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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I'd Buy That For A Dollar


System: Nintendo (NES)
Release Date: 1989
Genre: Side-scroller
Developer: Data East
Publisher: Ocean Software

            Who is he? What is he? He's RoboCop. Part Man, Part Machine, All Cop. With 2014 bringing us a remake of the 1987 science-fiction action film, I thought I would re-live a portion of my childhood, and review the movie-inspired RoboCop video game on the NES.

            The original RoboCop was a graphically violent movie, probably not suited for someone my age. Filled with graphic scenes of bloody mayhem, and language to match, RoboCop was a delightful, albeit cheesy, film for a 10 year old boy. I remember renting and watching it with friends for my 11th birthday party.
Good times. Since it was easy to take a popular action movie and translate it in to a video game, it should come as no surprise that RoboCop was also translated over to the world of video gaming. Versions of RoboCop were found in arcades, and on home consoles alike. The only one I ever played though was the version for the Nintendo Entertainment System. RoboCop was one of the first games I remember saving up to buy after I finally got a Nintendo System of my own.

                        Looking back, I probably would have been better off buying something else.

            RoboCop puts you in control of the beloved OCP cyborg. Your goal is to fight your way through various film-inspired stages. The stages themselves roughly follow or relate to the film itself, including ones with the mayor of Old Detroit holding people hostage, and the abandoned factory where the final showdown with criminal master-mind Clarence Boddicker takes place. There is even a battle with ED-209, the fearsome super robot also created by OCP. Sounds like a recipe for a decent game right? Wrong. The game was not fun, and was a lot more difficult than it needed to be.

            To start off, RoboCop cannot jump. I know he's a cyborg, and he's not supposed to jump, but almost every platforming video game out there utilizes some kind of jumping feature. The inability to jump did not ruin the game, but it certainly would have been better if it had been available. Aside from that, the controls are basically decent, and it's easy to maneuver through the game. The only other exception would be the controls related to going up or down a set of stairs. You have to be standing on a specific spot in order to begin your ascension/descension. If you aren't then you simply crouch down. With a little practice though, you eventually figure it out, and make the stairs a little easier to navigate.

            So if the controls are decent, and the inability to jump and navigate stairs are livable flaws, why then would I say this game was bad? Well, to put it simply, the rest of the gameplay experience sucked out loud. The hit detection was incredibly inconsistent. Then there's the inability to decide when to use the gun. That always frustrated me to no end. That's right, Robocop's primary weapons are his fists. The game decides when it's time to pull out the gun, and when it's time to holster it up and resume punching. This means
that until the game tells you, both the A and B button will yield a punch attack, and with the inconsistent hit detection, it's not always a sure-fire way to do battle. If they had simply gone with A = punch and B = shoot, then this game would have been at least a little better. There is nothing wrong with letting the player decide when to punch, and when to shoot. In the movie itself, RoboCop used his gun more than he did his fists, why take away from that?

            If the reasons above are not enough to make the game unplayable, then you need not worry, there's more. While you are punching your way through each stage, you can also enjoy the worries associated with having a timer. Timed stages are nothing new in the world of video games, but there is just something about the way it works in this game that takes away from the fun. RoboCop has two basic status bars, the T bar and the P bar. The T bar is your timer. But rather than using the basic countdown type timer found in most games, RoboCop decided to go with a bar that more closely resembles a battery status indicator. When you consider that you can add
additional time to your game by picking up batteries, it's actually kinda clever. The only drawback is that you don't know how much actual time is left, so it's easy to start panicking when you see that you only have 3 bars left and there are no batteries in sight. The P bar is your health status. If you take enough damage from enemies your power will drop, and RoboCop dies. There are health restoral bottles along the way, so you can rejuvenate. I only wish that they were a little more prevalent during some of the tougher areas leading up to a boss battle.

            The game at least gives you three continues to work with since you usually either run out of time or get killed in combat at some point. After the third continue has been used, the game stops. You cannot press start, or A, or anything to get back to the title screen. You have to press the reset button in order to start again. At that point you may as well just turn the power off and put in
Target Practice
a new game, as you are usually frustrated at that point anyway. The fact that you have to hard reset the game in order to start over only invites the opportunity to change games, since most of the time you are sitting down. I know I always had to decide weather or not is was worth the energy to get off the couch to reset the game. I usually found myself thinking that since I was already up, I may as well either turn the whole thing off, or swap out the cartridge for something else.

            Overall RoboCop on the NES was a pretty horrible game. The music and graphics were at least decent, albeit far from perfect. Should you get a chance to play it, you should only if for the sake of being able to say you have played one of more awful games from the NES era. Otherwise I would recommend playing something else entirely.