Another Konami classic was their G.I. Joe adaptation in ’92 for arcades. With that, Cobra Commander became the greatest badass that his cartoon self could only wish he was until G.I. Joe Resolute. Apparently no one at Konami watched the cartoon series from the eighties.
The teaser screen laid out the setting in bombastic fashion with huge words like TERRORISM and FREEDOM breaking out before segueing into neat animated scenes. An animated Cobra Commander who evidently took speech gesticulation lessons from Hitler sets the stage as short, pixel-animated clips show off the bios of the four characters players can be. Duke, Scarlette, Roadbloack, and even Snake Eyes yell “Yo Joe!” right before the Cliffs Notes version of their dossier flashes onscreen.
After pumping in the tokens, it was short-intro time. Apparently, Cobra hit all of the major cities of the world at the same time with some kind of super bomber and now rule the world, so it’s up to these four Joes to take the Cobra empire down. It’s not as exciting as the MASS Device or the Weather Dominator, but I guess a super bomber and the flying carrier fortress Cobra Commander has as his personal address did the job.
The arcade game was pure run ‘n gun action. Like Konami’s other four-way cabinets, a group of four could play together at the same time to bring down the baddies coming at them in pseudo 3D. Players had their chosen Joe at the bottom of the screen running in perpetual motion as the battlefield scrolled towards them whether it was jungle, a weapons factory, or the guts of a hidden Cobra base.
With the ‘stick, you moved a cursor around to whatever you wanted to shoot and your Joe would follow it allowing you to avoid oncoming fire, or vehicles, as you laid waste to everything with bullets that tore up Cobra HISS tanks as easily as the soldiers running blindly at you. In this game, Cobra cannon fodder did not miraculously escape danger.
And sometimes you’d also be riding up an elevator, other times you could be blasting through underground caverns. Baysian explosions ripped through the screen with dramatic effects turning this into an interactive episode of awesome.
As for the bosses, it was a menagerie of Cobra baddies ranging from the Crimson Twins, Tomax and Xamot, to fighting a base like the Terror Drome. In those battles, the screen stopped scrolling at you as it tossed missiles, men, and other WMDs in true boss fashion. But as long as you could fuel your health with tokens, or continue, the fight was never over.
The boss battle with Cobra Commander? Insane. Once you’ve penetrated his innermost sanctum at his flying fortress, the guy floated as if he were using some kind of super science anti-gravity thing and was protected by other high tech like funky satellite thingies that shot at you. This was Cobra Commander as the eighties never knew him, but probably would be right at home in a series like Sigma Six.
Visually, the game was alright but the sound design with cries of “Yo Joe!”, the screams of enemy soldiers, and cabinet shuddering explosions lit up the cabinet speakers if the arcade owner decided to let them scream. The first stage’s music track is even based on the one that plays for DIC’s intro on their take on G.I. Joe in 1990. All that made every bullet feel charged with action making it a joy to tear up the battlefield with Snake Eyes.
Unlike a few of Konami’s other arcade games like TMNT, G.I. Joe’s arcade debut had never come home on consoles. Only via preservation efforts among arcade collectors, Youtube recordings, or MAME does it still exist for most to even know that it was ever out there. It’s too bad as it was really a fantastic action game that was a lot more fun than some of G.I. Joe’s other efforts in the gaming world.
The flyer below circulated to arcade owners has been preserved thanks to the Arcade Flyer Archive. The front page alone could make an awesome poster and the back was filled with plenty of text letting arcade owners know what this was all about. It encapsulated everything that the arcade game delivered. Maybe one of these days, Konami will release this epic in one way or another, unless it’s some kind of Cobra conspiracy to keep it out of gamers’ hands.