Looking back at Konami’s Green Beret

News Ryan Lambie
1 Sep 2010 - 16:14

It’s 25 years since the release of military-themed platformer Green Beret captured the 80s era of action movies perfectly. Ryan takes a look back at Konami's classic...

In the same year that Konami released the classic, seminal shooter Gradius (which we breathlessly admired in a retrospective last week), the Japanese company unleashed the violent side-scroller Green Beret.

Taking its inspiration from the macho, Regan-era action movies of the time (the Rambo series being the most obvious influence), Green Beret saw its camo-clad protagonist rush headlong into an entire army of soldiers while armed with little more than a hunting knife.

The plot involved rescuing hostages from an unnamed location, possibly Russia (the game’s punning alternate title, Rush’n Attack, hints at this), and the game itself boiled down to a straight sprint from left to right, avoiding or stabbing the enemies that stormed the screen from every angle.

As rock hard as the game’s protagonist, Green Beret offered a stern challenge from its first screen. Commencing with the wail of a siren, a catchy military beat kicked in, as the scene opens on a snowy mountain region filled with platforms and soldiers all determined to murder you. One touch spelled certain death, so the player’s only option was to keep moving, jumping, and jabbing away with the game’s primary weapon.

More powerful ordnance could be obtained by stabbing enemies clad in blue, who would drop missile launchers, flame throwers or hand grenades. These provided a limited opportunity to cause maximum carnage (each weapon offering a paltry three shots before running out), and were best reserved for end-of-level encounters, which always involved some huge and rapid influx of yet more enemies.

Like Gradius, Green Beret revelled in these set pieces, and for their time they were remarkably well staged. The first area culminated in a truck unexpectedly hurtling across the screen from the left, leaving the player prone beneath its wheels (or alternatively, crushed), before a wave of aggressive troops came stumbling out of it.

In the second area, set on a heavily fortified harbour, the player encountered an entire pack of hungry attack dogs. The third area threw in swooping gyrocopters, while the fourth concluded the game with a deadly platoon of flamethrower-wielding enemy soldiers.

At the time, these moments were about as close as a videogame got to replicating the experience of a Hollywood action movie, and surviving each encounter was an achievement worthy of Rambo himself. And while time has eroded much of the game’s once impressive visual impact, Green Beret remains a tense, surprisingly nerve-jangling military themed platformer.

That its protagonist was so sparsely armed only added to the game’s intensity. Where later games such as Rolling Thunder or Shinobi allowed the player to keep the enemy at a greater distance with its projectile weaponry, Green Beret offered no such cushion. Its aggressive soldiers had to be taken down at close quarters, and players were never more than a split second twitch away from death or glory.

While seldom talked about with the reverence that Capcom’s similarly themed top-down shooter, Commando, Green Beret could nevertheless be seen as the progenitor for many games that followed.

Even though Green Beret’s gameplay is more run-and-slash than run-and-gun, its tension and atmosphere is all over Namco’s Rolling Thunder, released the following year, as well as Konami’s own Contra released in 1987.

Widely ported in the 80s, with the NES and ZX Spectrum receiving particularly fine adaptations at the time, Green Beret can still be purchased, albeit in a slightly updated form, on Xbox Live Arcade, and the game’s even being treated to a belated reboot, with Rush’n Attack: Ex-Patriot on the way for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

So with The Expendables harking back to a golden era of violent, macho movies, it’s a great time to rediscover a game that, in the 80s, at least, did a great job of making you feel like Sly Stallone himself, if only for a few minutes.

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