Retro Profile: RoboCop (NES)

RoboCop is a movie that needs no introduction. Actor Peter Weller played the role of Alex Murphy—a good cop that was killed in the line of duty and shortly thereafter brought back to life as a cyborg law enforcement officer. 1987 was the year of the film’s theatrical release, and it turned out to be a rather successful one. Soon after its arcade debut in 1988, the RoboCop game was ported to a few home gaming platforms, including the venerable Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Now back at that point in gaming history, the commercial success of a game usually required important stuff like sensible controls, a fun experience, and maybe even some replay value just for extra measure. Well, as most would agree, RoboCop was a game that was sorely lacking in those areas. In the end, the only individuals to get any real benefit from this were the developers at Data East. We basically kept their wallets lined well enough for them to produce more mediocre console content.

Any good game of the action genre requires at least two qualities to be present with main character—accurate collision detection and reflexes quick enough to keep up with most enemy assaults. Sadly, the video game incarnation of RoboCop is sorely lacking in those key areas. It doesn’t take long to notice the fickle collision detection when you’re trying to punch even the weakest of enemies. Sometimes your punch registers on the first try; other times it doesn’t. At first, I thought it was just me and my beginner’s skills in the game. But after awhile, it became more than clear that landing a simple punch on a felon or any other foe is a crapshoot. Problems like these will often lead to cheap hits being dished out at your expense.

At certain parts in a level, RoboCop will get out his standard Auto-9 pistol, allowing you to attack from a distance. This works for the most part, but just when you start getting comfortable with using the gun, he’ll end up holstering his weapon again until you reach the next section that requires your gun again. You can also pick up the sub-machine gun and the powerful cobra rifle, but their usage is also restricted in certain parts of a level just like the default weapon. Perhaps this was the developer’s attempt to illustrate our hero obeying his 3 prime directives—(1) “serve the public trust”, (2) “protect the innocent”, and (3) “uphold the law”. However, there’s at least one part in the game where you’ll have to free the city’s mayor from the hands of a madman; in the process you can accidentally shoot the mayor, and that violates all three directives right off the bat. Therefore, if the ability injure a civilian is still possible anyway, then you shouldn’t be restricted from using your weapons at any other point in the game as if it’s some kind of “safety” measure. It’s really just an overused feature that ends up making RoboCop look incompetent of quickly fending off assailants.

Moving RoboCop around is no picnic either. He’s rather sluggish in the mobility department, and as mentioned before, his reflexes aren’t that great either. While the movie version of his character was a bit slow getting around on foot, he could still quickly fend off attacks at a moment’s notice. In the game, he can handle an enemy if they’re alone, but often there are multiple guys running up on you from both sides or above you. At other times, enemies will surprise you from windows and rooftops; the bottom line being that you can never react quickly enough to the onslaught. This makes for a less-than-pleasant experience because you’ll be constantly taking damage that could have been avoided if RoboCop were a little quicker on the draw…no pun intended.

The control issues of the game, in turn, spill over into difficulty factor. But before I go into that, I should also explain that RoboCop has two meters that you’ll need to pay constant attention to. The first one is his battery meter (T) which automatically drains as time passes on in the level. The second is his health meter (P) which, of course, tells you how much damage he has sustained. If either one of these meters run out, RoboCop “shuts down” and you’ll have to start the area again from the beginning. You can replenish both meters by picking up “P” icons for health and battery icons for battery power; the latter of which you’ll be hard pressed to find in plentiful supply.

Play or Stay? When you add it all up, the video game interpretation of RoboCop has more problems interfering than it has good things going for it. It’s hard to truly enjoy a game that has you distracted with its sluggish controls, clumsy game play mechanics, and unfair advantages given in favor of your enemies. RoboCop is a classic example of what we still see today—a popular movie turned into a game that isn’t all that great after the hype dies down. The end result being that we’re left high and dry, and for some of us, $50 poorer. Stay away from this one.

Jamie Alston is somewhat of an unusual gamer. While most people crave the visual delights that can be found in many of the current generation consoles of today, he actually prefers the 8-bit & “super 8-bit” (SNES) glory days of yesteryear. This is probably due in part to the fact that his brother chose the Nintendo Entertainment System over the Sega Genesis back in 1989…or maybe it had more to do with that time when he fell and hit his head on the blacktop in elementary school. Whatever the reason might be, Jamie has an undying love for those unnecessarily big cartridges he spent so many summer afternoons playing.When he’s not raiding trucks that “have started to move” for rations and key cards, he stays busy supporting his gaming hobby by working as a Policies & Procedures Analyst for a financial company in Baltimore, Maryland. And when he’s not working for “the man”, he’s working on the next retro review for the week. And when he’s not fighting off writer’s block and much needed sleep, he’s raiding trucks that “have started to”—well, you get the idea.Currently living in Randallstown, MD, Jamie sums up his life long dream this way:“If I one day find myself driving on the highway in a 2004 Honda Accord with an NES directional pad for a steering wheel, you can bet that I’ll be holding the up direction for that turbo boost on the straight-aways. That’s when I’ll know that I’ve finally made it in life”.