04/09/2012

TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (NES)

DffDff Dff D-Dff, DffDff Dff D-Dff, dada daaa, daa daa daaaa... what do you mean, "has VGJunk gone insane?" Well, possibly - I'm still recovering from that *NSYNC game, but that was supposed to be a textual recreation of the Terminator 2 theme. Because today's game is a Terminator 2 tie-in, you see. What? Don't look at me like that. Instead, why not read all about LJN and Software Creations' 1992 NES hasta-la-vista-'em-up Terminator 2: Judgement Day?


Look, you know what the Terminator franchise is about. I know that you know what the Terminator franchise is about, because the titular cyborg is so firmly embedded into popular culture that if a large Austrian man ordered me to give him my clothes I'd comply without a second thought. Still, there's always a chance that someone who's been in a coma for thirty years just woke up, and there's also the (admittedly very slim) possibility that this newly-awakened coma patient's first order of business will be to "log-on" to this amazing new "Inter-Net" and see what articles he can find about licensed NES games from the Nineties. With that unlikely scenario in mind, here's a quick Terminator recap: robots come back from the future to kill people, usually targeting John Connor or his mum because the floppy-haired young scamp grows up to be a semi-messianic rebel leader in the future war against the machines. Terminator 2 is the one where Arnold Schwarzenegger played a relentless, nigh-invincible killing machine that does battle with a different, runnier Terminator in order to save John Connor, unlike the first Terminator film where he played a different-but-identical nigh-invincible killing machine who's trying to kill John Connor's mum Sarah. Got all that? Good.


Well, that's much more concise than my version, but does it have the same flair, the same panache? No, it does not. What it does have is a surprisingly competent - more than competent, quite good, even - representation of Sarah Connor pointing a gun at a thing. Sure, her voluminous coat may make her look like she's losing a wrestling match with a bin-liner but considering this game was released by LJN it's a goddamn work of art.


"It failed..." says the text, and as if to reinforce this message there's a picture of a sheepish-looking Terminator endoskeleton. Cheer up, fella, you've got a time machine at home, you can always go back for another go. Think of it like re-sitting an exam, except instead of maths or English your subject is Temporal Displacement and the Assassination of Future Spanners In The Works.


Here's John Connor now, sporting a Hitler haircut and a marked absence of any lips. Hi, John!


And here's The Terminator. He's programmed to protect John Connor, but that's a secondary objective: his primary function is to acquire a kickass leather outfit as soon as possible. For some unexplained but undoubtedly totally scientific reason, the time-travel machines of the future won't transport anything that isn't covered in living tissue, so T2 begins as so many of my Saturday nights have ended: huddled naked in the foetal position in a darkened car park.


There definitely weren't many NES games that began with you stark naked at a truck stop, or at least there weren't many that were released with the official Nintendo Seal of Approval. There may have been more available from specialist retailers.
With the story in place, we can get into the game proper and I'm sure you'll be shocked to learn that this NES movie tie-in takes the form of a side-scrolling action platformer.


Oh look, Arnie managed to find some clothes between the intro and the start of stage one. Well, you didn't think you'd be playing stage one in the nude, did you? The first stage takes place in the truck stop / biker bar from the start of the movie, so now's your chance to beat up a bunch of rednecks and Hell's Angels. The Terminator doesn't have any weapons, (because, remember, guns can't travel through time,) so you're stuck with using your fists against the pool-cue-carrying thugs that bound around the screen.


I don't feel bad about calling them rednecks and thugs - they've brought it upon themselves. In the movie, they at least have the decency to wait until the Terminator walks into their bar with no clothes on and starts ordering people about before they try to kill him - here they're out for blood and all I've done is step into their car park. I'm even fully clothed and dressed as a biker, no less! Sending guys with sticks to batter anyone dressed as a biker who approaches your biker bar: a bad business model.


As for the actual gameplay, the usual jump-and-punch template is adhered to so rigidly that T2 will feel extremely familiar even if you've never played it before. You've got a button for punching and one for jumping, so punch the things that need punching and jump on the things that need jumping on. Actually, a combination of these two things is the only gameplay element in the first stage that could be considered even slightly out of the ordinary, and I don't mean a jumping punch.


If you land on an enemy after falling from great enough height, you hurt them. This makes a lot of sense given that you weigh about the same as a Ford Mondeo, and it turns out to be the easiest way to deal with the punks in the first area because they can't jump. Just climb up out of their reach, fall on them while they're all bunched together and repeat until you've made it into the bar itself. I hope the Terminator wiped his feet first.


The gameplay might not be a dazzling display of originality but at least it's handled well enough - the controls are responsive aside from Arnie's tendency to lurch forwards when you just wanted to take a small step, but that'll only really be a problem in the final stage. On the positive side, the presentation and particularly the graphics are nice: we've already seen that the artwork from the intro was above average for a movie tie-in, the in-game graphics are detailed without being cluttered and the sprites are well animated even if Arnie does look a little like a Mega Man version of himself. One touch I did like was that when you die the screen cuts to static, which is better than it just going straight on to your next life.


However, the death-static brings up an issue with Terminator 2 that's common to many licensed games but which feels especially awkward in a game where you play as the ultimate killing machine, and that's something I like to call the Superman Problem. Say you're playing a licensed game based on a character known for their power or their invulnerability, like the Incredible Hulk or the afore-mentioned Superman or, you know, the Terminator. By all rights these characters should have no trouble progressing through their respective games - a Superman game should really consist of you flying straight to the final boss, grabbing his legs and hurling him into the sun - so how do you make the game challenging without making them so powerless that they stop resembling the characters they were supposed to be in the first place? Questprobe featuring The Hulk did it by putting the Hulk in a game that had nothing to do with his powers, but T2 goes down the usual route of making the formerly almost-invincible main character into a pathetic dweeb who can be defeated by bar patrons with pool cues.
And you will be defeated, because T2 starts off fairly difficult and gets much harder as you progress. Even in the first area it's extremely easy to get swamped by the enemies and lose all your energy before you know what's happening, and the reason you get swamped is that the Terminator now has the punching power of, well, the ten-year-old John Connor. Even these very first enemies take eight or so punches to kill. That's eight punches from the Terminator, who should really be able to clobber these guys hard enough to liquidise their bones. It would have been a much better compromise to have a few more enemies about but make them die in one hit, if you ask me. At least then there might still be some notion that you're playing as a hyper-advanced battle cyborg and not just some big guy in a stolen leather jacket.


Speaking of big guys, here's the first boss and when I say he's big I mean he's big - Arnold's height is a surprisingly difficult figure to pin down (to the point that arnoldheight.com is an actual website devoted to the issue) but it's around the six foot mark, which makes this guy about eleven feet tall. Why do you even want his clothes, Arnold? They'll never fit you, stop deluding yourself.
The boss turns out to be the easiest part of the stage because there's only one of him, and with the careful application of the hit-and-run tactics that the Terminator is famous for you'll be able to take him down. Just avoid the temptation to go toe-to-toe with the boss, because he can hit a lot harder than you. At least his gigantic stature makes this slightly more believable than the Terminator getting thumped by some goons in a car park.


You already had clothes and boots, you berk. Still, a gun and a motorbike are nothing to be sneezed at.


The cutscene graphics that I had previously praised take a slight knock with the appearance of the T-1000, because he doesn't look much like Robert Patrick. Maybe he hasn't quite finished morphing his face yet.
Right, time for stage two and the cozy predictability of the side-scrolling action game is shattered as you're suddenly dumped into an isometric motorcycle race.


The chase through L.A.'s flood control channels is probably Terminator 2's most iconic scene so there was no way it wouldn't feature in the videogame adaptation, but obviously it wouldn't work in the same style as the rest of the game so we get this instead. This doesn't really work either. The isometric angle doesn't help, because pressing left and right on the d-pad moves you side-to-side and down makes you fire behind you at the oncoming T-1000 and his giant truck. No, really, that glitchy yellowy-brown smear at the bottom of the screen is a lorry.
Maybe it's just me, but the controls didn't feel quite right, like I should be pressing diagonals instead and my problems with the controls only made an already difficult section even tougher. Your path is littered with a million obstacles that chip away at your health as you hit them, and there are gates you have to shoot open ahead of you that cause instant death if you drive into them. Even worse is when you shoot the gate open but still drive into the fence at either side, because nobody wants to look like an idiot. It's a punishing section that I'm sure caused more than a few young gamers to give up on T2 altogether, but if you manage to make it far enough you'll catch up with John.


You'd think he'd have a bit more urgency about him. I guess he's realised that once he's been touched by the T-800 the stage is over.


A bit more plot happens, including some that impacts on the gameplay for the next couple of stages - John orders the Terminator to not kill any humans. Blow their kneecaps off and cripple them for life, sure, that's fine, just don't kill them.
With John in tow, stage three is a mission to rescue Sarah Connor from the mental hospital where she's currently incarcerated. Thankfully we're spared an 8-bit recreation of the scene where the guard licks her face.


We're back to the side-scrolling fun and things are pretty much the same as stage one except now you've got a gun. A gun that you can't (or rather, shouldn't) use to kill people, so to get around this you have to crouch and shoot people in the legs. It does give the game a rather odd feel, making Arnie drop to his knees every time he sees an enemy.


Any enemy that isn't the T-1000 here, at least. He chases you around the stage, following you about like an extremely determined charity collector and generally harassing you. You can shoot him anywhere you like, but I'd recommend you just stay out of his way and try to avoid his attacks: You have limited ammo and he can't be killed, so it's a waste of rounds and you'll need that ammo later. So, to recap: shoot the humans in the legs, do not shoot the soulless harbinger of technological death.


The goal of this stage is to make your way to the top floor where Sarah is being held, and to do that you need to enter the rooms on each floor until you find the keycard for the elevator. Once you've got that, take the elevator to the next floor, find the next keycard and repeat until Sarah has been rescued. It plays... okay, even if it's not massively exciting, although the respawning guards and the constant and frankly irritating presence of the T-1000 mean you've got to work quickly before your health bar trickles away.


I don't think that's Sarah Connor, Arnie. I think you've just found Buffy the Vampire Slayer up there. Whoever it is, she wants to live so she's coming with me, and where am I going? Why, I'm going to blow up Cyberdyne, of course!


This stage is a lot like the last one, but with the elevator keycards replaced by barrels. Your mission, aside from the usual blowing people's legs off and trying to minimise the unavoidable health leakage that comes from the endless supply of enemies, is to collect ten barrels and safely deposit them in a "barrel store" that Cyberdyne keeps on the sixth floor. I must have caught them just as they were changing their strategy for handling barrels of highly volatile explosives to "put them in the barrel store" from their previous policy of "just leave them wherever you like, preferably amongst our highly delicate and irreplaceable research." You can only carry three barrels at a time, too, so the entire stage is a series of brief trips to the barrel depository. Sounds exciting, I know, but at least you've got plenty of kneecaps to shoot.


During this part of the movie, the Terminator was fighting a lot of policemen. In the game version, I'm not so sure. There are people with blue trousers who I suppose could be officers of the law even if they do look more like the heroes of some forgotten Contra game, but who the hell are these red-and-yellow guys supposed to be? They look more like McDonald's managers than cops. Does Cyberdyne just issue its security guards with really unpleasant uniforms? Did I have the misfortune to time my raid so that it coincided with McDonald's attempt to capture the Terminator technology and begin building an army of robotic Ronald McDonalds to slaughter their competitors? Did Software Creations just not give that much of a fuck? Whatever the answer - and I have my own favourite from those theories - they don't pose much of a threat because my reward for not killing anyone in the previous stage was access to a minigun. I know it sounds really cool, but in a game where I'm trying to limit my ammo expenditure a gun that fires really, really fast isn't all that helpful.


Once you've deposited the ten barrels, you're immediately told to take them back out again and plant them in various places on the top floor. You've got eighty seconds to do this, and the first few time you try it you will fail. The Terminator doesn't exactly have gazelle-like speed and reflexes and between putting the barrels away and getting them out again your barrel-carrying capacity has mysteriously dropped from three to two. It's doable with some practice, and by "practise" I mean "memorisation," and once all the bombs are planted Cyberdyne is destroyed and you escape with the remains of the Terminator from the first movie.
This is moving at a fair old clip, isn't it? We've already blown up what we came to blow up, and the only part of the film that's left is the final confrontation in the steel mill. Care to guess where the final stage takes place? (Here's a hint: it's not sunny Cleethorpes.)


Aside from the chase through the flood channels, the other bit of Terminator 2 that sticks in people's minds is the scene where the T-1000 gets frozen by liquid nitrogen and is smashed into tiny pieces. Yeah, that bit isn't in the game. Not even as a between-level cutscene, which seems odd because this would have been the perfect place to include it. You'll just have to do without those ground-breaking special effects (or at least an NES recreation thereof) as you enter the steel mill.
The world's most dangerous, wasteful and poorly-maintained steel mill at that - it's like the Springfield Nuclear Plant branched out into metalwork. Liquid steel pools on the ground and drips from platform to platform, huge metal platforms that cannot possibly have a purpose in a modern refinery swing from side-to-side with gay abandon and flames erupt from the floor at curiously regular intervals. Perhaps realising that they'd gone a bit overboard with the environmental hazards, the developers didn't bother to put any enemies in the final stage and the whole thing (barring a couple of fights with the T-1000) is a straight-up platforming extravaganza.


I'm glad for the minigun after all, it certainly makes these pre-final-encounters with the T-1000 trivially easy. Unfortunately, the rest of the stage is not easy. It is hard. Very hard and definitely very frustrating, as every jump must be timed with absolute precision to avoid falling into the molten steel which kills you instantly. Yes, molten metal destroys Terminators. Way to spoil the end of the movie there, game.


In the end, I gave up and had to break out the ol' Game Genie to see me through - not so much to cope with the jumping, but because there are just so many parts of the scenery that damage you that your health is constantly draining away like the soul of someone forced to watch endless repeats of Jeremy Kyle (that it, quickly and with much anguish.) I'm sure I could have finished the stage without resorting to cheating, but the time it would have taken for me to delicately negotiate my way past the many hazards would be reaching the "far too long to be playing a NES game from 1992 you're a grown man stop you're wasting your life" threshold, so infinite energy it is.


The final encounter with the T-1000 ends the stage, as you battle the killer robot above the boiling steel, which unlike most of the molten metal in this bloody stage they've managed to store in an appropriate container. I was ready for battle, and I fired my minigun at the T-1000 and he fell over. Then he got back up and I was out of bullets so I punched him until he fell down. He got up again. I repeated my punching strategy, already fearing that it wasn't going to be enough because if it took eight punches to kill a biker the number required to kill the T-1000 would be so large that there'd be insufficient space in the known universe to write it down. I stuck with the punching for a while, wondering if I hadn't blown my chance by using up all my ammo, until I remembered that I could hurt things by jumping on them. "Hey," I thought, "if it's good enough for Super Mario it's good enough for me," and so I jumped on the T-1000's head like he was a goddamn Goomba and he staggered backwards.


I repeated this process until the T-1000 fell from the platform and into the liquid steel below, and that's how I saved the world by pretending that the terrifying assassin from the future was a bouncy castle. Anticlimactic? Sure. Satisfying? Most definitely.


Much like C-3PO at the end of Star Wars, the Terminator is rewarded for his loyal service with a lovely new golden chrome job. No, not really: he has to be lowered into the steel so he gets melted and no-one can use his parts to invent Terminators in the future. Oh, how I love a good time travel plot.


There's your ending -  a scene that brought tears to the eyes of many kids who were probably too young to be watching the film in the first place (and a few older people who you'd think would know better.) It doesn't seem like much of a reward, but there's only so much the developers could have done here without it being completely divorced from the ending of the film - Arnie, John and Sarah were never going to walk into the sunset and start a shelter for poorly kittens, no matter how much that would have improved the plot of Terminator 3.


So that's the NES version of Terminator 2, or to give it it's full title from the cover, T2: Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Honestly, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this game. I mean, I'm not saying I enjoyed it a lot but given that it's got the letters "LJN" attached to it I thought I was going to be talking about this one in the same breath as games like Dragon's Lair. Instead it's a mildly enjoyable surprise, like finding an extra wine gum in the corner of a packet once thought empty. Graphically it's rather accomplished, especially in the cutscenes: I thought the steel-dunkin' ending looked really good, myself. The music is less of a success, especially in the final stage where it becomes so discordant that it sounds like an experimental art piece, but happily they didn't try to recreate the theme from the movie. I know you're thinking that that sounds like a negative, but it's a slow theme with notes held for a long time and that kind of thing generally doesn't sounds great coming from a NES sound chip. In fact, it'd sound like someone uninterestedly practising the vuvuzela so be glad it's not included.


Of course the gameplay is the most important thing, and in that department T2 is... average. Exceedingly average, the sum total of every side-scrolling action platformer released for the format with nothing interesting enough to make you take notice or bad enough to make you snap the cartridge in half. Smooth controls mix with frustrating platforming, a selection of different gameplay styles are subdued by the fact that your Terminator is about as tough as a soggy Jaffa Cake - blandness reigns, but a slightly more agreeable kind of blandness than the usual NES movie tie-in. Would I say I'll be back to play it some more in the future? No, of course not, why would I end this article with such a terrible joke?

2 comments:

  1. oh,Arnold Schwarzenegger,it's so cool,I like The Terminator~~

    ReplyDelete
  2. I was always under the impression that the game took away your bullets before you had the final showdown with the T-1000.

    ReplyDelete

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