Golgo 13 was one of those titles that stood out from everything else when it arrived in 1988. It put you in the suit of Golgo 13, the kind of sniper that Vasily Zaitsev would probably have called comrade had they fought together. And he’s being blamed for shooting down a CIA chopper carrying a top secret bioweapon which goes missing.
I didn’t learn until years later that Golgo 13 is based off of the manga with the same name that has been running since 1969 in Japan. His real name is Duke Togo and he’s a professional assassin by trade, perhaps the best shot in the world, and whose past is still shrouded in mystery after so many decades in print. Typically scrubbed by Nintendo, none of that made it into the game or the manual. I thought the guy was some kind of independent spy with mad sniper skills for a long time until I learned about the manga.
This was a favorite of mine. The game splits the action into different perspectives. Most of the action takes place in side scrolling, shoot ’em up scenes as Golgo shoots back at enemies while heading to his next point of contact. The most aggravating problem was that Golgo had only one speed – walking swagger. The more adventurous portion takes you to cut scenes and out-of-the-way places to meet up with other agents or enemies along with 3D mazes where clues can be hidden.
The 3D mazes, in particular, locked you into first-person, grid-based movement and the instruction manual even had maps to all of them, probably in case the technology was a little too new to some players. Items such as healing goodies and grenades were used to get by guards and blow through walls to escape to cause even more spy-based chaos elsewhere.
The game also let Golgo flex his sniping skills with first-person pan and zoom sequences involving shooting down choppers or other targets to survive to the next area. Once in awhile, it snapped to a special scope view for a cinematic kill shot.
As violent as its material sounded, it wasn’t bloody or stamped too much in reality despite being grounded in the present of the 80s using places such as Berlin’s Tegel Airport and the Cold War as backdrops. That was one of its most alluring factors to me in that this silver colored NES box boasting a “Top Secret Episode” inside was as action spy game. Just not with Bond, but it would be good enough for me. From the opening theme to the movie-like credits at the end, Vic Tokai clearly wanted to blend storytelling in with gameplay.
The side scrolling graphics were pretty crude and Golgo could jump higher than an NBA forward in his prime as if his shoes were loaded with springs. Action-wise, however, it could be tough in spots but was far from being impossible as long as you kept an eye on your bullet supply and could get through those mazes. Despite the crude graphics, some shots didn’t leave much to the imagination no matter how low-res things appeared.
The game was also pretty honest in certain other aspects making it an almost adult producton. Cigarettes restored health and there were references or implied scenes on sex and drinking, though not anything more explicit than you might hear on television nowadays. But for a game on the NES back in the day, it was daring stuff.
The low key approach of its characters and the conspiratorial atmosphere fostered the sense of a secret struggle being fought against the tapestry of the Cold War. Later, as you uncovered more clues and buried more bodies with Golgo’s custom M-16, you went up against the leader of DREK – the organization that was responsible for the chopper incident and the theft of the Cassandra G bioweapon.
And the leader looked like cyborg Hitler though he was called Smirk instead probably because of Nintendo’s on again off again censorship mood. You had to fight his brain in a computer jar further on along with his clones, but after that, DREK was finished and the truth was finally out. Later that same year, he’d also show up in Bionic Commando, though not as a cyborg ubermensch.
Not a whole lot was revealed in the ad below other than scum holding a beautiful woman hostage and Golgo 13 getting ready to give the guy a third eye while a black cat hisses next to a faux Mercedes. A few quotes added more color, though even with this little to go on, Golgo 13 was one of those unexpected surprises pulling spy fans into an exciting Cold War action title.