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RoboCop (NES) artwork

RoboCop (NES) review

"Part brawler. Part run 'n gun. All lackluster."

I lacked the ability to critically analyze games as a youngster, which meant I was easily impressed by lackluster adaptations of my favorite movies and cartoons. Deep down I knew that many of these games didn't compare to the classics in my library, but that suppressed knowledge didn't stop me from talking up Home Alone 2: Lost in New York on Game Boy, nor did it prevent me from defending licensed NES titles such as Beetlejuice and RoboCop.

At one point in my childhood, my friends surprised me with an intervention. They read letters begging me to admit that RoboCop was a subpar title. Upon hearing their words, I took a defensive stance. I even fired up the game to prove its awesomeness. "It stars RoboCop!” I said. “How can it not be awesome?" As I delved further into the game, though, I finally began to question its quality. Eventually, I was forced to break down and admit to everyone that RoboCop was a not the solidly made action game I had once said it was.

A mere stroll through the first stage should be sufficient to reveal how vapid RoboCop is. You guide an 8-bit Peter Weller through a typical urban setting that appears to have been plucked from Shinobi. Your objective is simple: walk to the right and punch anything that moves. This includes thugs donning light brown duds, magenta-clad karate kickers, and vicious German shepherds. I can only guess at this point in the review that you've imagined a side-scrolling brawler, where RoboCop engages these foes in drawn out slugfests similar to Vigilante. However, the actual gameplay is simpler than that. Most of your opponents simply run at you and can be dropped with a single punch before they can even land a hit. The aforementioned light brown cronies might as well wear signs on their faces that read "Deposit fist here," because their attacks tend to be severely delayed to the point of uselessness. You'll battle droves of these guys throughout the game, enough that eventually you'll grow sick of their horrible light brown hue. Aside from those fellows and their magenta-colored cohorts, most enemies only make occasional appearances and are underutilized. This is especially true about the dogs, which can be challenging to deal with in large numbers but are quite rare.

At one point in the first stage, RoboCop draws his gun for no apparent reason. This happens throughout the game, and such moments always seem silly because no specific event seems to prompt them. With your gun drawn, you can then begin mowing down hoodlums left and right, felling each one with a single bullet. I suppose the developers at SAS Sakata wanted you to feel empowered, but personally I found RoboCop's gunplay even more tedious than its brawling segments. In most situations, you can drop adversaries the instant they enter the screen, effectively eliminating any challenge at all. Even the robotic monstrosities found in later stages are no match for your ridiculous attack range. Ammunition isn't an issue, either, since your primary pistol's clip carries an endless supply of bullets. You can obtain more potent weaponry, such as a high-powered rifle and a machine gun, but there's little incentive to take advantage of the superior firepower when even your piddly pistol gets the job done.

RoboCop screenshotRoboCop screenshot

In a typical sidescroller, everything I mentioned above could still leave behind a serviceable game. If a developer constructs intricate enough levels, then even simple enemies can provide a threat. Such stages might make use of lofty platforms, offer walls as barricades, and house cronies in inconvenient locations. Sadly, RoboCop features no such intricacy. Every stage is an uncomplicated slog. Now and then you might encounter gunners on overhead ledges or leaning from open windows, but such instances are uncommon and so easily dealt with that they don't add nearly enough challenge.

The game’s pacing also isn't helped by the fact that RoboCop is incapable of jumping. Nixing such a feature can severely limit stage designs, as there is little that a developer can then throw at you besides lengthy stretches of flat ground and staircases or ladders. SAS Sakata tried to make up for a lack of platforming segments by including specialty battles and bosses, such as a massive cannon found in the fourth stage. Unfortunately, it doesn't take an idiot to figure out how to survive most of these scuffles. Basic crouching, cautious potshots, and just plain button mashing are usually sufficient to get the job done. The most effective strategy when fighting the first boss, for instance, is to rapidly wail on the B button. By doing so, you can paralyze the boss with a flurry of punches and annihilate him before he can even blink.

RoboCop screenshotRoboCop screenshot

The most disappointing boss battle of all, though, was the showdown against ED 209. Since ED played a fairly big part in the movie, you'd expect the faceoff in the game to be an epic one. Unfortunately, destroying ED is a matter of taking careful shots with one of the more powerful guns, then stepping back for a few seconds while it unloads a round of bullets into the floor. Repeat that process often enough and ED 209 is toast. That simple routine makes for an incredibly boring experience, one that the developers sadly decided to reprise for the final boss encounter. Although they did at least increase the the ED 209's health supply the second time around, they didn't tweak any of its other attributes. The resulting battle is basically identical, except that it runs a bit longer than before.

None of the above factors mattered to me as a kid, though. The game featured RoboCop and that was good enough for me. I never realized it, but I was more in love with the brand than I was with the game itself. One could argue that such adoration is what the publishers were counting on to drive sales, rather than solid game design. I can't say for a fact that such was the case with RoboCop, but everything I experienced suggests that it was. Thanks to its lacking stage designs and uninteresting combat, RoboCop is a dull, repetitive trudge that does its source material no justice.

RoboCop screenshot
It's a copout!


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Freelance review by Joseph Shaffer (April 19, 2013)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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