Today at VGJunk: a game of cops and robbers, assuming you're willing to stretch the definition of "robbers" to include hijackers, gunrunners and people causing havoc in a chemical plant with no clear end goal. It's the 1994 SNES version of Konami's light-gun game Lethal Enforcers!
To protect and serve... to death! It was a smart move on the police's part to rebrand to "the police," because the "Lethal Enforcers" name was not scoring well on surveys of customer satisfaction. Sure, you might want to call the Lethal Enforcers if a deranged psychopath is chasing you with an axe, but you'd probably settle for a less permanent resolution if it's kids throwing eggs at your house.
Lethal Enforcers was originally released as an arcade game in 1992, so why aren't I looking at that version? Well, for one thing it doesn't emulate very well, but more importantly I played the SNES version a lot when I was a kid and it's nice to return to it after all these years. Best of all, it gives me a chance to mention the lightgun that Konami developed specifically for the home console ports of Lethal Enforcers - the Justifier.
The Justifier is a honking great revolver-shaped lump of blue plastic, and it was great. Ninety percent of that greatness is probably just nostalgia talking, but I do remember the Justifier being very accurate, it was more satisfying to play with something shaped like an actual gun and best of all it isn't the Super Scope. In fact, you can't even play Lethal Enforcers with the Super Scope. I believe it was called the Justifier because if you wanted one you had to work really hard to justify it to your parents before they'd buy it for you, especially if you already owned a Super Scope.
You could also send away for second Justifier for player two to use. These 2P Justifiers are bright pink, and for pre-teen boys in the Nineties nothing says "this is my house so I get to use the good controller" like a controller coloured like a Barbie accessory. I don't think Barbie has ever been packaged with a gun, has she? That seems odd, I thought Barbie's whole deal is that she can be anything she wants to be. What if she wants to be an angry vigilante cleaning up the streets by blowing away one no-good punk at a time, huh?
Before you can get down to the business of shooting everything in sight, you have to select a stage. It's a welcome touch, because Lethal Enforcers can get tricky - especially if your justification skills weren't up to scratch and you had to play with the control pad - and this way you at least get a chance to see the later stages. I think I'll begin with a little target practise. Amazingly, it's been over a month since I wrote about a game that involved firing guns so I'd better shake off the rust.
If you are unfortunate enough to have recently suffered a traumatic head injury or necked a gallon of lead paint, never fear because Lethal Enforcers handily recaps the concept of target practise. There are targets. Shoot the targets.
This is good practise for when I'm inevitably attacked by an army of deadly lollipops.
I kid, but playing the shooting gallery does get you used to the gameplay, and lets you make sure your gun is calibrated properly. You can change the calibration at any time by pausing the game, which is a nice touch. Aside from that, Lethal Enforcers is about as basic as a light-gun game can get - you shoot the bad guys and fire outside the screen to reload when your service revolver runs out of ammunition, which is frequently because it only holds six shots. You can find power-ups along the way that grant you the use of a different weapon until you take damage - the usual selection of shooting gallery weapons such as shotguns, assault rifles and grenade launchers - and very useful they are too. That's about it for gameplay explanations. It didn't even need this much explanation. I'm sorry if you feel like I've patronised you. Anyway, let's get on with the first mission.
There's a bank robbery in progress, and Captain Pavich has authorised the use of force to bring the siege to a conclusion! There's a bit more text that tells you that, but I chose this screenshot where it hasn't fully scrolled onto the screen so that the lady in the bottom-left isn't obscured by the words. I wouldn't want you to miss out on the image of this extremely late-Eighties-looking hostage, a woman who appears to be trapped in a bottle of Bubblegum-flavoured Panda Pop. Notice that it's a digitised photo of a real person. Oh yeah, we're going full-on digitised graphics with this one, people, so if you're likely to be upset or offended by the sight of hideously grainy, punishingly compressed photos of the development staff running around with toy guns, you should put on your protective eyewear immediately.
Oh yeah, that's the stuff. The horrible, painful stuff. Blocky bank robbers leap out from behind the bank's furniture, all of which was purchased at Only Beige, the shop fittings emporium where if it isn't the colour of mushroom soup, we're not interested! The bank robbers could not settle on a unified theme, so some of them are rocking a tactical all-black-with-balaclava look, while others look like they wandered in from the set of the "Sabotage" video. This is why you set a dress code, you dopes.
For comparison, this is what the arcade version looks like. It's not much different, and overall the SNES version is a good port. The backgrounds are a little grainier and the bad guys don't have death animations - they just blink out of existence like you shot them with a bullet that went back in time and killed their grandparents - but all the stages are included and nothing major was excised.
This being a light-gun game, there are naturally a variety of innocent people that you're not supposed to shoot no matter how much they jump up and flap their arms about, trying to get your attention. Sometimes, as pictured above, they're being held at gunpoint and accurate shooting is required to save them, but if you're not feeling confident about your aim you can just ignore them. Their captors won't shoot them, and if you shoot them by accident you lose a life, so frankly they're safer with the bank robbers. I'm sure some other police officer will come and save them once I've taken care of the other hundred-or-so villains.
The action moves into a back alley behind the bank, where the robbers have stashed their getaway car. There are a lot of cars in Lethal Enforcers, and every single one looks like a car Mulder and Scully would hire in The X-Files.
Speaking of people you shouldn't shoot, every now and then one of your colleagues will step forward to lend a hand... except they only ever make a move when there are no enemies on the screen and they never fire their guns. This cop appears to be trying to take that brick wall into custody, for example. Are they trying to coast by on the minimum amount of effort needed to not get fired, or do they genuinely believe that this wall presents a clear threat to public safety? I don't know for sure, but I do know that if this guy is my partner then I'm putting in for a transfer if I make it back to the precinct before one of this vast criminal army manages to kill me.
Now we're on the road, and the bank robbers are speeding down the highway with our hero in hot pursuit somehow. I don't think he's in a car or anything, he's just running alongside the road, taking pot-shots at anyone who dares to lean out of a car window and boy howdy are there plenty of takers on that front. These cars are packed with bank robbers. I'd compare them to clown cars, but a car full of vicious, murderous criminals is still vastly preferable to a car filled with clowns. If I had to pinpoint one flaw with the bank robbers' plan, it's that they hired hundreds of people to take on a job that really only needed six or so. There are so many of them that when they divvy up the loot back at the hideout they're going to end up with about three bucks each. Maybe this is all a humorous coincidence and several different gangs happened to rob the same bank on the same day and that's why their outfits don't match. If they are all working together, though, I really hope they picked codenames in the style of Reservoir Dogs. "Okay, group seven, step forwards. Your codenames will be Mr. Blue, Mr. Navy Blue, Mr. Sky Blue, Mr. Cerulean, Mr. Turquoise, Mr. Teal, Mr. Cyan and Mr. Periwinkle. Make sure you remember them, because we really don't have time to go through all this again. Okay, group eight. Mr. Orange, Mr. Terracotta, Mr. Goldenrod..."
Then there's a boss. One boss does not seem like enough for all these goons, so I assume there's a team of managers who each handle twenty-or-so goon and then report to the big boss. This boss has a rocket launcher, which means it's time for another of the things you always see in lightgun games - shooting projectiles out of the air before they hit you. I've long since stopped wondering why a rocket exploding three feet away from your face is safer than it exploding when it hits you. Maybe they're not rockets but rather extremely large bullets, bullets that you can deflect with well-placed pistol fire. Or maybe I'm playing as Wizard Cop, a policeman who read a forbidden grimoire during his first day on the force and now he uses his magical powers to keep the city safe. That would also explain how he's floating alongside this truck.
As for the fight itself, you just need to shoot the boss whenever you get a spare moment. This might take a while, because of all the rockets. Also his trenchcoat is armoured, so you have to shoot him a lot.
For my bravery, and the forward-thinking shown by bringing thousands of rounds of ammunition with me, I have been promoted to Captain. I never managed to reach the top rank of Commander. I'd blame it on politics, but even I know it's because I kept shooting innocent civilians.
The next stage is the Downtown Assault. Civilians are in danger, and not just from my wayward shooting. But who's causing this disturbance?
Mostly it's a bunch of "Chinese" people cartwheeling around the streets and stabbing anyone who comes near with their kitchen knives. I have no idea why. They don't appear to be robbing anything, and they have issued no demands. Maybe they've all had a really bad day slaving over a hot stove at "Restaurant," but that doesn't explain why there are also other people who aren't dressed in Chinese clothes who'll happily take pot-shots at our hero. Maybe they're also food service workers, showing their solidarity for their brothers and sisters who have also endured years of terrible customers and relying on tips to survive.
This man isn't trying to kill you, he's just chasing his chicken. Here, chicky-chicky-chicky, he seems to say, come here so I can bash your head in with my frying pan. The chicken is understandably reluctant to let this happen, and so off he flaps across the bottom of the screen. I know you're all very eager to find out whether you can shoot the chicken. Yes, you can shoot the chicken. You get a few extra points for it, but are those points worth the distress of having shot an innocent creature? Yes, they definitely are. Not only do more points mean more lives, but I think it's much kinder on the chicken if I put a bullet in it's head rather than letting this inept chef try to batter it to death with a skillet.
The downtown assault continues into the subway, where this happens. I can see I'm not exactly dealing with criminal masterminds here. Sadly, this villain does not spend the entirety of his appearance walking on his hands, I just happened to have caught him in mid-cartwheel. A very slow cartwheel, the wheel of a cart carrying a large amount of grain and being pulled by a single tired donkey, giving me plenty of time to shoot him before he can throw knives at me.
You know how every time I play one of these light-gun games I always end up blaming my appalling civilian safety record on the fact that hostages tend to jump up right in front of you, screaming and brightly-coloured, turning them into bullet magnets? Well, it's true. It's always true, but Lethal Enforcers takes it one step further with the innocent passer-by standing in the train doorways. He walks out, raises something to his eye, points it directly at you and then it flashes, so of course you put six bullets into his chest without thinking because hey, he had a gun! Except he doesn't; he has a camera, and rather than running to safety he stopped to take some candid snaps. I'm going to say he deserved to die, and hopefully I killed him before he could breed and his unfathomable lack of intelligence could pollute the gene pool. I'm looking forward to filling out the paperwork on this one. Cause of death: being too stupid to live.
Here's the boss, and in this instance "boss" equates to "strongest knife man." He's got the strength to slice through the steel walls of a subway car and the strength to throw knifes across the tracks, so it's very lucky for me that we're so far apart. If we went toe-to-toe his incredible strength would doubtless overpower me, but at this distance I'm safe because the boss has forgotten the golden rule of knife versus gun combat: I can shoot a knife, but he can't stab a bullet.
Stage three is The Hijacking, which takes in the scenic airport district of Chicago (where Lethal Enforcers is supposedly set) but contains one hundred percent less cartwheeling, knife-chucking lunatics that the previous area. Instead it's the usual, serious kind of lunatics, the ones who wear gas masks and mittens, in case it gets chilly later or all my bullets dissolve into a dangerous lead mist.
Also, the presence of a stair-car means every fibre of my being is screaming out to make an Arrested Development joke, but that would be making a huge mistake.
After the chicken-chasing and kung-fu knifemen of the previous stage, the airport is a much more restrained - less goofy, one might say - affair, and in general Lethal Enforcers does have some weird issues with tone. There's stuff like the aforementioned chicken-chasing, and I'm honestly unsure whether the enemies are supposed to look cheesy, especially the shades-and-'stache punks who you immediately know look like Eighties German porn actors even if you've never seen any German porn from the Eighties, or if they're supposed to look tough and it just the grainy graphics and use of non-actors from which the cheesyness flows. Then there's the music, which to my ears doesn't sound right for the game.
Don't get me wrong, it's good (and this track in particular is great) but it feels like it'd be much more at home in one of Konami's licensed arcade brawlers like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Actually, now I listen to it again it reminds me a lot of Violent Storm, and what do you know - they were both composed by Kenichiro Fukui. Fukui is also credited as working on the sound effects for Sunset Riders, which might explain why the regular gunshot noise in Lethal Enforcers sounds like it was ripped straight for Konami's most rootin'-tootin'-est arcade hit. Again, this isn't a complaint about the soundtrack, which is very enjoyable as a standalone thing but, I dunno, I just expected something different from Lethal Enforcers.
The head hijacker waddles into view, weighed down as he is by the grenade launcher he's carrying. Yes, those are grenades flying towards our hero, not CDs. Shoot the boss when you get a break from shooting his grenades, you know the drill. My biggest complaint about Lethal Enforcers, even more so than your default pistol only holding a meagre six shots, is that almost all the boss fights are identical in execution. A sniper battle or some other precision-shooting challenge would have been a welcome break from all these boss fights that involve hammering the trigger as quickly as possible. It wouldn't be so bad if it was just the boss, but apparently the boss was insecure about his ability to fire enough grenades so he summons minions who throw yet more grenades at you, like when your parents help you blow out the candles on your birthday cake when you're a little kid.
The next stage sees our hero taking on a gun-running operation down by the harbour, the gun-runners presumably switching to boats because I was at the airport in the previous stage and they're still bulldozing the dozens of corpses off the runways. Enemies continue to pop out and shoot at you, although by this point the game is considerably more difficult and unlike the bank robbers, who were curiously hesitant to line my lungs with lead, the gun-runners have to be dealt with much more quickly. I should also point out that the gun-runner in the back isn't trying to climb out of the car window to get me, it's just that his leg sprite loaded before the background changed to represent the car's open door.
"I get to ride on the crane because I'm the boss's favourite! Pew pew pew!"
I love the guys on the cranes, because the crane moves slowly enough that riding it severely hampers their chances of sticking to a lead-free diet. You can almost see the realisation that their decision to ride the crane was an extremely bad one in their eyes as they slowly shuffle across the screen, or at least you could see it if the graphics weren't blockier than the pixellation on a Lego-man's censored nether region.
"I'm the boss' least favourite, so I have to ride in the trunk."
Why are you in the boot of the car, Mr. Gun-Runner? I understand if you wanted the element of surprise but there has to be a more comfortable way to achieve it. Relatedly, what the hell is going on with your legs? Because it looks like you're standing up despite there being no room for you to do so. The only alternatives are that you have no legs, in which case good on you for rising above your disability, or that you can bend your spine at a right-angle. I suppose you could have a snake body, that'd work too.
One of my favourite things about Lethal Enforcers is that the goons will try to trash-talk you as they leap from hiding, only they're really bad at it. Probably the most common voice clip is them shouting "You can't shoot me!" Erm, I'm pretty sure I can, otherwise the very concept of the game is flawed. Another good one is them shouting "You missed me!" as soon as they appear and before you've fired a shot, leading to many, many occasions of them shouting "You missed meeeuurrgh!" as you shoot them the second they appear on screen. When it happen,s this event alone justifies playing Lethal Enforcers because it's so goddamn satisfying.
I'm almost certain this guy got confused and wandered in from the set of the Terminator 2 light-gun game. Or maybe he's an honest-to-god Terminator, because he takes multiple shots to kill where most non-boss enemies only take one. It would be very handy to have a special weapon at this point. They all have their uses - for example, the shotgun and grenade launcher have a wider hit-box so you don't have aim as accurately - but all the special weapons share the big advantage of a larger ammo capacity, meaning less time spent reloading.
The boss is here, and amazingly it's not the same as all the others! Not exactly the same, anyway: you still have to shoot down the projectiles it fires at you, but rather than blasting away at the armoured gunner in the doorway, you have to shoot specific parts of the helicopter's fuselage. Every time you get it right another gout of flame appears, until you've hit all the weak-spots and the helicopter crashes. Personally I would have tried to take out the pilot and save us all some time, but it seems the windows are made from the same bullet-resistant material as the first boss' trenchcoat and so I had to do it the hard way.
Oh no! Terrorists! In the chemical plant! I'd better get over there right away and put a stop to their fiendish schemes!
That terrorist in the hazmat suit isn't hiding behind that box. He's hiding in the box, riding it along the conveyor belt. I don't think I needed to rush over here after all. Give it another twenty minutes and all these terrorists would have been dead from huffing the chemicals and trying to replicate the excitement of a bucking bronco by riding gas canisters down stairs.
See? They've already managed to set the place on fire and I don't think it was intentional, but at least we get to play in Night Vision mode for a while! I'm not sure staring directly at the roaring fire with your night vision goggles on is a good idea, but what the hell do I know? I've never foiled a terrorist raid under cover of darkness. All my anti-terrorist raids have been during office hours.
The terrorists have brought in some robots to do their evil bidding, which is what that tank-looking thing at the bottom of the screen is. "A tank!" you might think, "this could pose a serious challenge!" but while "caterpillar treads with a gun attached" could technically describe all tanks these little robots are nothing so impressive. They are caterpillar treads with a gun attached, yes, but the gun is small, balanced atop a spindly stick and easily destroyed with a couple of carefully-aimed shots. Congratulations, Lethal Enforcers, you've managed to make gun-wielding killer robots unthreatening.
Look out, it's the previous boss' big brother and he's out for revenge! This final boss is a two-part fight: first, you have to combine pin-point accuracy with high-speed firing in order to shoot off all the helicopter's various missile delivery systems, of which it has at least six. Once you've done this, the pilot has no choice but to open the cockpit and take pot-shots at you with his handgun, giving you the opportunity to kill him and pray that the suddenly out-of-control helicopter doesn't crash into the industrial plant full of dangerous chemicals that you're currently standing in. It's a very difficult fight. You'd be surprised if it wasn't difficult, one man versus an Apache gunship isn't exactly even odds. Surprisingly for a final boss, the fight gets easier as it goes on, because destroying the missile launchers means there are gradually fewer and fewer missile coming at you. Surviving the first twenty seconds is the real challenge, when it's all kicking off like someone dropped a lit match in Crazy Zeke's Unsecured Fireworks Emporium, so if you can get through that then you've got a decent chance of defeating the terrorists and eliminating all crime from Chicago forever. Well, no criminal is going to risk it while our hero is still on the force, are they? He just shot down a military helicopter with his service revolver.
I am shocked and appalled that I have not been promoted to "King of Police" or similar rank. I shall be filing my grievance with the union.
Then you get a roll-call of all the people whose photographs were taken and then forcefully crammed into the SNES cart. The chicken-chasing chef is called Matt, for example. Matt does not appear to have a face, and it's just now occurring to me that the reason all the villains are wearing sunglasses or ski-masks is probably to give their faces a bit of definition.
Then, right at the end, Lethal Enforcers gives you its greatest gift of all - this picture, which I assume is meant to show the two player characters. It's Sergeant Mullet and Lieutenant Acid-Washed Jeans from the arcade flyer! Man oh man, I never expected them to appear in the actual game, this is incredible. What haircuts, what fashions, what heroes. It was unquestionably worth the crippling pain in my trigger finger just to see this.
Lethal Enforcers is basically the same as every light-gun game, and as such it's difficult to come to a conclusion about it. I had fun playing it, because I enjoy light-gun games and this one works well without any frustrating bullshit, but it does feel a little... empty? As though there was more that could be done with the concept. I think the problem is that Konami didn't go hard enough in either direction with the setting, and it'd probably be better if it was either a more serious police "simulator" or just completely insane. Obviously I would prefer the latter, so it's a shame that the goofiness promised by things like the cartwheeling kung-fu men was never allowed to blossom fully. So, Lethal Enforcers is a fun if undeniably ugly game with a good soundtrack and probably the best ending I've ever seen in a light-gun game. Nothing could be better than finding out I've been playing as Chicago's answer to Zap Rowsdower the whole time.