In our Game Over, Man! series, we explore the history of video games that are based on movies, one game at a time. In part 12, Shaun Eddleston takes a look at 1994’s Demolition Man for the Super Nintendo…
Year of Release – 1995
Developer – Acclaim Entertainment, Alexandria
Publisher – Acclaim
Platforms – Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Sega CD
If you’re a fan of 90s action movies, Demolition Man is an absolute treat.
Boasting massive action in a not-too distant future, Wesley Snipes essentially channeling a Joker-esque villain and Sylvester Stallone flitting between comic relief and badass hero, Demolition Man is an absolutely essential popcorn movie from that era. Hell, even Rob Schneider isn’t too annoying in this one!
As with all big budget action romps of this time, it got its own video game adaptation, but the question remains; Is this game an example of how to do a big dumb sci-fi action movie justice? or is it a disappointing mess of a game that will see you get fined several credits for a violating of the Verbal Morality Statute?
Like the movie, the game begins in the hellish, apocalyptic landscape that is Los Angeles in 1996. Dropping from a chopper with a sample of Stallone yelling “HEADS UP!”, players control the “demolition man” himself, John Spartan, as he lands on the rapidly deteriorating roof of the building where the evil Simon Phoenix is keeping hostages.
The first game that comes to mind while playing this section is Earthworm Jim, as players must guide Spartan across a set of platforms while shooting at enemies and ziplining across rooftops. As the first Earthworm Jim game was released a year prior to Demolition Man, you’d think that some of the game’s fantastic gameplay elements would be implemented in future games (even though it was from a different developer), but sadly, this not the case.
Aiming at enemies is a massively painful experience, with the ability to crouch completely missing from the game. Even when you do manage to reign in the aiming system, hitting an enemy is still immensely difficult if you aren’t at point blank range, as the collision detection in these platforming sections is pretty appalling.
Then there’s the level design. While the graphics do an admirable job of recreating the “true-to-life” barren landscape of LA in the mid 90’s, the platforms that Spartan will be running and jumping across here are simply a confusing mess.
As the stage has a qausi-3D effect to it, short walls obscure the view of what’s actually on the floor, which gets annoying very quickly. There is much frustration to be had when throwing what you thought was a grenade, letting it explode then tripping up over the flames on the ground; that was no grenade, but a molotov cocktail instead?! This wouldn’t be too much of an issue in most games, chalking it up to a trial and error moment, but Demolition Man is pretty savage when it comes to how much health you lose from slipups like this.
Jumping is another aspect that the game doesn’t quite get right either. Much like the aiming system, jumping is a clunky mess that fails to reach anything in between the camps of “Oh no! I’ve jumped too far and landed in an area full of enemy gunfire!” and “Oh no! I didn’t jump far enough and have just fallen to my death!”. There are often points where Spartan needs to long jump across two platforms in Prince Of Persia fashion, which triggers automatically. The problem with this? Getting into the correct position to pull it off effectively is incredibly tricky, and will more often than not cause players to immediately plummet to their demise.
Eventually reaching the end of the first stage sees the games villain, Simon Phoenix, pop up for the first time as he giggles and makes a run for it, leaving Spartan to pelt it through a corridor of deadly C4 explosives.
Demolition Man then takes a huge leap in time into the future (the year 2032, to be exact) in the newly formed city of San Angeles. If you hadn’t seen the movie before playing the game, then surely the game would give an explanation as to why John Spartan and Simon Phoenix were sentenced to cryostasis prison sentences?
In lieu of any cutscenes (or any stills) from the movie, we get a profile of a frozen John Spartan that details in a short paragraph the events that result in his arrest. For those who aren’t too familiar with the movie’s story, it’s because his reckless actions in trying to apprehend Phoenix resulted in the deaths of every single hostage in the first section of the game. Coupled with a bunch of images that look more like Wolfenstein 3D‘s big baddie ROBO HITLER, this is a disappointing switchover, and feels incredibly rushed.
The next stage drops us in new setting, and a completely different genre! Instead of the piss-poor platforming, we now have a top-down shooter game on our hands, and this actually redeems the game to a certain degree
Taking place in the “Museum of Violence” in San Angeles, Spartan must make his way through a maze and rescue enough of what seems to be Glenn Shadix’s character from the movie for the doors to unlock, while killing a whole lotta bad guys in the meantime.
Getting new weapons and health powerups is as simple as can be, as you obtain them through smashing the museum displays. Why any of these exhibits would hold weapons containing live ammunition is a mystery to me, but it’s a logic hole that is faithfully carried over from the film itself, so, as a fan of the movie, it’s a small nod that doesn’t go unappreciated.
While this is a far more entertaining section of the game, it is far from perfect. The animations of the enemies dying is literally non-existent (they simply disappear in an instant), the difficulty is pretty unfair (even on the “calm” setting) and the controls aren’t as comfortable as they should be. This is no Zombies Ate My Neighbors or Smash TV, but it’s undoubtedly much more fun to play through than the awful platforming sections.
Demolition Man isn’t the best movie tie-in game around, nor is it the worst. It’s pretty faithful to the storyline of the movie (when it does tell you what that story actually is), but it inexplicably skips massive chunks of it when completing levels, leaving people who have yet to see the film completely lost.
Its awkward controls, level design that is as confusing as the movie’s sea shells (if you know, you know) and janky movement in the side-scrolling sections are more than made up for by including some decent-ish top-down shooter segments. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that getting rid of the platforming levels and investing more attention in those top-down shooter levels would definitely make this a far better game overall.
Interestingly, a 3DO game was released for Demolition Man in the same year, and is pretty much an entirely different game, but that’s going to have to wait until another time.
In the meantime, I leave you with one of the ugliest/greatest game over screens that you’re likely to see in this series…
Have you played Demolition Man on the SNES? Let us know in the comments below, or send a tweet our way!