G.I. Joe Video Games: A Real American Gaming History

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While G.I. Joe debuted in the 1960s and was reborn in the 1980s, there have been relatively few G.I. Joe video games based on America’s greatest fighting force over the course of it’s history. That’s a shame, especially considering G.I. Joe is perfectly suited for the realm of video games. There’s loads of colorful characters with different specialties, lots of cool vehicles, and the whole thing revolves around battles! With all the Battlefield and Call of Duty games out there, you’d think there would be room for a great, modern G.I. Joe game. Alas, it is not to be.

Let’s review the few (and mostly lackluster if not terrible) G.I. Joe video games that have been released over the years. It’s like homework, but fun.

G.I. Joe: Cobra Strike (Atari 2600 – 1983)

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G.I. Joe: Cobra Strike for the Atari 2600 receives the distinction of being the first G.I. Joe video game. Despite having some great comic book ads, G.I. Joe Cobra Strike is pretty terrible. Cobra Strike features blocky figures running around on the bottom of the screen while a giant Cobra looms over them. You know, just like G.I. Joe. Okay, something like this could have happened in the cartoon, but overall a giant Cobra with blocky stuff doesn’t really scream G.I. Joe at me.

The cover looks pretty cool with Rock N Roll (who has no gun?) fighting a giant cobra which has laser eyes. That’s about where the cool ends for this game.

Just like the comics!

Just like the comics!

Due to the limited nature of graphics capabilities on the Atari 2600 any licensed game was going to suffer. I can’t think of any licensed game for the Atari 2600 that was really great and G.I. Joe: Cobra Strike was no exception.

G.I. Joe : A Real American Hero (Commodore 64 and Apple II – 1985)

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G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero for the Commodore 64 and Apple II is the first G.I. Joe game to feature vehicular combat and the ability to pick from different members of the G.I. Joe team. 16 of them in fact! The best part about this game is that it’s classic G.I. Joe. The graphics are good enough where you can actually identify what things are supposed to be!

Sweet intro screen, yo.

Sweet intro screen, yo.

The game features characters dukeing it out along with vehicular action. Pretty ambitious for it’s time, however gameplay is reportedly not so hot. This one goes into records as being a nice effort.

Action Force I (Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore 64 – 1987) and Action Force II (ZX Spectrum – 1988)

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Now if you want to get picky, these aren’t “G.I. Joe” games, but Action Force was the UK equivalent to America’s number one special forces group. Both games were only ever released in the UK and Joe fans missed out in the fact that you don’t get more classic G.I. Joe than this.

Su-wheet!

Su-wheet!

It’s notable that Action Force I is significantly different between the Sinclair Spectrum and the C64 with different vehicles and characters. Still, the basic mission structure is the same.

I've seen worse.

I’ve seen worse.

Action Force II features the player providing cover for Quick Kick as he climbs up a tower. Yep, that’s it.

The real negative about both Action Force games is that they are essentially escort missions, the bottom of the barrel of missions in the universe of gaming.

G.I. Joe (NES – 1991)

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G.I. Joe for the NES featured five playable Joes, with General Hawk being the sixth playable character in the final mission. The character selection is a little off, while you get Snake Eyes, Duke, and Rock ‘n Roll, Blizzard and Captain Grid-Iron round out the last two members of the team. Since the game came out in ’91 they picked from that pool of available action figures, so that would explain those two, I guess.

This game pretty much captured everything I liked about G.I. Joe when I was a kid. The best aspect is being able to pick your team for the missions and there’s a few vehicle missions.

The old standby complaint for G.I. Joe games is found here too, it was made a bit later in the G.I. Joe A Real American Hero lifespan. You don’t get the “classic” classic versions of characters and vehicles, you get classic version lite.

G.I. Joe: The Atlantis Factor (NES – 1992)

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The follow up NES game is a direct sequel to the first. It has a bit different play style and features even less classic version of characters. Again, the game suffers a tad from being released later in the G.I. Joe life cycle. You get the weird blue suit version of Snake Eyes and the Ninja Force version of Storm Shadow. However, the overall list is a solid selection of characters consisting of: General Hawk, Roadblock, Wet Suit, Snake-Eyes, Storm Shadow, and Duke.

It’s essentially more of the same of the first NES game, so if you liked that one, you’ll probably dig Atlantis Factor.

G.I. Joe Arcade (1992)

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I only ever encountered the G.I. Joe arcade game once on a family trip to the Mall of America. I played it as many times as I could, knowing I’d probably never encounter it again, and I didn’t! Luckily, thanks to the magic of MAME I was able to play it as many times I wanted without begging for quarters!

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G.I. Joe The Arcade Game features up to four G.I. Joes running through tons of Cobra enemies and blowing up everything in sight. The Joes featured are Snake Eyes, Road Block, Duke, and Scarlett and as far as firepower goes, they’re more powerful than any tank.

Like the NES games, the biggest flaw to G.I. Joe Arcade is that it came out past G.I. Joe’s prime. You get the blue costume version of Snake Eyes again and instead of getting the classic version so of certain vehicles, you get their updated replacements (an example being the HISS II and not the HISS I). However, you do get ’82 Scarlett and you can’t complain about that!

The G.I. Joe Arcade game is probably the best G.I. Joe game released, but the bar is pretty low here.

G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra (Xbox 360, PS3 – 2009)

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It took 17 full years before the next G.I. Joe game would come out. Shameful! Even worse than the wait, the game that came out was based on the fairly disappointing G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra film. And even worse than that is the Rise of Cobra game is sloppy rush job.

At least it doesn't look terrible...

At least it doesn’t look terrible…

The few good points to this game is that you can select from 12 different G.I. Joe characters and there are some classic vehicles to be found. Also there’s this:

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Rise of Cobra is also notable for the introduction of the character Agent Helix who was designed by one of the employees of Double Helix games. Helix got her own action figure and I’m not sure if she’s lived on past that point, but she’s got a great look.

G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra (DS – 2009)

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Another game based on Rise of Cobra, but this time it’s a top down shooter that’s a bit better than the console versions. That’s not saying a whole lot, though.

G.I. Joe Attack on Cobra Island (PC – 2012)

Yo, Joe indeed!

Yo, Joe indeed!

One of the coolest G.I. Joe games is a fan made game! G.I. Joe Attack on Cobra Island it’s side scrolling fighting game available on the PC. While the game isn’t entirely perfect, but it’s easily the most loving recreation of G.I. Joe even with it’s flaws.

The worst aspect of Attack on Cobra Island is getting it to run (you can download it here). It’s a bit of a pain and I couldn’t get a game pad to work with it, playing this thing makes you incredibly sad that Hasbro hasn’t had someone make something similar as a downloadable XBox or PS3 title.

This is a dream come true.

This is a dream come true.

You can’t get any more classic G.I. Joe than Attack on Cobra Island. You pick from classic versions of characters and it even features vehicle missions with vehicles like the Skystriker! It’s a crime that a legit game isn’t available like this available for purchase!


Will there ever be a great G.I. Joe video game? Based on the meager and rather sad past history of G.I. Joe video games, I’m thinking no. Hopefully Hasbro can license something like War for Cybertron for the Joe team. bit I’m not going to hold my breath. Hell, even though G.I. Joe: Retaliation is much better received than the previous film, there’s no game for it! I swear this is some sort of Cobra plot…

  • Dustin Verburg

    I love blue costume Snake Eyes. That is the Snake Eyes of my childhood. I loved playing as Ninja Force Storm Shadow and Battle Commanders Hawk in the Atlantis Factor also. Though those games are so god damn hard I never got to the end.

    I really need to play Attack on Cobra Island but I have not been able to make it run. Sadface :(

  • Dustin Verburg

    ALSO I think a Ghost Recon 3DS/classic X-Com-style turn based squad strategy game would be perfect for GI Joe (sorry for double comment but not really)

  • Yeah, those NES games were tough!

    Just because you grew up with it, doesn’t make it good.

    And yeah, they should do that thing you mentioned.

  • Man, I played the HECK out of the old EPYX G.I. Joe game. Sadly the only parts I really remember anymore are the vehicle combat bits with either the VAMP Mk 2 or the MOBAT. Still, HOURS of my life spent on that game.

  • I’m jealous. I only ever saw it in a game catalog back then. Never got it.

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