Capcom took the reigns of the G.I.Joe video game license from Taxan who made their excellent Joe game only one year earlier. Surprisingly, not only did Capcom keep many of the controls intact, but they even lifted sprites pixel-by-pixel from the original effort, thus creating a consistent feel and look for both games. In this regard, the company deserves congratulating for humbling itself to an undoubtedly inferior developing company to create a seamless transition from the original to the sequel. Capcom, however, does put its individual stamp on the game by inserting the trademark quality that has made many of their past titles memorable - i.e. high difficulty.
In typical Capcom fashion, players are rewarded for their ability to painstakingly memorize obstacle locations and plan their course accordingly, something familiar to fans of games like Mega Man or Ghosts & Goblins. But what makes The Atlantis Factor especially harder than its Taxan counterpart lies in what is subtracted from the latter title. To start, you begin with only one playable character (Hawk) until you find others who can then be toggled during gameplay; no longer do characters have grenades to rely upon when all ammo is gone; there is no vertical shooting; vehicles cannot be used; players cannot farm random power-ups from renewed enemies. Resources are much lower, and much of your success is determined by how well you budget those resources. And while Capcom does add the benefit of collecting radio transceivers that call for mid-battle backup, these radios disappear with each continue and cannot be found again without starting over. Another minor gripe is that some boss or mini-boss battles are a matter of outlasting your opponent, but there are a good many that can be worked out through timing strategies. To summarize the game's difficulty more succinctly, you're going to have to earn that victory screen. Defeating the evil forces of Cobra, that "ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world", will prove no mean feat.
In fairness, Capcom does merely subtract from the 1990 Taxan effort; there are a few flourishes here and there. A map provides the player with several different routes to reach mandatory destinations; you need not complete every route, though it is advisable to use easier levels to power up your Joes. Additionally, you are rewarded with new weapons as you creep closer to Cobra Commander, but finding the right one during a firefight becomes more confusing as you frantically hit the "select" button to settle on your choice. Since bullets are a rare commodity on some boards, you might find yourself holding four empty rifles before finding your reliable fists. So, in short, the add-ons, while seeming to help, can actually trip you up.
The story itself is a typical cartoony plot similar to those that made the G.I.Joe television series so colorful and, at most times, rather ridiculous (especially the one animated by DIC that is contemporary with the production of this game). The enemy leader, Cobra Commander, has been resurrected using technology from the ancient and heretofore lost city of Atlantis. Cobra, now aided by the arcane secrets of the Atlanteans, is now poised to take over the world. It seems absurd, but before you scoff at the idea of an evil organization raising Atlantis to harness it as a source of unlimited power, it may be useful to note that it is widely believed (and probably exaggerated) that the Nazis ordered an expedition to find Atlantis in 1938 under the direction of SS officer, Heinrich Himmler. Since the Nazis had infamously delved in occult archeology innumerable times, this story, though likely to be myth, is intriguing enough to justify the plots of not only The Atlantis Factor, but the brilliant adventure game Indiana Jones and The Fate of Atlantis which also came out in 1992. Ultimately, the Atlantis story is a nice contrivance and excuse to have your soldiers use seemingly anachronistic weapons amongst luxuriant and interesting backgrounds filled with Doric columns and partly submerged cities.
While the unique backgrounds are nice, their coloring seems a bit ho-hum and many levels look too similar to contrast cleanly against each other. You will play several levels and feel like you've been there before. Enemy soldiers also are colored rather blandly with some of them washed in one hue without a true representation of their plastic counterparts. In this regard, this game is less detail-oriented than the Taxan one, but just when you think Capcom is being lazy, they show that they too understood the G.I.Joe brand.
All but one G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero action figure since 1982 has come with a file card, and to the credit of the game's development team, the writers must have read these dossiers carefully in preparation. The knowledge is evinced in several places in the game, but perhaps most impressively in the case of a non-playable character named "Spirit" who can be called upon mid-battle to heal a character. Since there were no G.I.Joe medics for sale at the time of the game's publication, the writers relied on one small detail from the Spirit's file card to make up for this lack. It states that the Native American tracker carries with him a "Shaman's medicine bag." It may not be a big deal to the casual player, put such attention to detail is a testimony to the professionalism of Capcom to get it right.
G.I.Joe: The Atlantis Factor came late in the life on the NES and so it went by largely unnoticed by those who were well into discovering the joys of 16-bit systems. Like so many titles for the NES at this time, it may have been rushed, not only by Nintendo but also by Hasbro for whom timing was essential so that the game did not surpass the shelf-life of the toys. The game is impressive at points, but not brilliant. It concludes with the promise "to be continued", but that promise will likely remain unfulfilled as EA currently owns the rights to G.I.Joe games.