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Total Recall (NES) artwork

Total Recall (NES) review

"Punch out the midgets and it's time to move down the street where you'll be ambushed by single-shot security guards, attacked by hitmen who pop out of garbage cans, and eventually tangle with what's best described as The Glory Holes of Doom."

Schwarzenegger and NES seem like a match made in heaven. Take the badassery in his flicks and convert it to 8-bit, and oh the possibilities. One might think of a game where Arnold punches random scumbags in the face and guns down those who didn't line up for their tooth-loosening. The idea of making a balls to the wall action side-scroller is a no-brainer. And yet no one went for it. But one game, Total Recall, at least tried, albeit not hard enough.

You might think it starts with a good old fashion beat down. Or maybe Arnie's going to gun some thugs and mutter some snazzy one-liners. Instead you get pulled into a back alley by a midget wearing fuchsia pajamas. He tries to kill you by throwing the occasional karate kick and jumping back and forth like he has profound brain damage. In better games this would be where you bust out the old .44 or nine-mil and plug a few bullets into his head. Arnie, however, just throws punches that seldom hit. If you don't connect that meaty fist with the hairy midget face down to the exact pixel, then your shots will pass through him.

This is the story with most of the game. You spend about a third of it punching everyone from homeless guys to Sharon Stone, and about half of that missing because of the hit detection.

Punch out the midgets and it's time to move down the street where you'll be ambushed by single-shot security guards, attacked by hitmen who pop out of garbage cans, and eventually tangle with what's best described as The Glory Holes of Doom.

Total Recall asset
No, really, what the sci-fi fuck are these?

Get past those and it's on to the homestead where you greet Sharon Stone with a knuckle sandwich and steal her gun. Then you have to hope you can take her out before Michael Ironside gets there and tears the place up with his unavoidable spray of machine gun bullets.

From there it's on to the X-ray screening, one of the few stages that (somewhat) parallels the movie. The guards are onto you, and so are the floating turrets. Bullets fly at you from every angle, guards attack in erratic patterns and the turrets fly about the screen like buzzing pests. You might notice something key about this game's difficulty: your sprite is rather large and cannot easily weave around the bullets and confused enemies enough to dodge everything. Getting hit isn't always a matter of sucking at the game, it's matter that you cannot dodge most of the bullets and enemies.

But no matter. We've got our gun, we're a fierce Austrian predatory cat waiting to pounce on our prey. We're about to go on a steady diet of idiots with firearms, smashing our way through various sets of the movie and leaving behind a wake of terror and trauma. Are you ready for the mother of all action challenges?

Then turn the game off and play Super C. I can't even muster the power to make the rest of this game sound interesting.

Arrive on Mars and it's time to battle security robots and turrets that weren't in the movie. Gun them down and it's on to the next room, which is much the same as the last one. For that matter, the last one was much the same as levels 2 and 3 where you battled security guards.

That sums up much of the remainder of the game: straightforward levels where the only goal is to shoot, dodge and survive with only rudimentary gunplay at your disposal. In a game like Contra, that wouldn't be a problem. There were enough single-hit enemies and fast action that the pacing never falters. Total Recall bombards you with multiple-hit enemies and bullets you often cannot dodge combined with basic shooting as your offense. You're often having to stop and deal with each situation rather than cut through it and move on. The pacing may have been off to a decent start, but come the Mars levels it drops off. It makes the game feel dated even for 1990.

The only break you get from the tedium is a driving stage where you guide a taxi to a bordello. The taxi's speed builds slowly at first, but then picks up momentum right away. Most of the time you're trying to navigate through tight spaces with unsteady controls. You lose health just touching the walls, plus you have to dodge all the enemies, bystanders and bullets. Think of it as an 8-bit drunk driving simulator.

You know what I love about Arnie movies? They have heart. Not that Good Will Hunting, Dead Poet Society kind of heart, but tough guy heart. They aren't going to win best actor or best screenplay, but damn it, they're fun to watch. I still get goosebumps hearing Predator laugh, still get a sense of satisfaction watching him win battles in The Running Man, and still say “Yeeeeah!” during Total Recall when he says, “Consider that a divorce.”

It felt like Interplay gave up. They had a better than average start, the makings of a 6 out of 10 at best, but it felt like they stopped caring after level four. Total Recall, like many other license titles, lacks heart. The dry levels and dated gameplay are a testament to that. They didn't need to innovate, they only needed to apply the movie to what was relevant at the time. Maybe it would have aged well, maybe it wouldn't have, but a lifeless action title never ages well. There's no reason to touch Total Recall unless it strikes a retro chord with you. For me, it's a symbol of what's wrong with license titles. It's not the developers, because Interplay were capable, but the heart.

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (May 15, 2011)

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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