When it comes to visions of the future in movies, law enforcement has always been an entertaining go-to. So it comes as no surprise that I’m a fan of 1987’s Robocop. Its ultra-violent, satirical sci-fi action and amazingly quotable script make it one of my personal favourites. Even its iffy sequels are a fun watch (don’t worry, we’ll be covering their tie-in games eventually!), and it arrived at a time when the 8-bit home console market was taking off nation-wide, so it was obvious that it was going to get a video game adaptation.
Part 7 of our ongoing “Game Over, Man!” series takes a look at the NES release, and, well, we’re on to another stinker…
Developed and published by Data East in 1989, Robocop is somewhat of a hybrid of two essential arcade genres; Run & Gun and Beat-‘Em-Up. Players must guide the titular character through the mean streets of Detroit, killing criminals along the way.
Split up into six “assignments”, Robocop must fight through Old Detroit (we are in the future, remember!), City Hall, a warehouse, the headquarters of O.C.P, steelworks and finally, a boardroom. Players are equipped with punches and a handgun with infinite ammunition, but more weapons can be found at different points in the game. Robocop also has the ability to detect weak walls that can be punched through to reveal shortcuts, a punch function that tells players if a specific enemy can be defeated with weapons or not, a boss tracker that blinks faster when approaching a big baddie, and an alarm that sets off whenever Robocop‘s energy/battery starts to get dangerously low.
On paper, this is a relatively impressive amount of functions for an 8-bit side-scroller from this era of gaming, but there’s a number of problems. First of all, Robocop uses up battery just by walking. While this is true to the movie in a way, the battery in his video game counterpart diminishes so quickly for someone who moves so slowly, it becomes frustrating in no time. There are a few battery powerups in each of the stages that replenish his power, but they are too few and far between to make up for the high power usage to begin with, not to mention being physically awkward to actually pick up too.
Then there’s the combat itself. We’d already had Double Dragon in the arcades by this point, and while Robocop isn’t strictly the same type of game, the melee action should be at least comparable to the bar that it set, right?
Attempting to punch enemies is a constant struggle, as it requires you to get to point-blank range before you actually land any hits on an opponent. Considering that you’ll often be swarmed by enemies in the street, this is not good news. I understand that Robocop is a heavy piece of machinery, but the punches he throws are so sluggish, it is incredibly unsatisfying to perform.
Using weapons isn’t much of an improvement either. While it’s good that players don’t have to worry about running out of ammunition (for the basic pistol, that is), firing weapons is clunky and wildly inaccurate. Trying to make progress through a level with a higher amount of rifle-wielding criminals and bashing the fire button, only to find that the shots slowly fire whenever they want to is mildly infuriating, but it beats resorting to the hand-to-hand combat, so that’s a positive by default.
Speaking of enemies, Robocop‘s variety of undesirables is pretty limited, especially early on in the game. It’s this selection of criminals that brings up a rather confusing question about the game; If Robocop is supposed to be clad in bulletproof armour plates, then why are these enemies doing so much damage?
I know, I know, bringing up this type of logic when I’m talking about a Robocop game seems slightly nitpicky, and who knows, the criminals could have armour-piercing rounds loaded into their rifles? It’s a tough thing to let slide by when one of the biggest threats early on in the game is dogs. My suspension of disbelief can only go so far, especially when the world’s most advanced cyborg-cop can be taken out by the bite of a street dog.
In terms of graphics, everything here is slightly above average for the era. The backgrounds in the outside areas are commendable, and Robocop himself looks pretty decent too. The visuals of the enemies (besides the iconic ED-209 boss, which still looks badass) are what holds the game back in this respect, as they lack any real detail. It’s fun to watch them fall from their windows after being shot though.
Between each mission, we get a close-up of sorts of Robocop himself, and to say that these look a bit “off” would be a massive understatement. I understand that for this generation of consoles, there was technical limitations that meant that we either got a crappy digitised sprite of a photo still, or an animated cartoon drawing instead, but the Robocop drawing we se here looks like Beaker from The Muppets doing Robocop cosplay.
As the game lacks any cinematics or story recap, players who haven’t seen the movie will be lost when playing Robocop. It just plonks players straight into the missions with zero explanation whatsoever.
Leaving out the story recap like this also adds to the sense that Robocop the game has very little to do with Robocop the movie, besides using a few characters and locations from it. This completely removes the subversive message from the movie, and boils things down to “powerful dude kills nameless thugs”. It’s an entertaining premise, sure, just not in a Robocop game.
Overall, Robocop on the NES is a poor game. There’s a couple of highlights here, but these gain that title purely by not being as crap as the rest of the game. A naff combat system, non-spectacular visuals and a vibe that completely misses the point of the movie all make this a tough one to recommend.
Have you played Robocop for the NES? Let us know in the comments below, or send a tweet our way!