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Impossible Mission (Master System, 1990)

Ethan Hunt need not apply.

I miss 80s exercise videos.




GENRE: Action/Puzzle

RELEASE DATE: 11/90 – (EU)

In true Hollywood form, the “Mission: Impossible” tv/film series makes secret agent work look sexy and dangerous. Insane stunts. Trysts with mysterious women. Devil-may-care globetrotting. Secret agents have it all! Not so says Impossible Mission. The liveliest thing you’ll do here is somersault over robots. The rest of the time you’ll hack Apple II computers, travel in elevators, and put puzzles together, like a retired octogenarian.

We can dance if we want to!

Your very possible mission is to stop the evil Professor Elvin Atombender from stealing national secrets. Infiltrate his enormous underground base, break into all the base’s rooms via a series of elevators, and check every object you see for puzzle pieces. These pieces, properly assembled, will provide clues to the location of Atombender’s control room.

Each room is comprised of platforms, ascending/descending lifts, a computer or two, evil robots, and random objects, like furniture and microwaves. You only have six hours game time to explore the entire base, so you’ll want to search the objects (stand in front of them and press ‘Up’ on the D-pad), collect any puzzle pieces, and get out as quickly as you can.

Your mission: relax on the couch by the fireplace.

The robots are your main barriers, though certain rooms do feature orbs that chase you around. You have no attack, just an epic-looking somersault that helps you bound over them. If you find a Sleeping Robot card while searching through objects, you can disable the robots through the computer. The orb, however, is an unstoppable force.

“I painted you robots a picture of some gibberish! Please be my friends!”

The robots’ movement is always varied. Some zap lightning out of their mid-section. Some follow your movement. Others don’t move at all. Sometimes they stand in front of items so you can’t search them. Whether you just touch them or get zapped, one hit and you’ll start back at the entrance of the room. While you have seemingly unlimited lives, each time you die, ten minutes are deducted from the six hour game time.

The robots might be jerks, but they let you sit super close to their big-screen TV.

While traversing between rooms on the elevator, check your handy pocket computer to assemble the puzzle pieces. There are thirty-six total red, blue, and green pieces. Only pieces of the same color can fit together, and sometimes they have to be turned upside-down or backwards in order to connect.

The puzzle pieces look awful and are hard to assemble. I understand their shoddy preschool look is the point, but that doesn’t make me hate them any less. If you get stuck (as I often did), use the Telephone option on the computer to find out if you have enough pieces to solve a puzzle or correct the position of the displayed puzzle pieces.

Are we sure those are puzzle pieces and not flesh-eating bacteria?

Publisher U.S. Gold seemed to relish porting really old games to aging consoles. Gauntlet had a five year journey between its official arcade release in 1985 and its Master System port in 1990. Impossible Mission goes all the way back to 1984. Perhaps this egregiously late port would have been ok, if Zillion hadn’t expanded the Impossible Mission formula three years earlier. You still search rooms and hack computers, but the game adds more playable characters, a fleshed-out story, better action and atmosphere, and less obtuse puzzles. Once you’ve experienced Zillion, Impossible Mission is hard to embrace.

Not only is the map useful, it’s spearmint-flavored!

In addition to Zillion‘s presence, Impossible Mission II was released in 1988 for various computers and the NES. Surely this should have been the game that came to the Master System instead of its older brother? Better yet, U.S. Gold and Epyx could have treated Master System owners to a sweet budget-priced two-pack. Make us want it, fellas.

It’s the year 20XX. How does Impossible Mission stack up, away from its poorly timed 1990 release? I will forever hate the puzzles, and I’m lukewarm on rummaging through couches and dresser drawers for puzzle pieces, but the fast-paced elevator-to-room-to-elevator exploration kept me hypnotized. Even when my brain was yelling at me to stop playing such ancient rubbish, I pushed my agile agent further into the base, hoping to find just one more puzzle piece. Hear me well: Zillion will forever be the best version of Impossible Mission on the Master System. That said, Impossible Mission still has a spark of life, however faint.


14 replies on “Impossible Mission (Master System, 1990)”

I’ve never played Impossible Mission, but my mate tells me the Commodore 64 version actually is impossible, due to a bug…

I’ve heard people praise this game, but it does look old and creaky, even for a 1990 SMS game. I should give it a go, but can’t say I’m inspired by the pictures. Do you reckon it’s worth my time? Or should I go straight to Zillion? (Which I’ve never played either)

I’ll be curious to see the distribution of SMS game scores once you’re eventually done. It strikes me that the SMS is a great little console if you know which games to focus on. It never quite hits the same highs as the NES but it’s got enough gems to occupy a couple of years’ happy gaming. It probably has a similar spread of quality to the NES, just over a much smaller library.

I imagine your experience, approaching the SMS as a chrono-blogger, is a bit different. You have to wade through a lot of dreck, without the benefit of nostalgia or first hand knowledge of the next great game coming around the corner, so it must be difficult to form a favourable impression of the system or its games.

Thanks for falling on that sword – in addition to providing a great read, you’re also making it easier for the SMS-curious to find those great games and have that favourable experience.

You’re welcome, Rom, and thanks for the comment.

I think you’re spot on. 2/3 of the NES library is either mediocre or garbage. But that 1/3… those 250 or so games that range from good to great make that system worth owning.

The Master System… just can’t compare, but it does have fewer terrible games. I think I may have mentioned this back when I first started Sega Does, but since I was a Nintendo kid, exploring the Sega side of things really feels like I’m playing through an alternate universe of games.

I’ve never played Impossible Mission, but my mate tells me the Commodore 64 version actually is impossible, due to a bug…

That’s the Atari 7800 version, isn’t it? The NTSC cartridge suffers from an infamous glitch where some of the puzzle pieces (or whatever they are) spawn in a location where they can’t be picked up. I think the PAL cart fixes the issue, and the original dev also popped up on AtariAge at one point with a patch for the NTSC version.

Impossible Mission is one of the greatest home computer games of the 1980s and I’m happy to say the Master System version is ALMOST as good as the c64 version, and very faithful. It’s more worthy of your time today than just about any other game of its era, and it is wholly original. There’s really nothing like it.

Impossible Mission II is garbage, and Zillion isn’t the same thing at all. I wouldn’t pay much attention to anybody’s opinion of Impossible Mission unless they’d actually completed it, because a lot of people never really played it seriously and until you do you may not notice how brilliant the design of it actually is.

You seem to have enjoyed this better than the NES port of the sequel. I’ve always wanted to try it, mainly because of the series’ reputation in C64 circles, but clearly I’d be better off with Zillion.

I’m really disappointed, this game got great reviews back in the day.
Just spent about an hour not getting anywhere with it and not having fun getting nowhere either.
Completely agree with your review “Even when my brain was yelling at me to stop playing such ancient rubbish”. Yes some games age like wine, some games age like milk and this is one .
Unfortunately the next game could be even more mind numbing…….

I was curious to know if this was related to the NES game (or sequel, rather), but didn’t realize it started out its life as a C64 game. And yes, a little strange that it was decided to port the original over instead of, as you mentioned, porting the sequel, or doing a 2-for-1 deal, which might have made it more worthwhile. It is noteworthy that the game gives you seemingly unlimited lives, with each death only resulting in deducted time off the clock – a tactic that 3D platformers, action games, and modern stealth titles use to great effect. So while it’s passe today, at the time of the game’s original release, I’d assume that was probably a major innovation.

It’s actually an interesting strategy by US Gold and Sega whose biggest market would have been Europe.
Impossible Mission and Gauntlet two ‘classic’ games you’ve been playing on your C64 and Spectrums here they are on the Sega with no load times and colourful graphics why not upgrade ?
Your favourites are now on Sega, same with the late releases of Rainbow Islands, Strider and Ghouls ‘n Ghosts no reason to keep them on your old computer they are now on Sega too.

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