Insomnia | Reviews

Cyborg Justice


By Joshua Farrelly / March 13, 2009

This review was originally published on SegaFans.

Not long after the success of Street Fighter II, belt scrolling action games began experimenting with ways to create more complex fighting systems. This was often (and best) approached by adopting versus fighter mechanics like command moves, move cancelling, juggling, et cetera. To make it work there needed to be a balance between more technical control and retaining enough fluidity to support the genre-defining feature of taking on tons of enemies at once. Denjin Makai II, Aliens vs. Predator, Guardian Heroes, and most IGS games are good examples of how this balance can be pulled off sucessfully. And there is no better example of failure than Cyborg Justice.

The first whiff at complexity is the customization feature that lets you choose the trunk and limbs of your cyborg. The trunk selection, first of all, is entirely cosmetic, to give you a sense of how much developer Novotrade meant to take advantage of this idea. Arm attachments give you a powerful long or short range weapon such as a laser or buzzsaw -- powerful enough that they would need to be restricted somehow. This is accomplished by giving enemies a sophisticated artificial intelligence routine capable of counteracting the move, that is to say, making them duck and tackle you while the weapon is charging. It does such a good job of limiting the usefulness of these weapons that it pretty much negates it. You could take your time to carefully maneuver around trying to set up a hit, but during that time you could've destroyed that enemy and possibly the next one by using a more effective and less risky attack.

That leaves the leg attachments as the only valuable aspect of this feature, but even then one pair is going to be more valuable than others. The somersault legs will basically allow you to dominate the game (especially in early stages) with an uninterruptible front flip attack that is rarely countered. Since you'll be invulnerable during the move, it has good defensive capabilites as well (better than blocking in most cases). In addition to the customization at the beginning, you can also customize your cyborg during the game by disassembling enemies and attaching their limbs. This won't be of much use obviously, when only one part is necessary and it should've already been equipped. And it's not like there's a strategy to enemies or stages, such as having certain parts be more suitable than others depending on the situation.

Cyborg Justice has a pretty intricate control scheme, with a move list ripped straight from a versus fighter spanning the three buttons. It's an impressive setup, but as you can imagine it also creates a bit of awkwardness. In any case, you might expect then that all these moves would institute an intricate fighting system, at least moreso than that of a Bare Knuckle or a Final Fight. Unfortunately the majority of moves don't have an essential role, and what functionality they do have is surpassed by a more dominant move. Why would I be doing backflips, body splashes, uppercuts, powerbombs, and shoulder rams when I can just somersault the shit out of enemies and rip them in half? Even the highest level of play can be reduced to less than a handful of moves, one of which, with proper timing, lets you regain health anytime you want!

Things are aggravated by the fact that you'll only ever face up to two enemies at a time, meaning the crowd control dynamic was sacrificed to no advantage (although it can still feel cramped due to an intrusive lock-on mechanic that just sort of happens, taking away any good option for dealing with the enemy behind you). The flaws of this design choice are most obvious in later stages, where instead of being overwhelmed with enemies for increased difficulty as in most games of this type, you'll have to face the same enemies, in groups of two, with more health, and little difference in AI.

Something that isn't completely broken is the scoring system. That doesn't mean it's good. You're rewarded for recontructing fallen enemies (fair-play) and ripping off their trunks (brutality). The reason this sucks is simple: it doesn't require more skill, only more time, whilst the last thing this experience needs is length. Oh and there's also a player versus player mode. I bet it's good.

So yeah it's a mess. Basically any depth the game could've had is neutralized by redundancy and poor balance. I'm curious as to whether all of these broken features were even implemented with the intention of improving the game, and not to get a couple extra bullet points for the back of the box. Either way the end result is something that is outmatched by the original Kunio-kun (1986) in terms of complexity. Which is to be expected, when you have no idea what makes these kinds of games work in the first place.