Missing In Action
Before he became an idol to your grandparents in Walker, Texas Ranger, Chuck Norris was a popular 80's action movie hero and creator of the martial art Chun Kuk Do. But did you know that Chuck Norris also starred in not one, but two different video games during his 20+ year career? While you may already be familiar with his first game Chuck Norris Superkicks by Xonox (a mediocre vertical scrolling beat 'em up), most people are unaware that Chuck was getting ready to star in an Atari 7800 game based on his hit action movie series Missing In Action.
A Chuck Norris action game for the 7800? That's right, Chuck Norris! While Nintendo and Sega were able to snap up most of the current and hot movie licenses, Atari had to make do with whatever was left over. Apparently someone at TNT games (who also released BMX Airmaster for the 2600) thought that the Missing In Action movie franchise still had enough life in it to warrant a video game. In retrospect this probably wasn't a bad idea since Missing In Action III had just been released the year before, and the movie plot was absolutely perfect for a beat 'em game.
The year is 1972 (the height of the Vietnam War), the place is a Vietnam internment camp. Your name is Colonel James Braddock, a captured POW, your mission is to escape from your captors, rescue all captured POWs, free the American embassy, and kill the evil drug czar. Sound impossible? Not when you're Chuck Norris!
The game itself is a standard side scrolling beat 'em up (a genre popular in the late 80's). The controls for the game are very simple and easy to learn, although the buggy nature of the game can make them a bit frustrating at times. When there are no enemies near by, you will be in what is referred to as Normal Mode. In Normal Mode pushing left or right will cause you to move, while pushing down will make you crouch. Pressing either controller button will cause you to jump in the direction you are facing, and pushing to the lower left or lower right while pressing the fire button will cause you take a longer jump.
When an enemy comes close to you, your character will enter Combat Mode. In Combat Mode you can still move left and right, but pushing down will now cause you to duck and pressing up will cause you to jump straight up. The left fire button now makes you kick, while the right button makes you punch. If you are in possession of a machine gun, you can shoot it by walking towards an enemy and pressing either fire button.
Interestingly there are two cheats available in the game. The left difficulty switch can be used to turn Invincibility Mode on or off (left is normal, right is invincible), while the right difficulty switch can be used to enable the level select (but only at the start of the game). The level select is especially handy since there are two levels in the game that can not be beaten by ordinary means.
Missing In Action is separated into five different phases, each with two or three levels. There are a grand total of 12 different levels in the game.
Phase 1: Escape
Level 1: Freedom Quest
What a way to start your mission, upside down with a sack over your head! Quickly escape your bonds and make your way through the interment camp, rescuing other POWs along the way. There are two different types of enemy guards on this level, one with a gun, and one without a gun. The guys without guns are easily disposed of, but if James gets hit by gun fire from one of the armed guards he'll take a massive amount of damage so be careful (Chuck is so tough that he doesn't go down in one hit!). After killing several guards, you'll come to the end of the camp and exit into:
Level 2: Bridge of Fire
This bulk of this level takes place on a big bridge outside of the enemy camp. At the end of the bridge you will meet your first boss "Mr. Toasty", a large man armed with a flamethrower. Although he may look impressive, he's actually a wimp and goes down in one hit. Of course the trick is getting to him to deliver that one hit, because his flamethrower is deadly even in Invincibility Mode. The trick to defeating this boss is get to the edge of where his flamethrower reaches and then do a long jump as soon as he stops shooting. This will allow you to reach him and deliver the knock out blow before he shoots again. Oddly sometimes there are two bosses (one in the middle of the bridge and one at the end) and sometimes there are only one. Note that there are bits of food and ammo scattered around the level that you can pick up when in Normal Mode, but they don't seem to do anything. Obviously this part of the game wasn't finished yet. Once you cross the bridge of fire, you'll come to:
Level 3: Suicide Falls
Who named these levels? Although the name might suggest otherwise, suicide is not the answer here. Carefully make your way down the falls by jumping from rock to rock until you reach the bottom. There are no enemies here, so take your time. Once you've reached the bottom exit to the left to continue.
Phase 2: River Run.
Level 1: River Run
You've finally made it to the water, now it's time to make your way to the other POW camps down the river. Thankfully the enemy has left a nice boat sitting at the dock with the keys inside. Run down the dock and enter the boat to start the driving portion of the game. When in Driving Mode pushing left causes the boat to speed up, while pushing right will slow the boat down. Be careful not to make the boat go too fast or it will tip over and you will lose a life. The boat comes armed with a machine gun that can be used to either shoot the enemies hiding in the woods along the river, or to shoot the mines floating in the river itself. After zipping down the river for a bit, you'll come to:
The first thing you'll notice is that you've grabbed the machine gun from the boat and taken it with you. Now that you're armed, defeating the enemy is much much easier but try to conserve your ammo. You can see how much ammo you have left in the upper right corner of the status bar. After slogging through endless miles of rice patties, you'll reach the end of this phase.
Level 1: Jungle Barrier
Another jungle level awaits you at the start of this mission, but there's a new twist: Pit Traps! Yes, those clever Vietcong have figured out how to dig pit traps for you to fall into, so jump over them when you see them. In the middle of the level you will see a river, make sure you jump over this as well or you will lose a life (I guess Braddock can't swim). There's a glitch in the level that occasionally causes you to enter Combat Mode on the opposite side of a pit from the enemy. When this happens you cannot jump across the pit because you're in Combat Mode, and you can't defeat the enemy to get out of Combat Mode because he's on the opposite side of the pit. If you run into this bug, you have no choice but to jump into the pit and die. One way to avoid it is to always rush forward and jump the pits before the enemies appear on the screen. Once you're over the river, you'll come to the POW camp.
Hmm... another prison camp. Make your way through the camp, rescuing all the prisoners you see while defeating the same generic enemies you've been fighting throughout the whole game. One nice touch is that the lady from the last hut will give you a kiss before you leave.
Wow, talk about a change of scenery! Braddock is out of the real jungle and into the concrete one. On this level you must run across the rooftops while fighting more genero-thugs. Make sure you jump over the exhaust vents and gaps in the roofs or it's game over! The Pit Trap bug from the jungle level is back here, occasionally causing you to enter combat mode on the wrong side of the exhaust vent. Try to rush the level and aggressively jump over the vents to avoid this bug.
And here I thought Las Vegas was the City of Sin... Anyway its time to meet the second boss of the game, "Mr. Pimp" Unfortunately there's a bug in the collision detection on this level, so it is actually impossible to damage the boss (and impossible for him to damage you as well). Therefore you will have to use the level skip cheat to advance to the final level.
While Missing In Action probably would have been considered only an average game on the NES or SMS, it really shines on the 7800. Since the Atari 7800 was absolutely starving for any side scrolling action game it could get, MIA (with its high quality graphics and gameplay) would have been a welcome addition to the library. Although the game was at or near completion (as confirmed by the programmer), it appears that the 7800 market just wasn't viable enough for TNT to release MIA.
Ok, and just because everyone was expecting it, here's your Chuck Norris joke: Word has it that the reason TNT didn't release Chuck Norris was that they couldn't find a cartridge strong enough to hold his game.
Special thanks to Mitch for supplying me with the rom and doing preliminary research on the game.