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Undercover Cops (Arcade) artwork

Undercover Cops (Arcade) review

"In a dimly lit room of political power, town officials plot how to take care of the recent crime outbreak..."

In a dimly lit room of political power, town officials plot how to take care of the recent crime outbreak...

“Everyone, the peace of our town is at its worst condition ever. I have a suggestion for improving it. It is to have city sweepers clean up the villains.”

Who are these city sweepers, you ask? Luckily the mayor has come prepared with their files from the city record.

City Sweeper 001
Code Name:
Lightning Slasher
Former Profession: Karate Master
“He used to be a karate master and had won first prize in the U.S. championship before. One day while he was trying to protect his girlfriend, he got into a fight and accidentally killed a man with his bare hands.”

City Sweeper 019
Code Name:
Fire Ball Crusher
Former Profession: Football Player
“He used to be a football star who had won M.V.P. before. Although falsely accused, he was censured for being a dangerous man and was banished from the world of football.”

City Sweeper 189
Code Name:
Blue Gale Revenger
Former Profession: Vigilante
“She used to be the only female vigilante. Thomas who was her partner and lover was killed by villains. She has an excessive hated of evil.”

You’d think the rest of his council might second-guess these actions, since, you know, you’re bringing in a football player with a checkered past to rid a criminal syndicate. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, but there may just be other courses of action.

“O.K., mayor. Let’s do it!”

Well then it’s settled.

Even by traditional beat ‘em up standards, where mayors themselves often take to the streets, this is a wacky selection to choose from. And it couldn’t be more exemplary of what I love about the genre. Claude’s back-story has not only been stolen directly from cinema classic Con-Air, but he sports Guy-like get-up in his karate gi, a Final Fight homage made even cooler because Claude is a scruff, bearded badass. Meanwhile Bubba is the “FIRE BALL CRUSHER,” a hilarious slew of meaningless yet significant words that tell you everything you need to know: this guy brings the brawn. And then there’s Flame, a character that, ignoring the background involving vigilantism and enigmatic ex-lover Tom, is one of the plainest and most sympathetic beat ‘em up characters to date. She’s a woman, pretty and fragile yet tough enough to hold her own, attractive but without her boobs heaving like Hannah from Cadillacs & Dinosaurs as she walks. She’s the lightning fast character, and invariably, the one you’ll likely be drawn towards despite her subtle dress. She’s sexy and endearing without trying; she actually seems jilted and vengeful, beautiful but with her mind elsewhere, there for more than the eye candy a female presence brings. The only genre stereotype Undercover Cops breaks is the most sexist. It’s an entirely unexpected yet welcomed change.

It’s setting is futuristic yet realistically bleak, the exact opposite of Battle Circuit’s robot run world or Cadillacs & Dinosaurs’ science dominated society. It’s fifty years in the future, but unsettlingly not very different from today. Approaching criminal underlings adorn themselves in ragged charity bin cloths, knee and shoulder pads acting as both protection and accessory. Vultures pick at bones upon the beach and bleached skeletons hang from red support girders as forewarning not to tread on this turf. As waves crash upon the sands power plants loom in an eerie green hue, distant across the sea. It’s all displayed through a vintage veil, faded, but in a stylish and purposeful way. The same way an early 1980's television show looks different from one broadcast today thanks to muted colors and tones is the same way Undercover Cops looks different from any other beat ‘em up. It could have easily been gray and ugly, but it pulled it off; instead it casts a befitting, atmospheric gloom.

It contrasts. It juxtaposes. Above all, it somehow works. It’s a beat ‘em up breaking rules yet subscribing to them, following the letter of the law yet not quite the spirit. It begrudgingly has you battle ladies of the night, the promiscuous prostitutes any good crime organization employs. Yet it gives these harlots inhuman contortion; if Final Fight post-op Poison intrigued, these ladies remind you curiosity killed the cat, hopping on one foot as a limb best described as a birth defect lolls beside. Torquing their bodies forward in attack, their peg leg flies backwards over their head and meets squarely with your jaw, touching you. As they await your arrival in later levels, they loft in the rafters seductively dangling the appendage. It’s sex appeal for sadists; it takes something normally appealing to such a bizarre and unexpected extreme it becomes grotesque. Yet you don't look away.

Normally you’ll replenish health by dining on turkey legs and hamburgers in the beat ‘em up genre, and that happens in Undercover Cops too. But see that live frog hopping around at the beginning of the first level? Or the slithering snail midway through? Or the occasional live chicken, or sometimes baby chicklets? Grabbing those replenishes health too. The rest is left to your imagination.

Surface level it’s like any other beat ‘em up. Beneath the surface it’s a little more twisted. One particular attacker is a grim-faced giant, his charcoal brow furrowed as he unleashes vicious uppercuts with an aluminum bat wrapped in barbed wire. Other beat ‘em ups greet such overpowering foes with a tad of amusement, Final Fight adorning Andore in cheetah-print spandex or Cadillacs & Dinosaurs outfitting their overgrown with medieval maces. But there’s no amusement here. His skin is gray, cold, and chillingly villainous, the startling thought occurring that a disease like argyria outcast him and drove him to his barbaric nature. This guy could be real. It's not often an underling is lamentable.

And then it cuts back to beat ‘em up reality, battling Cheech Marin wannabes in dark sunglasses and streaks of old age in their greased black hair. Tear a massive stone pillar out of the ground like Paul Bunyan and level approaching thugs with one triumphant clobbering blow. Wield the heavy makeshift weapon until it crumbles and breaks in your hands from bashing in criminal heads. Grab giant fish from a dockside stand and hurl them to floor opponents, or chuck red cinder blocks at the first boss you’ll face, Cueball, perhaps stumbling him backwards into a tremendous scrap metal crusher that periodically falls in the rightmost reach of the construction area. Beware! Halfway through the battle you’ll reveal his true nature – cyborg! – as he’ll use an extending mechanical arm to grab you by the throat and place you beneath the plummeting weight.

And speaking of plummeting weight, there’s FATSO, a jackhammering, jiggling sugar mama in red dominatrix gear that pauses between attacks to shake her tremendous girth in jubilation. Halfway to the finish she’ll begin bawling mid-battle while she attacks, smearing her Legion of Doom-style mascara. Her belt buckle is a clown mask and she makes motorcycles rain from the sky. Somehow, Undercover Cops makes other beat ‘em ups look silly in both ways, alternating between being more serious or more ludicrous than competitors, but never quite the same as its brethren.

I’d be remiss to not mention the molemen that spring from beneath the sandy floor of an underground facility, exploding into a bloody display after Claude lands a jump kick to the chest. But it’s just after this stretch when you realize Undercover Cops isn’t quite as good as it could have been. The next level begins with an excruciating length fighting nothing but motorcycle maniacs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but some variety would have been nice. The second time you fight the cyborg form of Cueball aboard an in-flight jetliner it starts to get a little old… and you’ll still see him a third, fourth and fifth time in this particular level alone. Onslaughts too often lead into another of the same exact onslaught. Moreover, from the technical side, it’s a brawler too reliant on the jump kick as an attack to damage most foes; only Flame is quick enough to get into most of these mademen’s wheelhouses with punches alone, and even then she's too easily countered for it to be an effective strategy. Fighting-wise and variety-wise Irem proves they’re not quite on par with the Capcom brain trust, even if exuding a more refined flair.

But I still love Undercover Cops. Maybe I’ve played so many of these titles I see what no one else sees; unmistakably, the winsome Flame and the slate-faced giants won’t leave the same impact on the genre newcomer they did on me. Maybe none of this is really there, the endearing hyperbole an oasis only I can see. But there’s something different about this one. There’s something distinct, and intriguing, and I know it has to be true. There’s got to be a reason I’ve reviewed beat ‘em up after beat ‘em up but couldn’t quite put my finger on the pulse of this one until today. Undercover Cops is different yet very much the same, a staple yet an extravagance, an adventure neither black nor white but overcast in muted shades.

I’ve got nothing left, so let’s hand it over to the mayor for some parting words:

“Enter the city sweeper!”


drella's avatar
Staff review by Jackie Curtis (September 13, 2008)

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