Demonstrating that assassins for hire must be versatile to be effective.
To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 7/24/17 – 7/27/17
My Difficulty: 8/10
Video: Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode Longplay
When I was a kid, I would read whatever gaming magazine or tip guide I could get my hands on. Golgo 13 was a game that would show up often and it always looked like a fascinating game, but maybe too advanced for my age. Later, when I got a copy to try, I didn’t really give it much of a chance. I wrote it off as not my style of game, and I don’t think I was ready for it anyway. Now I’m old enough to give it a fair shake. Golgo 13 is rough around the edges, but it turned out to be a fun game with significant variety.
Golgo 13 is a Japanese manga series written by Takao Saito. It centers around the assassin for hire Golgo 13, who is also known by his pseudonym Duke Togo. The manga began in October 1968 and it is still an ongoing series nearly 50 years later. The series has expanded into various other forms of media, such as a live-action movie, two animated movies, an animated TV series, and several video games.
Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode is an NES game released in North America in September 1988. It was published and developed by Vic Tokai. It is both the first NES game published by Vic Tokai as well as the first Vic Tokai game I have played for this project. The Famicom version of the game is the original version, released in March 1988. In Japan, it was named Golgo 13: Dai 1 Shou: Kamigami no Tasogare. There is also a sequel on the NES named The Mafat Conspiracy, which I will cover in the future.
Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode is an espionage action game. You play the role of Golgo 13 who is framed for the explosion of a helicopter containing a biological weapon named Cassandra-G. A vaccine and plans for Cassandra-G were taken from the wreckage and Golgo 13 is blamed for the whole thing. An international organization named FIXER believes that the DREK empire is ultimately responsible for the event. The FIXER group recruits Golgo 13 to investigate a lead on recovering the vaccine, eventually leading him to assassinate the leader of DREK.
This game takes on several play styles that appear as needed through the course of the game. The first of these is the horizontal side-scrolling mode where you directly control Golgo 13. Here you use the D-Pad to walk left and right. You may encounter people on the streets. Some pass by, some will talk to you, and others are enemy agents that will shoot at you. Contrary to most action platformers, you use the B button to jump and the A button to attack. At first you don’t have any weaponry, so A deploys a jump kick instead. After defeating an enemy, you will acquire bullets and you shoot them with A instead of kicking. You can kick by pressing A while jumping, or you can shoot with A by standing on the ground. You can also press Up to either enter doorways or progress to other areas you see in the background.
In all play modes, on the top left of the screen you will see two displays. The first is labelled L and this is your health meter. You begin with the maximum 200 health that dwindles away like a slow timer. You also lose health when you take damage from enemies. The second display is noted with the letter B and this indicates how many bullets you have. For every enemy you defeat, you automatically gain both health and bullets. How much you recover differs by enemy. You can hold as many as 400 bullets so you are encouraged to shoot everything.
As you move around in most modes, sometimes a gun will rise from the bottom of the screen or an explosion will appear in front of you. This engages the play mode called pan and zoom. In this mode, the action switches to a first-person perspective and you control a crosshair. Use the D-Pad to move the crosshair in all eight directions and press A to shoot. The screen scrolling loops all the way around to the left and right, and also scrolls partway upward. At the bottom of the screen, you see an indicator showing one or more enemy types and how many of each enemy type there are. You must defeat them all to continue play in the prior mode. There is also a meter that shows which compass direction you are aiming. When there is only one enemy remaining, arrows are shown indicating the direction of the final enemy threat. Some enemies will appear for a brief time and fly off in the distance, and others stay on and keep attacking. Some enemies fire missiles at you that you can shoot before they hit you. They do a lot of damage so it is best to shoot them first if you can.
Another recurring feature in Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode are the cutscenes. You find these when you enter certain locations. They always begin with a close-up of Golgo 13 facing the screen. Press A and he will turn toward the background. If no one is there, play goes back to the previous screen. Otherwise a person will walk up and start talking to you. At the end of each text block you are prompted to press either A or B. The prompt for A means press A to advance to the next block of text. The prompt for B indicates the end of the cutscene, so pressing B will return you to the action.
Golgo 13 also gets to assume control of a helicopter, and this play mode is like a horizontal scrolling shooter. In these sections, you automatically scroll to the right with the goal of surviving until the end of the scene. You can move the helicopter in all eight directions with the D-pad. The helicopter moves faster going left or down and slower going right or up. Press A to shoot the gun. Like Golgo 13’s pistol, it only shoots a single shot straight ahead, but here you can rapid fire many shots quickly.
Another play style appears in the underwater sections. Golgo 13 takes to the water with scuba gear and is armed only with a spear gun. Use the D-pad to swim in all eight directions and press A to fire spears. Golgo 13’s sprite changes significantly between swimming horizontally and swimming vertically. This is important when guiding him through narrow passages. It is also important in that Golgo 13 can only fire spears when swimming horizontally. You can fire either to the left or right. Here there are other enemies with scuba gear as well as aquatic creatures to fend off. Mines are a recurring nuisance that bob up and down underwater. They cannot be destroyed and they do heavy damage if you touch one. There are also plants that look harmless but actually damage you on contact.
Finally, perhaps the most involved play style of any in the entire game is the action maze. This play mode takes place from a first-person perspective and you explore a series of corridors. Most areas like this have multiple branching paths like an actual maze but some are more linear. You navigate the maze step by step. Every time you either take a step forward or switch direction, the screen goes blank very briefly before displaying the new location. This is a bit jarring when moving quickly through the maze, but under the restrictions of the NES it’s about the only way to do it quickly. Since every step is deliberate it helps you plot your course more accurately.
You will use the D-pad to move through the maze. Press Up to advance one step forward. Pressing either Left or Right will turn you in place. Pressing Down will let you face directly behind you also keeping you in place. Up is the only button that moves you to a different square in the maze. There is a compass along the bottom of the screen indicating which direction you are facing. This is invaluable to let you map your way accurately through the maze.
The mazes have enemies. As you perform movements, sometimes an enemy soldier will be standing in front of you. Press A to bring up a crosshair. There are only three positions you can aim, either in the middle, to the left, or to the right. Use the D-pad to choose one of these locations and press A to shoot. You have to be quick to take out a soldier when you see one or you will take some damage. Many enemies will leave behind a grenade that you will pick up automatically. You can hold up to three of them and they are displayed at the bottom of the screen. They are not used for attacking like you might think. I will explain what the grenades do shortly.
Mazes can be complicated to navigate for several reasons. There are multiple doors that appear in the maze. Just walk into them to move to the room behind them. I had a hard time keeping my bearings after moving through doors while trying to go without a map. There are also ladders. Yes, the mazes can have multiple floors. Each level of the maze is in a different color to help distinguish them and you use the ladders to switch between floors. Sometimes when taking a step, a wall will appear right in front of you. If you have a grenade, you can throw it near the wall to break a hole through it allowing you to pass. The worst aspect is the trap door. Some squares of the maze will reveal a trap door and you fall to the floor below. Typically, the top floor holds what you are looking for within the maze, so falling always represents a step backward.
Contrary to the other modes, there are some pickups in the maze. You can find a life potion that fills your health and an ammo box that replenishes your ammo. You can find a key that lets you unlock a locked door. All doors look the same and a blinking key icon is displayed at the bottom of the screen if you are trying to go through a locked door without the key. There is a set of infrared goggles needed to go past the laser walls. This is yet another obstacle you will encounter within the maze. If you are equipped with the goggles, you can see the lasers beaming down. You can try to walk through the laser wall without the goggles if you wish, but you will suffer heavy damage by doing so. With the goggles and proper timing, you can pass through unscathed. I found the timing tricky to master and there is little room for error.
You can continue playing if you die in this game, and Golgo 13 has an interesting way of representing the continue system. Each life for Golgo 13 is represented as an episode of a TV series. On the title screen, there is a #1 written on the left at the start of the game. If you die, you get a screen saying “To Be Continued…” instead of the traditional Game Over screen. You go back to the title screen and now you see #2 meaning Episode 2. You can keep continuing all the way to #52, but if you die there you must start the entire game over.
Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode is a long game. Naturally, there are 13 acts in the adventure. Some of them go by quickly, and others, like the ones with mazes, last a long time. There are no passwords and no saving in the game, and you are left at the mercy of the continue system. Completing Golgo 13 is more than just an endurance test; it has some challenging moments that take learning and practice.
This was my first time playing Golgo 13. It’s a common cart and one I picked up early on during one of my waves of collecting. With cart in hand, I remembered my impressions of the games from those old magazines. When I finally got to try it out, I was less than impressed with the first few minutes of the game. I would not have sat down and tried to get into it had I not started this project.
Golgo 13 started to impress me the more I played it. The first scene has you walking on the streets of Berlin. I thought the first-person shooting segments were a neat diversion. Soon you play a helicopter portion, and I had no idea that Golgo 13 had shooter sections. Each mode is a little bit clunky in its own way, but the game does a noble job of including several variants of game play. It’s a surprisingly deep game for the NES in 1988.
The manual is invaluable for this game because it contains maps of the mazes. Only the basic layouts are included, but all you need is a few missing details you can fill in yourself and you have a complete map. I got stuck in a maze on my first time playing, and I come to find out that it’s meant to be a fake base that is not necessary at all. If I had read the manual first more clearly, I would have known that.
One night I ended up with a lot of free time and I was able to complete the entire game with some continues to spare. It took me around three and a half hours to beat Golgo 13 on that playthrough. I didn’t think I’d be able to beat the game that night so I didn’t have any of my recording equipment set up. I had to play through the entire game again the next night to get it captured. It took me half the time to beat the game a second time with many fewer deaths. I’m satisfied with that result from only playing the game for a few days total.
Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode had some content censored for the US version. The most significant change is that the Japanese version features brief nudity. In an early scene of the game, Golgo 13 meets with a female agent in a hotel room and at the end she sheds her clothes. In the US version, the scene cuts away to an outside view of the hotel where you can see the two characters get close and the lights go down. Golgo 13 then has his life refilled to the max, which clearly suggests what they were up to.
There are a few other things included in the NES game that the censors missed. Some of the enemies in the mazes briefly show bleeding when they are shot. In one act, Golgo 13 can find a pack of cigarettes on the ground and he helps himself to a life-refilling smoke. There is also a stray swastika that should have been removed. My guess is that since these events are deeper in the game, the censors didn’t play long enough to notice them.
There are many things happening in Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode that are worthwhile, but sadly the game suffers from a lack of polish. The hit detection is off in several places, such as when landing jump kicks or shooting targets in the first-person mode. The jumping is a little too slow and his jump arc doesn’t feel right. Enemies attack faster and with more complex patterns than you, causing frustration. You can shoot bullets right through enemies in the helicopter, which makes it appear you are not doing damage when you actually are. Now the graphics, music, and presentation are overall good, especially considering the age of this game, and there is a deep story with many different characters. Kudos to Vic Tokai for making a huge game with so many different play modes that all play well enough. For that, I can look past these issues and say that I enjoyed Golgo 13.