In the far future, keeping the city streets free of crime will be as easy as A, B, C - so long as you're an Air Bike Cop, a police officer lucky enough to be attached to the elite flying motorcycle squadron. The rest of the police force are under constant assault from the swarms of deranged mutoid men who throng at street level and can strip a person to their bones in seconds. The normal cops don't get much policing done. No, that work's down to you in Sega's (although it was apparently developed by Aicom) 1990 arcade floating-arm-of-the-law-em-up A. B. Cop!
As you can see, A. B. Cop stands for Air Bike Cop, and I wouldn't want to keep you in suspense any longer so here goes: an air bike is a motorbike that flies. It doesn't fly very high, granted, but it's definitely wheel-less and hovering, which saves money on replacing the tyres and also puts an end to that uncomfortable rattling sensation you usually get from driving over a cattle grid.
Here is the Air Bike Cop himself. His outfit implies that the police work of the future is much more similar to American Football than it is now. He also looks sort of like a slimmed-down version of the hero from ESWAT, which coincidentally is another 1990 Sega game about future-cops. At least we can all rest easy in the knowledge that his groin is well protected.
No sooner have I pressed start than a bank is under attack from an exceptionally large man called Boris the Skinhead. He's so fat that one belt alone was not enough to hold up his circus-tent-sized trousers and he was forced to fashion a rudimentary harness from multiple belts. Hopefully Boris will try to escape on an air bike. I can't see one getting far with that amount of bulk on top of it.
It's a little-known fact that air bikes are propelled forwards by emitting a stream of spaghetti hoops from their exhausts. As we see the Air Bike Cop launch into action from this neon-lit tube / occasional LazerQuest arena, I'm sure you've already got a fair idea how this game is going to play. If not, I put together this Venn diagram to clear things up.
Yep, that thoroughly cleared everything up. I suppose we should take a look the actual game, though.
Alright, straight into the high-octane world of tomorrow's traffic cop. No sitting in a lay-by with a radar gun and a copy of Razzle for this officer of the law, he's all about taking down thugs after high-speed pursuits through the city. There's one of Boris the Skinhead's punks right now, and he's only riding a regular, non-air motorcycle so you'll have no trouble catching up to him, reading him his rights and arresting him quietly and peacefully.
Or ramming into the villain until his bike explodes and he's transformed from a wanted bank robber into a red smear on the asphalt. In the rush to equip their men with the latest in not-quite-touching -the-ground vehicular technology, the police department neglected to fit the air bikes with guns or tasers or lassos or much of anything really, leaving the Air Bike Cop with "crashing into things" as his sole offensive manoeuvre.
You'd better get good at ramming other drivers quickly, too, because that's what A. B. Cop is all about. You start each stage with a set number of bad guys to crash into, displayed in the top-left of the above screenshot as a row of motorcycle helmet. The first part of every stage involves catching up to these low-level bandits and knocking them down with your air bike. Once you've dealt with the small fry, the stage's boss appears. I'll get to that in a minute, but before I do, what's A. B. Cop actually like to play?
Well, it's a lot like Sega's other Super Scaler arcade games. If you've never heard of the Super Scaler technology before you can read the articles about OutRun or Racing Hero to find out what it's all about, but a quick explanation is that it's a system that creates a feeling of 3D movement by manipulating the size of the sprites coming towards you. Distant objects use small sprites that are replaced by larger and larger sprites as you move "towards" them, giving the impression of forward motion and high speeds.
A. B. Cop feels fast and very smooth, much like Racing Hero, which was released around the same time. Controls-wise, the main thing you'll need to figure out is the boost system - if you're playing on the arcade cabinet, revving the handlebars makes your air bike spew out those magical spaghetti hoops and causes you to go faster for a while. You've got unlimited boosts, and while there is a cooldown period between uses it's a very short one and you'll be turbo-boosting through the city streets pretty much constantly. Sometimes you'll boost a touch too eagerly and fly past the criminals you're trying to hit but don't worry; even though you're travelling at four hundred kilometres an hour and you don't have ground friction to worry about, the bad guys will soon catch up to you so you can take them down. Once you clear out all the henchmen the boss appears, and as promised by the intro this means an encounter with morbidly obese bank robber Boris the Skinhead.
I feel as though the image of Boris we were shown earlier was somewhat misleading. It certainly didn't capture the true scale of Boris the Skinhead. Also, "the Skinhead" is a rubbish nickname for someone who's twelve feet tall, rides on the back of a truck while swatting at policemen with medieval maces and has a mouth of some Lovecraftian lamprey-demon. Any and all of those things are more deserving reasons for a nickname than "ha ha he's bald."
Like his minions, the only way to defeat Boris is to repeatedly crash into him. Boris' plan to avoid such a fate - and pay attention, because this is the same strategy that all the bosses in A. B. Cop use - is to drive away from you while simultaneously firing projectiles into your path. Boris' weapon of choice is a flamethrower, and touching the fire will cause you to spin out for a while.
The Air Bike Cop may be outgunned, but he does have one trick that can turn the fight in his favour and that's the ability to make his bike jump. Pressing a button on the handlebars makes your air bike shoot into the air, which is useful for getting over projectiles as well as causing much more damage to the bosses than simply ramming them does. You only get eight jumps to start with, and while you can collect more they're not incredibly common so I would definitely suggest saving your jumps for the end-of-stage battles and then using them all to bounce your bike right into the boss' face.
After the required amount of air bike / face interactions have been completed, the Air Bike Cop offers us a winsome smile as that criminal he was trying to catch explodes like a poorly-maintained fireworks factory. The pre-stage mission briefing did say I was supposed to "arrest" Boris the Skinhead, so let's hope he's as unaffected by explosions as he is by a healthy diet and good dental hygiene practices.
Oh good, he's fine, look. That'll save on paperwork.
One stage down, and already A. B. Cop has shown us just about everything it has under the hood. Each of the following levels follow the same pattern of reckless crime-fighting action and public endangerment - destroy the squad of minor ne'er-do-wells that protect the boss, and then launch your bike into said boss' mush. It's not a complicated game.
Setting the scene for stage two is the escape of the "bio-creature" and his angry, scientist-throttling ways. Hang on, isn't every living thing a "bio-creature"? What kind of slapdash scientific research facility is this, anyway? Keeping heavily-muscled and taloned (ugh) "bio-creatures" in flimsy glass tubes, I ask you. Now it's down to the Air Bike Cop to sweep away the follies of science, although this briefing does say I'm supposed to be bringing the bio-creature in alive. Let's just hope it's as good at surviving explosions as Boris was.
Sega may just be the publishers while Aicom developed the actual game, but there's no denying that A. B. Cop feels very much in the Sega spirit. I wouldn't be surprised if Sega had a significant hand in A. B. Cop's development, because just look at it: air-bikin' down a river lined with waterfalls with a bright blue sky overhead, this feels like a quintessential Sega arcade experience. It also feels an awful lot like Racing Hero, which is less surprising now I've learned that, yes, Aicom developed that game too and there must surely have been quite a lot of overlap between the two projects. Graphics aside, the only major difference between the two is that where collisions are the aim of the game in A. B. Cop, in Racing Hero hitting things will just lead to game over screens.
Racing Hero and A. B. Cop also share a composer in Hikoshi Hashimoto, which I'm pleased about because the Racing Hero soundtrack is great. Can Hashimoto work the same magic on A. B. Cop? Well, here's the stage two theme, you decide.
Personally, I'd say it's pretty great - perhaps a little bouncier, a little smoother than you might expect from a game about a futuristic police officer, but don't forget that in this stage I'm driving through a tropical lagoon with the sun beating down, nudging mutants to their deaths in the mangrove swamps of the distant future.
That last part doesn't really tie in with the music, I suppose. Still, that's what I'm doing, and the enemies have stepped up from regular motorcycles to their very own air bikes, and perhaps as a consequence they now take two hits to destroy. Who are they and why are the protecting the bio-creature? I have no idea. Maybe the bio-creature spawned them as some kind of external immune system, the spawning coincidentally taking place outside an air bike dealership.
I'll get to the bio-creature in a minute, I just wanted to let you, the reader, know that I really like this stage. It looks great, it feels tight and fast without being overly cluttered, the music is wonderful, everything coming together in a minute-and-a-half-or-so of pure arcade action. It's good, is what I'm saying.
Here's the bio-creature, and he's... not that interesting, really. Don't worry, he's explosion proof, so go ahead and park your air-bike in his nasal cavity. He's not any tougher than the first boss, so it shouldn't take long - I found it particularly helpful to get quite close and then jump towards him at a diagonal angle. Onward, to stage three!
"White powder in the Orient!! Hunt down the Shogun Death-Dealer!" screams the briefing for the next stage, a sensational headline that accompanies a picture of Albert Wesker and Ryu Hayabusa engaged in a drug deal. Ninja coke barons, that's what this stage is all about. Also, ninjas on motorcycles.
I think the Air Bike Cop was transported back to feudal Japan somehow. Not that he minds, justice is justice no matter what century it is or how much horsepower the ninja criminals are straddling.
Ninjas are what you're supposed to be dealing with, but the true enemy of the Air Bike Cop is the time limit. A. B. Cop might be about catching (or exploding) criminals but it still has the heart of a Sega checkpoint racer, and it's game over if you don't round up all the bikers before your time runs out. Accuracy becomes the key from here on out, because you can't be wasting time by overshooting your target and then having to wait for them to catch up - you simply don't get many spare seconds.
What did surprise me about failing my mission and subsequently having to continue - aside from the wall of bizarre, warped faces that makes up the background - was how generous the game is about the whole thing. You have to start the stage again if you continue, sure, but you're granted an extra five seconds to do it in and the number of enemies you need to destroy in order to reach the boss is reduced by one. All in all it's a remarkably friendly system for an arcade game, although I'm sure its friendliness was carefully calculated to get people to insert more credits. I know it would have worked on me, I have no shame about accepting help from a videogame.
The boss is the Shogun Death-Dealer him / itself, and he appears to be a gigantic robot samurai riding atop a spiky, crocodile-inspired tank. Why was there never an A. B. Cop toy line? Ten-year-old VGJunk would have eaten this stuff up. Shogun Death-Dealer could have made an excellent ally for Shredder and Skeletor, but I digress. I'm sorry I didn't get a better screenshot of this boss. In my defence, it was difficult to get close enough to capture one. Why?
Because the Shogun Death-Dealer has intimacy issues, and to prevent anyone from getting too close and learning the innermost mysteries of his tender little heart he sends out a constant barrage of skeleton ghosts to push people away. It's an effective strategy on the whole, although in this particular screenshot I have managed to drive right between them as though I was actually competent or something.
It's no use looking all sheepish now: if you're a drug dealer then you have to go to jail, even if you are a huge cyber-samurai. Those puppy-dog eyes aren't going to work on me, mister. Just try not to turn the prison population into your own personal shogunate while you're in there.
Stage four begins with the tragically all-too common scene of an evil clown selling a young woman into slavery. Well, evil clowns have to do something to keep themselves occupied between the gruesome murders and blasphemous rituals held in honour of their dark masters. Of course, calling him an "evil" clown is redundant, because all clowns are evil. You could call yourself Boffo the Goofball, wear the full get-up with the baggy trousers and the red nose and everything and master the arts of slapstick and pratfalling, but the moment you donate money to charity, develop a free cure for cancer that's also a delicious zero-calorie sandwich spread or simply walk past a child without stuffing them into a sack and throwing them in a van, you cease being a clown and become nothing more than a decent person in a clown costume.
The clowns are forced to live in the desert with the scorpion and the rattle snake. The rest of nature will not tolerate their presence.
Killer Clown himself is a big lad, but it's his endless waves of beachballs that cause most of the problems. Normally I'd be all for them, because their purpose is to keep me as far away from a clown as possible, but this psychopath must be brought to justice and no amount of beachballs or brutal whippings will keep the Air Bike Cop from dispensing justice.
Oh good, I'm back to chasing vicious killer robots and doomsday weapons. This is obviously preferable to hunting down clowns.
This stage is set in a cyberpunk metropolis, a change of pace from the previous stages which were often downright pretty. There's not much to say about it beyond that, though. Just catch up to the various robot outriders, smash into them and hope that the doomsday weapon one of them is carrying isn't some kind of bomb that might well be sensitive to sudden jolts.
Look, buddy, I don't care how big your lightsaber is, I just fought a clown with a whip so you're really not filling me with dread. Mild annoyance, maybe, because this boss is very good at knocking you out of the air with his laser sword whenever you jump towards him, but dread? Not a chance.
It's good that you've arrested the robot and you're going to proceed with his prosecution in a fair and lawful manner, but he's quite clearly in the middle of breaking free of his cell so shouldn't we do something about that? You know, so it doesn't bite us in the ass later? Oh, whatever, I just ram into 'em, it's someone else's job to keep them locked up.
Well quelle bloody surprise, all the bosses you spent the game rounding up have escaped. It's a good job I'm not one for saying I told you so, but when I get back from re-arresting them we're going to have a serious discussion about prisoner management protocols.
That's right, the final stage is a boss rush, but for a change I don't really mind because the developers have again taken pity on the player by giving the bosses greatly reduced health bars and scattering plenty of extra jump icons throughout the stage. It's a good job, too, because the time limits are tight and that goddamn clown is still a nightmare even when he's half-dead.
Then this guy appears, occupying the position of "true final boss". Who, and indeed what, is he? Search me. He's never mentioned prior to his appearance, and while you might assume he's the mastermind behind the villain's jailbreak it was quite obvious that the giant robot didn't need any help busting out of prison so I'm just going to assume this little green freak is some other criminal who took his chance to escape during the confusion.
What I can tell you about him is that he's extremely annoying to fight, mostly because his projectiles look exactly the same as he does so it becomes very difficult to see where the actual boss is. He can create hundreds of the bloody things, too, and this battle is a rare mis-step from an otherwise very enjoyable game.
With perseverance and a dollop of blind luck, I managed to crash by air bike into this mystery goblin enough times to kill him, and the magical journey of A. B. Cop comes to an end.
Thumbs up to you too, my friend. We had quite the adventure together, a fun ride that I have no hesitation in recommending to others. A. B. Cop is fast and slick, a really well put-together title with a charming sense of style that never takes itself seriously, as you can see in this screen from the ending where cutesy version of the game's bosses do a little dance for you.
There's even a post-game bonus stage where you fly the Air Bike Cop through space, collecting as many of these adorable enemy bobbleheads as you can for extra points. Sadly, to reach this stage you need to complete the game with a high score of over sixty million points. I am not good enough to get sixty million points, and while I like A. B. Cop I don't like it enough to spend months getting good enough at it to reach one bonus stage. I'm sure you can find it on YouTube if you're that desperate to see it.
That's yet another Super Scaler game from Sega (or Aicom, I suppose) that's worth at least a little of your time, and while A. B. Cop isn't a deep game or a particularly novel one, it doesn't need to be when it looks, sounds and feels this satisfying. Plus, you get to hit a clown with a motorcycle. What else could you possibly want?