More familiar as a home computer and console game than in its original arcade form, Konami's Green Beret
is a potent invocation of a bygone political paradigm. In the US the game was entitled Rush'n Attack
, although for reasons explained below this title was nonsensical. The gameplay was extremely simple, a close ancestor of Rolling Thunder
, Metal Slug
and many other titles; the player character moved from left to right over a set of multi-leveled playfields, dealing instant death to lethal antagonists. Along the way the enemies became more formidable, and the player could capture weapons to bolster his initially meagre arsenal. The gameplay was tuned in a style common to other Japanese games, in that it was never hard from moment to moment, relying instead on the mass and speed of the enemy to fatigue the player into making a mistake. It was a difficult game but a fair one; with the exception of the end-of-level bosses the player was seldom put in an impossible situation (the fact that the majority of playing time was spent without power-ups at all would become unusual in a year or so). One thing setting the game apart from its ancestors (Kung-Fu
and its close contemporary, Ghosts 'n' Goblins
are the most obvious) is that it strives for a more real-world setting, although as shall be seen its vision of the real world is filtered through the subconscious. A green beret, incidentially, is a piece of headgear typically worn by American Special Forces
soldiers - rangers, commandos and the like - although British Royal Marines
also wear a green beret (indeed, the British Army is the biggest military user of berets in the world, with no less than nine different types for various branches of service, the first having been the Tank Corps in WW1).
Along with Capcom's 1985 Commando, SNK's 1986 Ikari Warriors and Taito's 1987 Operation Wolf, Green Beret emerged at the tail-end of Ronald Reagan's cold war orgasm, and reflected a Japanese perception of what would go down well in America's contemporary political and cultural landscape, expressed with a mixture of shooting, stabbing and grenading, three activities familiar to all from real life. Rather like the original 1954 'Godzilla' or Osamu Tezuka's 1952 'Astro Boy', Green Beret and its ilk adopted contemporary concerns, whether nuclear annihilation or the machine-assisted annihilation of the self, or in this case the 'POW-MIA' phenomenon which had provided the basis for one of the year's biggest cinema hits, 'Rambo: First Blood Part II'. Unlike any of the aforementioned there was no attempt at explication or rationalisation of its theme; Green Beret was neither a prophecy or a warning; rather, as with most arcade games, it was an orgy, a revel.
If it could be said that mind is the product of thoughts shaped around time and experience, Green Beret was mindless, and designed to be so. It took place in the moment, with no concern for time, no future, no past beyond the sole historical fact that, before the player had inserted one or more coins, friendly soldiers had been captured, and that your character had been instructed to rescue them. As with all orgies all that mattered was the amplification of the instant, the irrelevation of temporal realisation. Operation Wolf was perhaps the epitome of this; the game took place in a timeless world of constant automatic gunfire, designed to numb and obliterate the mind as the player poured bullets into the screen.
Of the Reagan-era military arcade games, Green Beret was the least ambiguous as to its setting and the nature of the enemy. Contra side-stepped the issue by using aliens, whilst Commando had deliberately avoided giving the player clues as to its geographical or historical setting, or the parties involved. Operation Wolf was more explicit, but fudged the issue by pulling in elements of America's post-WW2 conflicts, real and imagined, without thought as to coherence; the game seemed to be set in Vietnam, Cuba, Afghanistan, the Middle East and Central America at the same time, forming a fantasia based around Caspar Weinberger's most cheese-fuelled nightmares.
Green Beret, on the other hand, took place in a military base stocked with soviet equipment - T-72 tanks and FROG self-propelled missile launchers in the first level alone - amidst snow-covered mountains. Many of the enemy soldiers wore greatcoats, although this did not stop some of them from performing head-high karate leaps. Indeed, the presence of martial arts, the stylised 'martial arts' outfits worn by some of the enemy, a flag on the first level's boss truck, and the predominantly olive skin tones of the characters suggested that the game in fact took place in China or North Korea, giving rise to the thought that the friendly POWs may have been captured in Vietnam and shipped abroad for political or scientific reason, as indeed many were in reality. This theory seems even more convincing when one considers that Green Beret is a Japanese game. This supposition makes a nonsense of the punning US title, Rush'n Attack, and its artwork, which featured a moustachioed American soldier firing a sci-fi rifle in front of some blazing minaret (the European artwork was more cartoonish and more vivid, featuring a Green Beret firing an M60, echoing Sylvester Stallone's most famous pose from 'Rambo').
Apart from its political dimension, Green Beret is also a surreal work, in that it presented deep-seated ideas and fears in a fashion which bypassed the conscious mind. The fact that a real-life Green Beret would be sent to frontally assault a military dockyard with more than a combat knife, albeit a knife as long as the soldier's torso, did not trouble the game's designers, who had clearly been inspired by the munitial primitivism of the Rambo films, in which John Rambo fought with bow and arrow, 'homebrew' traps and a trademarked combat knife. The unwillingness of the heavily-armed enemy to actually use their rifles - most of the time they simply ran straight at you, punching you if they got too close - came from the world of G.I. Joe, whilst the enemy's 'human wave' approach - uncomfortably echoing Japanese military doctrine in the War in the Pacific, and tactics used by Korean and Vietnamese forces in later wars - expressed a lingering perception of Communists as an ant-like hive, notwithstanding the fact that the British, French and German empires, each believing itself to be the most cultured and sophisticated since that of the Romans, had terminated themselves in the Cubist hell of WW1 with the very same tactics; indeed, by elevating senseless mass death to the level of strategy, WW1 was itself an arcade game.
Even the main character's dress expressed contempt for the real world; in mountainous, snowy terrain, across a series of grey concrete military bases, the main character fought in woodland green DPM. Furthermore, any intended camouflage effect was nullified by a pair of oversized, bright blue pistol holsters, one for each hip, nevermind that the Green Beret never drew his pistols, perhaps out of a sense of fair play. The presence of holsters on both hips - arranged butt-forward, for a 'cross-draw' - suggests that the character was ambidextrous, that he could follow the left-hand path if he so chose. A minor point, but one which was nonetheless the product of an intentional decision by the designers.
To cap it all, the Green Beret's beret was fronted with a prominent blue crest. When seen from the front - he dies facing the 'fourth wall' - his beret does not appear green at all, and thus to the troops he is attacking he is a Blue Beret. Indeed the NES conversion painted the soldier either entirely blue or entirely red, depending on whether it was the first or second player, perhaps as a homage to the all-blue outfit of Commando. Thus NES owners had a game called alternately Green Beret or Rush'n Attack in which a soldier with a blue or red beret attacked a military base in Manchuria or Pyongyang.
In the grand scheme of things Green Beret did not become a front-line classic, certainly not to the extent of Konami's 1987 Contra (Gryzor in the UK). It is instead near the middle of the second division, and as mentioned at the top of this article the arcade machine was overshadowed by the almost flawless home computer and console conversions (a similar phenomenon would before 1987's Arkanoid). Nonetheless the game remains as a testament to the final spasm of the Cold War, the confused politico-military nature of its period reflecting as much about the times in which it emerged as Tetris or Resident Evil a few years later.