10/01/2011

GANG BUSTERS / CRAZY COP

Who ya gonna call? Gang Busters! Well, you might if you fancy some retro-arcade top-down shooter action, as found in Konami's 1988 coin-op Gang Busters / Crazy Cop. However, you probably shouldn't call them if you have an actual crime that needs solving, as we shall see.

If movies and televison have taught us one thing about policing, it's that any situation that requires the intervention of law enforcement officers can and indeed must be solved with as many bullets as possible, preferably slow-motion ones that cause criminals to fall over railings when they're shot. This is the route that Gang Busters takes, albeit in the cartoony manner that will be familiar to anyone who played many of Konami's other arcade titles from the late 80's and early to mid-nineties.

It's a top-down scrolling shooter in the manner of Gauntlet but with less mazes and more caricatures of mobsters. The controls are extremely simple: joystick for movement, one button to fire and one button to launch your super rocket shot thingummy. More on that in a while, though; let's take a look at the men of the thin blue line that you'll be controlling.

Well, the thin blue line and the fat green lump, at least. The officer in green is called Smith, and the officer in blue is called (you guessed it) Wesson. Now, Wesson (in the blue) bears some resemblance to a cop. A cop from the "Punk Hair and Cyborg Visor" division, but a cop nonetheless. Smith, on the other hand, I'm not so sure about. If you'd shown him to me out of context, I would have had a hard time figuring out that he was supposed to be a cop. My first reaction would probably have been "Why is he using his hand as a puppet and talking into his own ear?" but that's just me. I might have also pondered why he appears to have a bunch of robotic grapes hanging from his breast. Look, what I'm getting at is that he doesn't really look like a policeman. He looks like some emotionally-crippled Sonic the Hedgehog fan's attempt at creating their own original character who is, like, a totally super-fast green hedgehog who has, y'know, a totally dark past but is now a cop. NO HE'S NOT LIKE SONIC!
Actually, Messrs. Smith and Wesson remind me mostly of the Bonanza Bros.

That seems a litle ironic, given that the Bonanza Bros are thieves, and are presumably the natural enemies of the Gang Busters cast. Of course, in turn the Bonanza Bros remind me (and probably quite a lot of British people around my age) of Mr. Chips, mascot of the UK gameshow Catchphrase:

Mr. Chips is the one on the right, by the way. If you would like to know more about Mr. Chips (and why wouldn't you?), do a YouTube search for "Catchphrase Snake Charmer" and witness what is widely regarded as Mr. Chips' finest hour.

Anyway, back to Gang Busters. The game was called Crazy Cop in Japan, which seems a somewhat more suitable title. I suspect the title was changed for the overseas releases because in America the phrase "Crazy Cop" might not summon images of wacky police-based cartoon hijinks, but rather the idea of a lone patrolman snapping and shooting up a crowd of bystanders before turning the gun on himself.

As I mentioned earlier, the controls are very simple, and so are the game mechanics. You control Smith, and your only goal is to get to the end of each stage by shooting as many criminals as you can. It plays pretty much exactly as you'd expect: you can only fire forwards, meaning you have to point towards your foes to hit them. There's no jump button, no vehicles, nothing like that - it's just you, on foot, lining people's lungs with lead.
There are a couple of complications, however. Firstly, there's the power-up system. Rather than picking up individual power-ups or, say, having a Gradius-style power-up bar, you get your power from arresting certain enemies.

The red-suited enemies occasionally appear on screen, scrabbling to gather up their ill-gotten loot. If you shoot them and then walk into them, they are arrested and file behind you like fuzzy little trail of hoodlum ducklings. Each one you arrest increases the power of your gun slightly, up to a maximum of five levels. You can also deposit said crims in the back of the police vans that are parked around the stages: doing so gives you one super-shot for each villain safely incarcerated. It's an interesting mechanic, and one that gives Gang Busters just that tiny extra bit of zip.
The other thing is the presence of the Mysterious Yellow Rocks. You can see a Mysterious Yellow Rock in one of the pictures above. They are big yellow rocks that you can push around the stage, and when an enemy touches they, they die. Thus, it's quite useful to push the Mysterious Yellow Rocks in front of a door that enemies spawn from. I was rather confused as to what the Mysterious Yellow Rocks were supposed to be, given their strange powers. A secret police weapon, perhaps? Or maybe they're just huge lumps of gold that are so tempting to the unstoppably avaricious villains that they explode with greed at the mere sight of them. Sadly it's much more mundane than that, as the arcade flyer says that they are simply "yellow rocks". What a letdown.

Gang Busters chugs along nicely for the most part, with Officer Smith travelling through what feel like some fairly standard locales. You start on the street, as the Red Criminals rob a bank right in front of you, the cheeky bastards. Then you move through some back alleys, through a warehouse, some docks and a trainyard, and finally across some wasteland where the final boss waits. It's all very basic, but well-executed in its simplicity, like a cheese sandwich. There are some unexpected or curious moments though, like finding mould on the cheese for your sandwich. Alright, I'm hungry now.

First of all, flying green sharks wearing sunglasses. Do I need to add anything to that? Well, maybe to point out that pretty much every other enemy in the game is relatively normal. They're just criminal-type guys, mobsters and such, but Konami apparently decide that this wasn't enough to thrill us, so in came the flying green sharks. I'd like to imagine that there was one guy at Konami who one day had a sudden, almost religious awakening and sat bolt upright in his chair, whispering to himself "G-g-green sharks... with shades. Yes, they can fly! Of course! It all makes sense now!". Then he spend the next few years begging his superiors to let him put the flying green sharks in a game, any game, just to get the gospel of the sharks out into the world. Finally they relent and tell him he can put them in one of the less important games like this basic, unlicensed cop shooter, and he breaths a sigh of bliss, codes the sharks into the game, and then dissolves into a pile of dust that is gently blown away on the summer breeze.

Also, none of the enemies have faces, just blank skin. Creepy.

Overall, Gang Busters isn't that difficult. Sure, it's tough, but compared to something like Splatterhouse, it's a walk in the park. That is until you come to a location in the final stage that I like to call Bullshit Gulch.

It's a narrow corridor, with a fire-spewing face at one end, more flame-shooting alcoves along the middle, and an endless supply of big steel balls that roll down the corridor at you. There's no room to move properly, let alone dodge the fire and the steel balls. There's a big doorway at the bottom that covers a fair ol' chunk of the screen so that you can't see where you are half the time. You can't even hang back and try and pick off the mask at the far end, because enemies creep up behind you if you hang around too long. So to sum up: the screen is full of stuff that can kill you in one hit, you can't see yourself and there are infinite enemies. Nice. Maybe it's just me being rubbish, but like the Embryo stage in the aforementioned Splatterhouse, I died a thousand times and each time I died, I wished that a mixture of Tabasco sauce and live spiders was being poured into the eyes and mouths of everyone involved in the making of this game. But like I say, I'm sure it was me being rubbish and not in any way just really bad design.

Just after Bullshit Gulch waits the final boss. Gang Busters differs from most games by not having distinct end-of-level bosses: what you get instead is an arena-type area where enemies come at you from all angles. You also get that at the end of the game, with the addition of the final boss, a man with a tiny hat whose head is made up of 99% beard. He's a pretty dull final opponent, really: I was hoping for the vast, bloated Mother Shark, a huge albino monster wearing a pair of shades the size of a 747 jet. Instead you get this guy, whose name is apparently Mr. Soul. He has a large Gatling-gun-thing that shoots out steel balls, as well as an endless supply of cannon-fodder troops. He's not tough. After Bullshit Gulch, he's nothing. You hear that, Mr. Soul!? You're nothing, you 'orrible little man. You're nicked!

And with that, Gang Busters is over. The credits show prison cells full of the many villains you shot, now miraculously restored to health. In a clear violation of their human rights as well as basic physics, they're really crammed into those cells. This ending is giving off some weird vibes, Konami. Do you really want kids thinking that they can shoot people with no consequences? Tut tut. It's this kind of filth that's destroying our otherwise-utopian society.
Gang Busters is alright. It's not great, but it's not terrible. I do think that it has a enough going to for it that it shouldn't be completely forgotten, lost amongst Konami's better-known (and simply better) arcade output. It's got decent music, and I really like the graphics: they're nicely drawn, and they have a lot of charm. The gameplay's good for what it is, Bullshit Gulch notwithstanding. So, if you want a quick blast of run-and-gun action, then give Gang Busters a go, and you probably won't even regret it or nothin'.

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