Larry Hama, creator of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, often felt hamstrung by the products that Hasbro put on his desk. What began as a strictly military toy line slowly grew into a hodgepodge of eccentric characters that started to resemble participants in a Mardi Gras festival. Somehow, Hama not only made these characters work, but his strong writing made some of them memorable and iconic for the youth of the 1980s. The team at Taxan, must have felt a similar creative constriction when they were given the license for G.I.Joe, knowing that they were to use characters and vehicles available for retail in 1990. In other words, they could not depend primarily on highly recognizable characters from the successful cartoon series of the mid-eighties. Luckily, they did manage to stick an image of Duke, the first sergeant of the Joe team, on the box, but he is really the only character that casual viewers of the show may recognize at first glance.
As a game, G.I.Joe could have easily become a shallow, pixilated commercial for toys, but Taxan managed to not only showcase the vast majority of the 1989 and 1990 products, but they did so in one heck of an action platformer.
The story is very general, but war games need not have deeply complex objectives to be enjoyable. Destroying things and killing enemies seems to suffice as story enough. Joe leader, General Hawk, decides it is time to go on the offensive against the evil terrorist organization known as Cobra. Hawk squawks his commands from a static-ridden video feed from an undisclosed location, and he orders you to such exotic locations as the Amazon and the Antarctic to find enemy bases to obliterate. On the last mission, the leader accompanies your outfit, and it is nice to see that he is not merely an armchair general, but rather a gritty, jet-backpacked brother-in-arms. The only surprise in the story is that G.I.Joe takes the initiative and aggressively hunts down Cobra honchos. If you recall the cartoon series (one largely tamed by parent groups), the Joes were often reactionary task force, waiting for Cobra to do something awful before getting into gear.
Prior to each mission, Hawk assigns a team leader, but players then choose two additional accompanying soldiers that could be toggled during gameplay, each with his individual strengths and weaknesses. Snake-Eyes, for example, has excellent height in his jump, but his stamina is lower than the other characters; Rock & Roll, carries heavy firepower, but the weight of his ammo limits his movement; and so on. Each troop has his own stamina meter, and one's success per mission depends on how well a player divvies out responsibilities among the team. As an added bonus, characters can sometimes co-opt Cobra vehicles for their own use, saving one ammunition, health, and time.
The Taxan team deserves much praise for their handling of the well-established G.I.Joe license. Led by Kenneth Lobb (the man own helped make the N64 worth owning with game like GoldenEye and Perfect Dark), the developers carefully examined and took note of the characters available to them and fit them nicely to their purposes. Each Cobra troop does what he's supposed to do: Frag Vipers throw grenades, Rock Vipers repel from rocks, and Night Vipers sneak up on you with little warning. While these details will go unnoticed by most players, it gives any devotee of the G.I.Joe franchise a sense of satisfaction that grown men at a software company treated their subject with respect and professionalism.
To date, there have been six G.I.Joe video games made by six different companies, and it took a little-known software developer to make the best of the lot. Even if you have never owned a Joe or you think that the Terrordrome is an album by the rap pioneers Public Enemy, you are still likely to enjoy this game.