If this is what it takes to stop Cobra Commander, I quit.
I don't even know where to start with this one. Mindless, vapid gunplay? A top-down viewpoint where the camera is zoomed in too far? "Strategic" options that are so inconsistent that they are useless? Ugly graphics? Storyline segments that constantly get in the way? The complete lack of a health bar? The game is almost completely unplayable because it just straight up lacks fun. G.I. Joe is an old-school, sprite-based, top-down, shoot-'em-up . This may perk up a few ears—it's been awhile since any of us played Jurassic Park on the NES. Sadly, the genre has aged poorly, and the gameplay "additions" have only marred the experience further. Then there are the "subtractions," which I'll get to.
Each mission starts with a text-based briefing given by horrendous pixilated character portraits that look nothing like their film counterparts. These briefings go on far too long, and they don't end when the mission itself begins. Once you're in the field, story segments pop up all the time, interrupting the action and forcing you to read inane jibber-jabber. It's jarring, inconvenient, and annoying. The map, handily displayed on your touch screen, displays where your next objective is located, and this objective often changes after a fresh exchange of dialogue.
At the beginning of the mission, you can choose from a stable of Joe characters, and should you die, you can switch to another soldier. They all have different stats, but they all have the same basic guns: machine gun, explosive, and a special attack that (theoretically) clears a lot of enemies quickly. This being a top-down fragfest, the goal is to mow down endlessly respawning enemies, all of whom look the same. You earn experience points by collecting the shields they drop, and after so many points are earned, you gain a level. The only benefit to gaining levels is that your stats increase slightly. Since enemy spawn points are littered around every stage, you can literally stand outside a spawn point and collect shields until the cows come home. Then you can die, switch to another Joe, and repeat.
The HUD is confusing. Your ammo count is hard to gauge given how quickly your machine gun shoots bullets, and reloading doesn't work that well, as pressing L empties the chamber instead of actually reloading your gun. There is no health bar—attacks by enemies will make the screen flash red, and the redder it gets, the lower your health gets. Not taking damage for a little while will make your health regenerate, so it's kind of like the Call of Duty series. It doesn't work here, though, since enemies are all over the place all the time constantly shooting at you.
There's also a special attack meter. Once you've collected so many shields, you can initiate a one-time-use special attack, which—and I'm being totally serious here—can miss. When it does work, its kill radius is wonky; Lots of enemies might go down, but a few random guys, some of whom are right next to you, won't die. And it takes a long time to get that meter back up. Finally, there's your explosive weapon recharge meter. Some characters, such as Scarlett, have quick recharges and can use their explosive weapon with impunity. Others, like Heavy Duty, must wait much longer. This is the easiest meter to read on the HUD.
A bizarre cover system activates when you're behind certain objects and a little blue box appears around your character. Enemies can destroy whatever you're hiding behind, and unless you're in the right spot, the box won't appear. You also have to press the D-pad toward an enemy and an attack button to fire from cover. You can't just press fire, or you'll shoot whatever you're behind instead of the enemy. Enemies also use cover, and they seem much better at it. You can dodge bullets by pressing a direction and the A button. However, dodging is activated by releasing the A button—during the actual button press, your character kneels and is vulnerable. And immediately after the dodge, he is vulnerable. So all in all, dodging is kind of worthless. Also, did I mention that you can't actually run AND gun? This does not work well in fast-paced shoot-'em-ups.
The game looks terrible. Out in the field, the top-down view basically forbids character differentiation. Enemies all look exactly the same except for palette swaps. Rotating turrets inside bases are literally transplanted to the backs of tanks in outdoor areas. Deserts, jungles, and ice fields look woefully similar aside from the fact that deserts are brown, jungles are green, and ice fields are white. Enemy bases are awash in black and green. They're too busy, and it's kind of hard to see where you can and can't go. Movement is hindered by imprecise detection, and you'll get caught up on corners and cover objects for no apparent reason while enemies shoot you in the back. You can pilot tanks, but these tanks are the most frustrating vehicles in the world to drive.
If you and up to three friends all have your own copies of the game (so very unlikely), you can team up for some interesting multiplayer modes. The game does not support single-card multiplayer or the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, though, so your options are extremely limited. You'd be better off ignoring G.I. Joe on the DS entirely and just seeing the movie instead, which I understand is awesome. The game, obviously, does not follow suit.