ultra Games. Last time we looked at Ultra, we saw their botched in-house sequel to the original Metal Gear, Snake’s Revenge. More often than not, Ultra simply ported over Konami titles from Japan to get around Nintendo’s publishing restrictions, but occasionally they made their own titles. Mission: Impossible was not released in Japan, only coming to the US and PAL regions. It has a reputation or its difficulty, but as a fan of the series I had to check it out for myself.
While working in his lab, the brilliant theoretical physicist Dr. “O” and his secretary are kidnapped by an unknown terrorist cell. This group intends to force him to reveal the secrets to a new from of intercontinental ballistic missile that would allow them to carry out strikes against the US and Russia without any hope of interception. Unfortunately for the terrorists, Dr. O’s secretary was in reality IMF agent Shannon Reed, tasked with monitoring and protecting the Doctor. She manages to send a message back to IMF headquarters informing them of the identity of the terrorists, the infamous crime ring known as the Sinister Seven and that they are taking her and the Doctor to a facility in Moscow. Without losing a moment, the IMF calls upon Jim Phelps to organize his team to mount a rescue of Dr. O and Shannon. As always, if any of his IM Force are caught or killed, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of his actions, and the world will be at the mercy of the Sinister Seven.
The story is standard fare for the show and, as is the case with many NES games, is barely touched on in the game proper. The events of the game send you all across the world searching for Dr. O and fighting the Sinister Seven with brief snippets of story between the levels. The only shame of the story is that we do not get any planning with Jim and that Shannon Reed is reduced to a generic damsel in distress role, cutting down the characters we get to play as dramatically.
Mission: Impossible is an interesting beast. It is a top down adventure game with stealth elements. In each level you play as the three active members of the IMF: Max, Grant, and Nicholas. Each has their own weapons and gear, while also controlling differently. Max is a powerhouse, with a long health bar, an assault rifle, and a stock of C4 bombs, but he moves slowly. Grant has a decent sized health bar, uses his fists for combat, and carries a supply of knock out gas grenades that freeze enemies. He moves the fastest of the group. Lastly there’s Nicholas who has a rather short health bar. He uses a bladed boomerang as his weapon, and has a kit to disguise himself, preventing enemies form knowing who he is. He moves at a pretty healthy clip. You can switch between them at any time.
Each stage has you navigate a public area and an enemy stronghold. When out in public you must be careful about your actions. some pedestrians will be enemy spies out to get you, but you can’t be too trigger happy. If you kill an innocent civilian, the current agent you are playing as will be arrested and they’ll be unavailable for the rest of the level. You also lose an agent if they are killed or knocked into a death trap like a pit or rushing water. This can be a real pain as each agent has their own advantages and in some areas you need their gear. For example, in level two, you must destroy a statue to reveal the hidden passage to the enemy base, but the only agent that can do this is Max, with his C4. If Max is killed or arrested, you’ll have to start over again, since no one else can clear the statue. When you lose all your men, it’s game over. There’s no saving, but there is a password system, and it is mercifully short.
The bulk of the gameplay involves exploring the levels looking for switches to shut off traps and open doors. Some areas require you to have an ID card, which you must get from informants. Annoyingly, the location of the informant you are looking for is random every time you play. The wrong man will sell you out and you’ll have to fight some hard enemies. After going through all the traps and areas you’ll find a boss and move on to the next level to find the doctor. The bosses are rather oppressively difficult depending on which agents you have in the end. Each one has their own health bar, so if you switched to Grant, because Max was too low on health, then you’ll have to fight the boss with your fists, and if Grant and Nick die, then you’ll be left with a weak Max to fight. On top of that, after each death the boss recovers their health, but you don’t.
The only other twist on the gameplay are two auto-scrolling stages. In either the speed boat chase in Venice, or the mountain skiing stage in the Swiss Alps, you’ll have to doge, shoot, and jump around enemies and obstacles. These levels are pretty brief and offer some variety to the gameplay.
This game is incredibly difficult. Enemies can surround you quickly, death traps and instant kill pits wipe you out in a flash, and when you continue from a game over, you have to start the whole level over. Not too bad for the vehicle stages, but to get all the way to the end of a base just to die at the boss and start all over; it’s not very fun.
For as clunky as some (if not most) of Ultra Games’ conversions may be in terms of gameplay, they are still a Konami company, and their NES contributions were some of the best looking in the industry. Mission: Impossible is a fairly strong title in terms of graphics. The levels are varied and well detailed. Even though the game is played from a top down perspective, it’s usually quite clear what is what. All the levels have distinct designs and themes, and the amount of detail that goes into them is commendable. The way these graphics have held up is a testament to the appeal of bit mapped art, especially when compared to the, at the time impressive but poorly aged, polygon graphics of the 1998 N64 title.
Music was composed by Jun Funahashi and Yoshiyuki Hagiwara. Outside of the rendition of Lalo Schifrin’s Mission: Impossible theme, it’s not very evocative of the series, but it fits well enough in an action title.
This Mission: Impossible game was an interesting experience. Much like it’s N64 follow up, it has only a light family resemblance to the stealth genre, and is more of a straight forward action game. I think that it is better than the 1998 game, if for no other reason than the more charming presentation, but most people will have a harder time beating the NES title. If not for the absurd difficulty, I think the game would have been more of a classic, but then, it could just be that it’s an adaptation of a less than fondly remembered TV revival. It’s a visual treat for the NES library, but I don’t think that it’s charms endure through the challenge. However, hard core NES collectors with a lot of patience may find a genuine treat.