Movie licensed games have always, always been hit or miss, children. Usually miss. As such, unless I’ve heard otherwise, I normally avoid them. Unfortunately, they remain some of the most affordable retro games on the market. Unless you’re Wayne’s World or Die Hard or Godzilla 2. The point is, a lot of them have worked their way into my library, and every so often, I decide to see how disappointed kids were in the ‘80s when they bought a game with their favourite action hero on it.
Today, I’m looking at RoboCop. Surprisingly, despite not being a big movie watcher, I’ve seen the first RoboCop and liked it a lot. So much so that I haven’t watched the second or third movie for the same reason I haven’t seen The Godfather Part III; I don’t want to spoil an already good thing. So there’s a certain pre-existing fondness present that I hope will carry me through the game.
DEAD OR ALIVE, YOU’RE COMING WITH ME
There were already a few RoboCop games on the market when the NES version hit in 1989, mostly based around an arcade title, but the NES version is more or less unique. Technically there was a port for the TRS-80 Color Computer, but if you’re asking what that is, my only response is “exactly.” It was an 8-bit computer from 1980 that ran on a Motorola 6809E processor which is probably more than you wanted to know.
The NES version was the only version done by Data East, and it’s largely a side-scrolling action game. Generally, you lumber from the left side of the screen to the right punching anything that gets in your way. Eventually RoboCop pulls out his gun and lets you shoot things, which is nice. True to the movie, RoboCop has a lot of health to expend, but he’s on a strict schedule and has to beat the boss before his energy runs out. Also, there’s a couple other guns to pick up, but the pistol gets you pretty far.
That’s it. There’s nothing particularly unique or exciting here aside from the fact that you play as RoboCop. Which, I mean, is cool in its own right.
I’D BUY THAT FOR A DOLLAR!
I hope you watched the movie, because the game roughly follows that plot without actually providing much narration. It’s the story of a street cop from Detroit who gets brutally killed and used to power a new kind of robot police officer without his consent. There are themes of gentrification, the risk of privatizing the police force, and what makes us human, but none of these are really represented in the game. There are some cutscenes between levels, but they’re really without much context. Not that it matters. I guess.
There are six levels to the game, which isn’t very long, but you’re only given three continues, and then you have to start all over. Unless you know a secret trick that gives you unlimited continues, which isn’t all that complicated.
I know I said that the game didn’t have anything unique going for it, but that’s not entirely true. The second level has you breaking through a wall and going up against a boss that holds a hostage in front of them. You then have to time your shots for when they duck, which is kind of cool to begin with, but also hilarious when you accidentally hit the hostage and they react by screaming “Oh No!”
YOUR MOVE, CREEP
While RoboCop’s biggest sin is its overall blandness, it also has a problem with loose mechanics. For starters, when RoboCop will pull out his gun seems completely arbitrary. It’s not like level 1-1 is a beat-’em-up, level 1-2 is a shooter, and level 1-3 is a boss stage. No. RoboCop just pulls out his pistol randomly mid-level and puts it away whenever he feels like it.
Fine. Whatever. Punches work fine.
Except when they don’t, which is typically when you’re too close to your target. The hit detection is just whack in general. You’d think that punching a wall would be simple, but you can’t be directly up against it or you miss. I’ll be honest, it’s not the worst I’ve encountered, and it doesn’t put the brakes on the whole game, it’s just something that could have been tightened.
The last level is a bit amusing to me. By the time I finally completed it, I had everything choreographed: this enemy will stop spawning at this point; an enemy with a gun I need will spawn here, but only if there are no other enemies on screen; this particularly bothersome enemy won’t spawn if I leave the lesser enemies on screen as I pass their spawning location; walk here; duck here; stop there. It was necessary because there are no healing or time extending items in the entire stage, which means not only do you have to get to the boss with enough health remaining, but you also need to do so with enough time to take it out.
PART MAN. PART MACHINE. ALL RIGHT.
When I stepped away from RoboCop after it told me to “stay out of trouble,” I actually felt that I had fun. I know I spent this review struggling to say anything really nice about RoboCop, but at the same time, I don’t think any of its problems were deal-breakers. It’s just an okay sidescrolling romp that doesn’t do anything special, but doesn’t offend too badly.
I’m not necessarily trying to say that RoboCop is worth your time. I think the best way I can put it is that if I was a child in the ‘80s who just wanted to play a video game starring my favourite hero from an R-Rated movie, I probably wouldn’t be terribly disappointed. As far as movie licensed games go, there are certainly worse ones out there on the NES. A lot worse.
This review was conducted on an NES using a cartridge copy of the game. It was paid for by the author.