[AC] RoboCop


Developed and published by Data East

Designed by Yoshiyuki Unishibara

Released in 1988

After the film's huge success at the box office, the RoboCop licence became a very lucrative property for game publishers. Not only was the film popular with the all-important (at the time) teenager demographic; it also had all the necessary ingredients for a great video game conversion: a cool hero, a threadbare plot, as well as lots of action scenes, explosions and expendable bad guys. Eventually, Britain's Ocean Software acquired the licence and set about developing the home computer versions, while sub-licensing it to Data East, who created the coin-up and NES versions.

Enlisting the help of Data East was a wise decision. Ocean did not have their own arcade hardware, nor the know-how to make sucessful coin-ops, whereas Data East had a long experience in the arcades, and had just released the smash-hit side-scroller Bad Dudes vs. Dragonninja. And so RoboCop was developed to run on the same hardware as Bad Dudes; in fact, the ROM boards for the two games are interchangeable.

In a dystopic and crime ridden Detroit, a terminally wounded cop returns to the force as a powerful cyborg and vows to restore order to the city and exact revenge from those who tried to kill him. Data East chose to turn the movie into a run & gun, which really was a no-brainer. The player controls RoboCop as he fights his way through lawless neighborhoods, scrapyards, drug factories and many other beautifully realised locations inspired by the movie.

There's a nice selection of enemies, who come at you with guns, grenades, chainsaws and even flamethrowers, and some of them even try to run you over on motorbikes. RoboCop starts the game armed only with his fists of steel, but halfway through the first level he pulls out his gun, and that's when the real fun begins. The standard rapid-fire gun never runs out of bullets and, surprisingly, is the most effective weapon in the game. You can also get various power-ups for it (3-way shot, piercing bullets), although ammunition for those comes in limited supply. Later on you can also pick up an assault cannon but, again, you run out of ammo for it pretty fast.

You can jump, crouch and even fire your weapons diagonally. There is a tiny bit of lag when you try to throw punches, as well as when timing jumps. I guess that's in keeping with the RoboCop character, who is not terribly athletic. Apart from that, and apart from some horrible slowdown in the 5th stage, control is spot-on, as you'd expect from the makers of Bad Dudes.

RoboCop has a life meter, which can be very easily depleted if you are not careful (just one attack from the chainsaw-wielding enemies can take away 1/3 of your life). Thankfully, you can replenish your energy by finding baby food containers (as per the movie).

After every two stages you get to try your shooting skills with some target practice back at HQ. You view the shooting range from a first person perspective and try to hit as many targets as possible in the time limit. These bonus stages are nicely done, and enjoyable. It's also very important that you get good at them. Depending on how many targets you hit, part of your depleted life bar will be replenished. If you score 100% your life bar will even be extended--essential if you want to progress past the first couple of stages.

Data East went all-out in the presentation, and developed one of the best-looking games in the arcades at the time. Robocop features higly distinct enviroments, with very detailed backgrounds and large, well-animated sprites. This is a very carefully developed film tie-in, with many neat little touches (kill a hostage by mistake and watch as RoboCop clutches his face in despair). The rousing tunes which accompany the action are taken from the movie's soundtrack, and perfectly complement the action. The first stage track is a classic; it's been stuck to my head for the past three days now, and will hopefully go away when I finish typing this review and shelve the game for good.

RoboCop is fairly long, but not too difficult. The key to beating each level is to move slowly and take out a few enemies at a time. Memorization is key. Running through the stages while relying on fast reflexes and improvisation won't get you very far. Thankfully, the action is very satisfying and never gets boring. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of the boss fights. The confrontation with the towering ED-209 at the end of the first stage is a promising start, but the rest of the boss fights, including the final one, are anti-climactic. You will encounter the same ED-209 robot, or variations of it, several times throughout the game. Apart from those, there are a number of other bosses, but they are very unimaginative (a bunch of thugs in a van, or a dude in a crane attacking you with a steel ball on an extendible chain). There is no 'wow' factor when you first encounter them.

The arcade version of RoboCop is almost as good a film conversion as one can hope for, and makes a fine case-study of all the positive and negative aspects of making video games from licensed properties. Data East acquired a ready-made world with a cohesive theme, as well as nice character designs, music and sound effects. The drawback was that the developers' imagination was limited by what was actually shown in the film. And that's partly the reason why the weapon selection is fairly small, the boss fights are not that exciting, and why the action in the later stages can get a bit stale and repetitive. Still, it's an indication of Data East's expertise that despite all of the above, they still managed to make a decent run & gun out of the RoboCop licence.