What's six and a half feet tall, only eats baby food and is formed from the grotesque fusion of flesh and technology? That's right, it's the mechanical toddler I've built to help me take over all the adventure playgrounds in the local area, granting me access to a vast supply of valuable wood chippings and discarded ice lolly wrappers. Oh, and RoboCop too, I suppose. Here's Detroit's finest in a 1991 arcade game from Data East: it's RoboCop 2!
Yet another of the big sci-fi / action movie franchises pitches up on VGJunk, and I think RoboCop stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of the Xenomorphs and the Terminators in the fame stakes, if not in the amount of nightmares he brought to little kids. For an emotionless justice dispenser, he's sort of cuddly.
Just in case you've never seen RoboCop, a quick run-down. Police officer Alex Murphy transfers to a new precinct in downtown Detroit only to be brutally shot dead within, like, twenty-five minutes. This is bad for morale down at the station but convenient for Omni Consumer Products, a giant corporation who use Murphy's body to create RoboCop, a cyborg copper designed to be the ultimate lawman. Sadly, OCP flunked out of the same ethics classes as Weyland-Yutani and possibly Satan himself, RoboCop struggles with his human memories, the vice-president of OCP is in league with the criminals that killed Murphy in the first place, a bunch of people get shot and a big robot falls down some stairs. RoboCop saves the day, and perhaps regains some of his humanity.
Then there's the sequel - RoboCop 2, funnily enough - and that's what this particular game is loosely based on. In the movie, OCP try to build an improved model of robot policeman but rather go off-piste at the end when they give it the brain of a psychopathic druggie murderer. Hey, it was the Eighties, big risks for big reward, work hard and play hard, am I right?
There aren't much in the way of cutscenes in this one, so it'll be interesting to see how the game and the movie link together. For now, though, let's start the game and whaddya know? It's RoboCop doing what he does best: facing off against some punks.
The standard arcade-action-game punk, resplendent in their traditional garb of sleeveless leather jackets and brightly-coloured mohawks. Knowing that they don't stand a chance on their own, the punks have allied themselves with the security guards of the city's armoured cars. Look man, it's Old Detroit in the near future, (that is, about 1995,) everyone was on the take!
RoboCop shoots the bad men, because that's what RoboCop does. Sometimes he has mini freak-outs as his lingering humanity flickers through his cyborg brain, sometimes he offers up robotic bon mots like "your move, creep," but on the whole he's all about shooting the bad guys.
That's handy for Data East, because it's a lot easier to make a game about shooting bad guys than it is to make one about a heartfelt examination of the human condition. That's why Transformers: Dark of the Moon has a videogame adaptation and Wild Strawberries doesn't.
So, Data East took the usual route of turning the RoboCop license into a side-scrolling blastathon where RoboCop must make his way through a hundred street gangs' worth of assorted punks, motorcyclists security guards and men in nondescript overalls until he reaches the boss and shoots them, too. It's all simple enough and plays exactly as you'd expect it to, apart from one difference: there are two attack buttons, one to fire to the left and one to fire to the right. Get close to an enemy and you'll grab or punch them instead. It's a pretty decent system, and it's a refreshing change to be able to walk backwards and fire at the same time. Walking and shooting are really the only two strong suits RoboCop has.
And then just when you've gotten used to that, the viewpoint suddenly changes and now Murphy is has wandered into a carnival shooting gallery where the targets are desperate criminals and instead of a teddy bear or a goldfish in a bag the only thing you'll win is justice. Yeah, it's functional if nothing else - move the crosshairs around and press fire when they're over a bad guy, try to avoid their bullets. That's the bit that drags it down - RoboCop weighs about the same as a Ford Fiesta, so diving and dodging aren't really in his repertoire Wild Guns this ain't, but it's a short section and a pleasing enough diversion.
Back to the mean and sideway-oriented streets, and RoboCop's mission to clean up Detroit is hampered by the appearance of a man with a rocket launcher. Give that goon a medal for a bit of forward thinking - it's not like the criminal element of the city don't know who RoboCop is by now, and still those first punks turned up with medieval battle axes, of all things. Mind you, they can block bullets with those axes so perhaps I shouldn't judge them too harshly.
Actually, that man with the RPG looks sort of familiar...
I'd recognise that green suit anywhere: it's the kacho! Arino from Game Center CX has finally snapped, probably after playing one of RoboCop's NES games, and he's taken to the streets of old Detroit to get his revenge.
He didn't get his revenge, though. I shot him. Well, I am RoboCop, after all.
It's not all as simple as gunning people down without due legal process, of course. Sometimes people try to run you over with their pick-up trucks, and you have to hammer the buttons to crush their vehicle with them still inside it. If the policing racket doesn't work out, Murphy can always get a job at the local junkyard.
Eventually you'll reach the gun store and the first boss. He's an excitable young man with a chainsaw. As I so often do, I have constructed an elaborate backstory for this young man which explains that he dreamed of being a ballet dancer but was forced, though a combination of poverty and the mockery of his peers, to give up his dancing ambitions and become a lumberjack. That's why he spends the whole bloody fight pirouetting around with his saw extended.
The boss has a chainsaw, and I have a gun with unlimited ammunition. I don't care how big his shinpads were, there was only ever one outcome to this battle and RoboCop moves on to stage two.
Before that, he extracts some information from one of the murderous punks.In the movie he picks the guy up by his nose, which looks a lot more painful than this basic throat-grabbing technique, but the results are the same and RoboCop heads to the Nuke factory.
"Nuke" is one of the central elements of RoboCop 2 The Movie, a hyper-addictive drug that's sweeping the streets and which looks like a melted strawberry freeze-pop. The Nuke is being created by a wannabe-messianic drug lord called Cain, and RoboCop will do anything in his power to bring this villain down - even destroying an arcade full of classic Data East™ titles!
Most of this stage takes place in an arcade packed with Data East cabinets, RoboCop-themed pinball machines and a solitary air hockey table. Well, you have to have an air hockey table, it's not a proper arcade without one. The thwink thwink thwink of paddle on puck is what an arcade should sound like, although this one mostly sounds like gunfire and people yelling "scrap-pile!" at our hero.
It makes sense that in a Data East game all the cabinets would carry their logo, but this isn't something that that's limited to the game - in the movie, RoboCop does indeed visit an arcade packed with all the hot Data East titles of the day.
Bad Dudes vs. Dragonninja, Sly Spy, The Real Ghostbusters, Midnight Resistance: they all appear in this scene, presumably as part of the same deal that saw Data East making the RoboCop games. RoboCop even smashes a corrupt policeman's face into a Bad Dudes cabinet, (although it's actually running Sly Spy,) presumably to fulfil certain contractual obligations about the games getting some close-ups.
So, that's the all-Data East arcade, the most average arcade in the world. What else does stage two have to offer?
Well, it has a boss, naturally. Lurking in an alley behind the arcade is a man in a robotic suit - you can see his face peering out of the visor - who comes equipped with so many land mines that Princess Diana would roll over in her grave to see him. The boss flits back and forth across the screen, dropping mines and the occasional grenade, and he gets so into his destructive work that he seems to be completely oblivious to RoboCop's presence. He just goes about his business, following his patterns, and I get the impression that he'd be doing the exact same thing if RoboCop was sat at home with his feet up. As such, this boss is not too difficult to beat, because you can position yourself so that when he lands you can grab him and throw him to the ground. Over an over again, in fact. Next stage, please!
Oh look, a bonus round. It's only a crosshair-based on-rails shooter, but Data East are at least trying to stir the pot a little. Still, some it does highlight some discrepancies, like the fact it only takes one round from RoboCop's Auto-9 handgun to bring down a helicopter, but those punks can block its fire with their hand-axes. Also, RoboCop can ride a motorcycle despite his vast weight meaning it should be flattened beneath him. I'll give the film-makers a pass on that one, though, because the motorcycle is necessary component of RoboCop's plan to get Cain. That plan is to launch himself face-first through the windscreen of Cain's truck.
Unorthodox villains require unorthodox methods of capture, like smashing their heads into arcade cabinets or turning yourself into a part-man part-machine howitzer round. RoboCop near-invulnerability means that this plan actually works, and Cain is reduced to "brain in a jar" status.
A goofy, Muppet-y brain in a jar with the thickest spinal column I've ever seen. Not to worry, he won't be in a jar for long because OCP decide that Cain the Brain is the perfect candidate to be bolted into the new "RoboCop 2" body. Can you see the problems with this decision? It's "explained" in the film that ordinary people are so horrified with the loss of their precious meat-bodies that they go insane when placed in a RoboCop, so the obvious solution is to put a psychopath in the suit. I want to see what other bright ideas the OCP scientists came up with now. Too many stray dogs in Detroit? How about a machine that makes dogs explode! The summer sun too bright? Destroy the world in an atomic holocaust, creating a nuclear winter that'll protect you from the sun's harmful rays! Coffee gone cold? Use napalm!
Anyway, we'll get to Cain soon enough. First, it's time to break up the drug deal at the abandoned factory!
"Never fear, my fellow street punks! This fort of barrels filled with highly explosive material will protect us from the RoboCop!"
The barrels offer no protection. All those punks are dead now, their bodies identifiable only through dental records.
Right, so it's a gunfight in an abandoned factory? Okay then, that's all I needed to know. It's very RoboCop, but it's not very interesting. The only real moments of note are a brief section where you waggle the joystick to break free of a giant magnet - giant magnets being RoboCop's only natural predator - and the fact that you're fighting zombies. I'm not sure why - I don't remember them being in the movie, but it's a theme that's carried over to the stage's boss.
One of Cain's men is a rockabilly / teddy boy type, and I think this boss is supposed to be him. I'm basing that mostly on his sideburns, if I'm honest. Anyway, I can't remember what happens to this guy in the film, but in the game RoboCop shoots him into a vat of toxic sludge and he comes out as a gloopy mutant.
I was hoping for the Joker, but I suppose this'll do. I'm almost certain this didn't happen in the film, and now I think about it I don't remember seeing the Elvis-a-like's demise at all, so maybe this is based on a deleted scene or something, or maybe it's just nice to have a dripping slimebag as a boss.
He's more of a threat than the previous bosses, too, because he's rather more nimble than the robots and chainsaw thugs of the earlier stages, but as with all crime in Detroit he's mostly vulnerable to one thing: getting picked up and slammed into the ground.
It's an okay boss fight, I suppose, but it does leave me slightly disappointed - there's a scene in the movie where RoboCop sees a bunch of Cain's gang's loot, and amongst it all is Elvis' skeleton in a glass case, which presumably belonged to the this guy. That's not in the game, which is a shame. Pixellated Elvis remains generally guarantee a game gets at least an extra two points on the VGJunk Scale of Neat Things-O-Meter.
On to stage four, and Cain's rampage leads RoboCop to the OCP headquarters. OCP make robots, so get ready to fight plenty of robots. Bulletproof robots, even. The only way to beat them is to, you guessed it, pick 'em up and slam 'em down. Good job someone had the foresight to install Ultimate_Warrior_Bodyslams.dll into RoboCop's system.
And then, in an instant, my main technique was rendered useless. Here's a mid-boss, and it's everybody's favourite constantly-malfunctioning bipedal death-bot, ED-209! Very well drawn he is too, that's a nice sprite. Shame I have to blow him up, really, but if I don't take care of ED-209 it'll just make some comedy howler like getting it's foot stuck in a manhole or gunning down an OCP executive.
Note that the game is displaying "Jumping Shot!!" in the middle of the screen. Modern games must have really beaten me into a soft, mindless jelly with their constant on-screen help and tutorials, and so I unquestioningly tried jumping and shooting ED-209 in the "head". That worked fine... but so did standing on the floor and shooting him, and that's a much easier place from which to dodge his attacks.
See? Much better. This fight really drives home the idea that RoboCop 2 is all about dodging in the Z-axis. You can jump, but it's next to pointless when all you really need to do is avoid being on the same horizontal plane as your opponents to stay alive. Enemies occupy a very narrow strip of space, too, meaning that most of the game's difficulty comes from having to be standing on the exact same plane as the enemy you want to destroy, even when you're fighting something as big as ED here. Hit-and-run tactics are the order of the day in pretty much any of this game's combat situations, and the sooner you get used to lining up a shot and moving out of the way quickly the sooner you'll feel like you're making some progress.
The rest of the stage consists of a few more robots and another boss encounter with this.. thing. Maybe the ski-slopes of the near future are rife with well-armed and highly dangerous terrorists, and only the Piste Protector here can make Val-d'Isere safe for the skiers of this brave new world. OCP isn't one to let a gap in the market go unplugged, after all.
It's another robot with a big gun. After doing battle with the iconic ED-209, it's hard to summon up any enthusiasm for this thing. So I won't. Onwards!
After another driving shoot-em-up section, RoboCop catches up with Cain for the final showdown. Well, the final three or four showdowns, because stage five is a series of battles against RoboCop 2. He's bigger than you, he has more guns than you and he's bonkers, but that's not really a problem as long as you actually pay attention to the "Jumping Shot!!" marker, because this time you really do have to shoot your opponent in the head. And so, the two RoboCops enter into a whirling tango of death, Murphy bouncing up and down like an impatient child in the queue for a ride at Disneyland while Cain waddles back and forth, taking the odd potshot at our hero. It's like fighting ED-209, except I felt a little bit sorry for ED-209 because he puts me in mind of a well-intentioned by ultimately feeble guard dog.
Also, I know OCP are an evil mega-corporation in the best style of the grasping, amoral 1980s, but I think decorating their building with Nazi flags, the swastika removed and replaced by the OCP logo, is perhaps going a bit far. A bit of subtlety wouldn't go amiss.
Next: fight Cain on a lift. He has gained a new move, which is to spin his many arms around like an idiot. It's surprisingly effective.
The lift goes to the roof! Fight Cain on the roof! The fresh air will do you both some good. Cain can fire missiles now. This does little to relieve the tedium of going through the same boss fight for a third time, but once you beat him on the roof, the two RoboCops fall off the edge and plummet to the ground, where Cain will surely be destroyed forever.
I've lied to you, of course. One more battle with Cain to go. My advice to you would be to try to stay away from him and keep moving, only taking your jumping shot when he stops launching missiles. Of course, he launches missiles almost constantly so if you wait for them to stop you'll be slogging through this fight until another good RoboCop film comes out, so instead I suggest you go hog wild on the credits and go for broke.
Even RoboCop's had enough of Cain by the end of their fourth bout, and so rather than reading him his rights and charging him with murder, criminal damage and illicit use of early-Nineties CG he just rips out Cain's brain and crushes it in his fist. It's a shame that this didn't become the standard ending for all videogames, really. It definitely would have spiced up Super Mario World.
"This is not the end," says RoboCop, but he's talking out of his metallic arse because it really is the end of the game. I think he means that it's not the end because OCP must still be brought to justice, but that's a task that requires more delicacy and subtlety than throwing a giant robot off a skyscraper and squishing his brain in my servo-assisted, titanium-coated fist, so I'll leave that to someone else.
RoboCop does some push-ups, the credits roll and RoboCop 2 the arcade game is complete. Except...
There's something I've missed. You see, in the Japanese version of RoboCop 2, there's an extra intro stage that was completely removed from the world versions. It serves as a playable mini-recap of the first RoboCop movie, detailing Murphy's horrible death and rebirth as the Clanking Crusader as he makes his way to the top of the OCP tower for a battle against ED-209 and a showdown with the villainous head of Omni Consumer Products.
I assume that's what's happening, anyway. I can't read Japanese, so for all I know this text could actually be telling the story of an insane ex-cop who dresses in a suit of armour and takes brutal revenge on his former employers.
It's a fun little section, and I can't help but wonder why it was removed from the western versions of the game. Licensing issues, maybe, with Data East not being able to show anything from the first film? Maybe they thought it broke up the flow of the game, but then again they didn't mind making you do the same boss fight four times in a row so Data East's ideas of game flow are clearly "unique" at best. My current leading theory is that they assumed that everyone in America was familiar with the RoboCop story and thus didn't need the recap, and removing it allowed players to get to the harder action sooner and get those credits flowing.
RoboCop 2 is something of a nice surprise, all things considered. Sure it's a licensed videogame that takes a famous character and drops them into a side-scrolling action game, but for a game of that type it's handled about as well as possible. It's short, so boredom doesn't really get a chance to set in, but it's also varied, what with the shooting sections and all. Movements are crisp and predictable and the multi-directional firing works great, and I should make a special note of the graphics: a lot of care and attention was put into giving them a real RoboCop-y flavour, with things like Murphy's shooting poses being accurately recreated and even little touches like the X and Y co-ordinates changing during the first-person sections.
Most of RoboCop 2's problems - the limited nature of the gameplay, mainly - stem from RoboCop himself. He's cool and all, but what are his powers, the hooks from which you can hang interesting gameplay mechanics? He shoots things and he's bulletproof. Not much to work with, is it? Data East should be congratulated for doing the best with what they had, and creating a short, simple but mostly enjoyable run-n-gun title with a nice level of polish. RoboCop 2 can proudly take its place in that great and mysterious Data East-only arcade. It's definitely better than Sly Spy, I can tell you that much.