Operation Secret Storm – NES
Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Developer: Color Dreams
Publisher: Color Dreams
Release Date: 1991
Nerd Rating: 2/10
Reviewed by: theWatchman
Note: This review was conducted using an emulated version
In the opening years of the nineteen nineties, the United States were swept up in a patriotic fervor following the ouster of Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces from their tiny neighbor Kuwait during a short military option known as Operation Desert Storm. It was a moment in history in which we were all proud to be Americans. Our military, after the long stalemate in Vietnam, was finally able to shine again. We had ousted the bad guys and liberated a nation.
It didn’t take long for the most intrepid of us to try to cash in on our collective desire to express our national pride.
Songs were created.
Topps released a set of Operation Desert Storm trading cards, a number of which I still have somewhere in a box at my parents house.
And a designer named Jon Valesh decided to take his programming skills to the white hot NES market. Thus Operation Secret Storm was born.
Yours truly was about eleven years old at the time. While I enjoyed videogames, my passion at that age was for fighter jets. My young mind, while surprisingly politically aware for my age, probably didn’t fully grasp the horrors of war. I did, however, think it was pretty neat to watch the news every day and see stories about bombing missions, cruise missile launches, and various other stories showing our domination over the Iraqi military. When I first saw a copy of Operation Secret Storm for rental at a local grocery store (This was back when grocery stores had full video and game rental sections. Our Hy-Vee even had a full-blown collectible card section. Those were indeed the good old days.) I knew the time had come to join the virtual battle to support our troops, and put an end to Saddam Hussein once and for all.
I don’t have a clear recollection of what my exact thoughts of the game were at the time, however, my recollection of Operation Secret Storm was that it was an awkward, clumsy experience. I vaguely remember it as being sort of a laughable game. It wasn’t until just recently when I downloaded the ROM, that I was able to truly appreciate the horror of Operation Secret Storm. Now I know for sure what the great U.S. General William Tecumseh Sherman said was true: “war is all hell.”
Operation Secret Storm follows the mission of an elite CIA Agent named Agent George (An obvious play on then U.S. President George H.W. Bush, who had previously served as CIA Director in the 70’s.) as he attempts to infiltrate and defeat the Iraqi dictator “Saddam Insane” and an entire nation full of his most loyal goons, single-handed. The premise seemed a tad on the ridiculous side, even at eleven years of age. The premise behind Operation Secret Storm might have been a bit less hokey had the entire game been treated with a more satirical outlook on the events of the day. Sadly, whether it was due to limitations of the NES hardware, or the limitations of the designer, but Operation Secret Storm lacked the sophistication needed to come across as anything less than a Bataan Death March of gaming hell before it all just sort of ends.
Poorly conceived story-lines can always be forgiven, especially in the NES era, if the actual game-play is solid and compelling enough to tell its own story. Sadly, this essential pillar of Operation Secret Storm is just as atrocious as its attempted wink and nudge narrative.
First of all, the movement of Agent George feels way too slippery. His jumping mechanics don’t help either, so you end up feeling as if you have a tenuous grasp over the actions of your highly trained CIA operative.
Secondly, the combat in the game, which is really the foundation on which this game rests, is perhaps the worst of any game I have ever played. The main problem is that it feels as though there is little rhyme or reason as to when you actually take damage. Am I damaged by making contact with an enemy? No. I can walk right up to them and seemingly not take damage. Is it when I get punched by a bad guy? It’s very difficult to tell if you do lose health punched, although there are other times that I feel like I’m taking no damage at all. I know I will take damage when I get shot, so there is that. Not every enemy carries a gun and some of the ones that do have rules of engagement that border on the unfair. The bottom line is that it’s difficult to ascertain the rules of combat, which means engaging in it feels like an exercise in chance.
Next, enemy A.I. is downright idiotic at times. Random members of Insane’s fighting force jump straight up and down randomly place oil pipelines in the desert. Boss characters at some points, seem to do their best to not make contact with you. (Or maybe they do. It’s hard to tell when the damage system is so muddy.)There was an infuriating point in the second stage, where you have soldiers who shoot bullets that fly diagonally up, thus making it nearly impossible to find a proper angle of attack. Now picture three of them at once, pinning you down with gunfire that not only goes straight across the screen, but also flies in the path of your jump. Then again, perhaps part of the difficulty would have been abated had the said projectiles not blended into the background so much, or if they didn’t succumb to the NES flicker, which takes them off the screen briefly.
Agent George can pick up ammo during his glorious mission. Ammo packs give you ten shots each, and are spaced out enough that you would want to try and conserve that ammo. The problem is that there is no way to turn on or off the gun because your attacks are contextually based. If you are far away from your foe, you will fire a shot, but if you are up close, you will throw a punch. Normally that wouldn’t be too much of a problem, however when you have multiple enemies on screen at different spaces on the screen, you end up randomly firing a shot that you might otherwise have wanted to save. This flaw might have been forgivable if it were not for the inexplicable omission of any time of indication as to how much ammo you actually have left. The player is left to count how many shots they have taken themselves, which I can guarantee will be the furthest thing from your mind when you are trying to take on three or four baddies at once.
Finally, The graphics of Operation Secret Storm lack a certain charm that a lot of titles from that era carried with them. The character designs range from typical Middle-Eastern tropes, such as the stereotypical bad guys in turbans and sunglasses wielding scimitars, to the more fantastical such as anti-American vultures, or genies on flying carpets. And some are just borderline offensive, like the seemingly naked, sword-wielding savages, who live in caves and only bother to emerge in order to vanquish the American invader.
Musically Operation Secret Storm is pretty grating as well, with the main theme-song repeating itself throughout the game with only the slightest of variations. As for sound effects? Operation Secret Storm doesn’t need no stinking sound effects. There are no sounds of guns firing, punches connecting with faces, or anything that might paint a more vivid picture in the players mind, or at least would have been helpful as some sort of indication that you were taking damage. Perhaps Agent George was a silent CIA agent?
In conclusion, there are always a number of games that one plays during their lives that will stand distinct in our memories for various reasons. Some stand out for how the emotions they invoked from within when you played them. There are others that will stand out because they are associated with a special time in your life, or for the good times they allowed you to share with others. And there are those games that stand out in the memories of youth because now that we are older, we can’t quite remember for sure if those titles actually happened or not.
Operation Secret Storm is one of those titles. It’s a game that fails to succeed in the art of competent game design and it fails at any sort of social commentary or satire of the times in which it was created.
Nerd Rating – 2/10
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