Today, a game about robots, cops and meddling studio executives with Probe and Ocean’s 1992 NES your-move-creep-em-up RoboCop 3. You know, a game based on the movie where RoboCop can fly and hangs around with children.

Children like this weird-faced, uzi-toting little munchkin. Doesn’t a six-year-old having access to a submachine gun break some kind of law, RoboCop? Do your goddamn job! It’s going to be difficult serving the public trust when you’re using a schoolkid as a shoulder-mounted gun emplacement.
Okay, a confession: I’ve never actually seen RoboCop 3. I’ve heard about it, and somehow the morbid curiosity that made me watch Hellraisers four through eight (nine is apparently where I draw the line) was not strong enough to get me to sit through the family-friendly adventures of the incredible flying robot-cop. From what I’ve read, though, Robocop 3 the game follows the plot of the movie fairly accurately. I’m sure that if anyone can spin gold from RoboCop 3, it’ll be the titans of game development that are Probe and Ocean. I’m sure Ocean were hoping that this would be as big a hit as their home computer ports of RoboCop, but I’m going to guess that it really wasn’t.

The game begin with a call from Anne Lewis, RoboCop’s partner, and she’s in trouble. Not to worry, dealing with trouble is what RoboCop does best and he’s quickly off to to save her. In a car, he’s not flying yet.
I have to say, that’s some nice artwork on Officer Lewis. Well drawn in a very small number of colours, I’m very impressed with it. It’s a look that really shows Probe’s history as a home computer developer, too.

Not so impressive is RoboCop himself, who looks like he’s having real trouble driving his car. I’m having problems parsing which way around the hand that’s holding the steering wheel is supposed to be facing. It’s not terrible-looking, just kind of awkward.

That, erm, that is true, I guess? Things may well go on behind closed doors, although I don’t see what that’s got to do with RoboCop, who spends most of his time on the streets or inside large industrial facilities. I thought it might have been a hint about a secret in the first stage or something, but having investigated thoroughly I think it’s just weird. Also weird is the description of the criminals you’ll be facing as “splatterpunks,” but that’s the kind of weird I can appreciate. Whatever else RoboCop 3’s failings may be, at least it’ll always have the cachet of having used the word “splatterpunk.”

It will come as absolutely no surprise to anybody that RoboCop 3 is a side-scrolling action platformer where RoboCop travels through the city while shooting criminals (sorry, splatterpunks) and jumping over things. That’s what I always think of when I remember RoboCop: the vast amount of jumping he does. In Probe’s defence, they have at least made RoboCop feel very heavy when he jumps, with every landing producing a satisfying thump as he hits the floor.

What else can RoboCop do, besides jumping? Well, he can aim his gun diagonally upwards, which is handy because a lot of enemies pop out of windows to take pot-shots at our hero. You can also switch between two different weapons: a handgun and a missile launcher. You might think that given a choice between a pistol and a rocket launcher your pistol would get less use than Bruce Willis’ hairbrush, but in practice they’re both about as useful as each other – the missiles are more powerful but slower than the pistol’s shots, so they end up killing things at about the same rate. On the plus side, killing a bad guy with the missiles causes them to fly away off the top of the screen rather than exploding in a bloody mess.

One problem with RoboCop 3’s combat is that it can be quite difficult to defeat criminals when they’re right next to you, thanks to their tendency to stand “inside” RoboCop, where his guns cannot reach. This instance was particularly infuriating, because this bad guy ran up behind RoboCop and kicked him right in his big metal arse. This somehow caused RoboCop damage. That does not seem right at all. What’s the point of the hugely expensive and complicated robotification process if you can still feel pain when someone kicks your backside? Did OCP cheap out and use spray-painted plastic instead of titanium alloy when crafting RoboCop’s buttocks? Actually, that sounds like something OCP might do.

The stage ends in extremely anticlimactic fashion as RoboCop reaches a dead end and has to stand around and shoot a certain amount of criminals before the level abruptly ends. Thanks to the combination of RoboCop’s crouching ability and the enemies’ tendency to fire at head height, most of the combat revolves around shoot people in the groin. Is this inspired by the scene in the original movie where RoboCop shoots that guy’s balls off? Honestly, shoot one person in the genitals and you'll never live it down.

Between stages, you’re given the chance to repair RoboCop by using the maintenance tokens you’ve collected. Simply select which part of RoboCop’s body you want fixed and spend your tokens accordingly. Supposedly, having high damage on a body part will cause that part to malfunction. It always seemed to be the legs, in my case, and every now and then RoboCop will be unable to move for a moment or two if his legs aren’t repaired. I’m not sure whether I noticed this more because the way I played the game (badly) meant RoboCop’s legs took all the damage, or if RoboCop’s so stiff and awkward to control even when he’s fully repaired that it’s hard to tell when he’s on the blink. I figured I’d better explain this system to you, because I wouldn’t want you to think that RoboCop spends his between-mission breathers sitting atop the Throne of Justice, presiding over his court as a jester makes jokes that are really going to struggle to get a laugh.

Stage two sees RoboCop fighting his way through a car factory. Why? I don’t know, the game didn’t bother to explain. All it said was that RoboCop’s making his way to the “ultimate conflict,” and as he’s a Jesus Christ analogue I assume that means he’ll be fighting the antichrist at some point. The thing is, according to what I’ve read of RoboCop 3 The Movie’s plot, Anne Lewis is killed at around this point in the movie. The game makes absolutely no mention of this shocking development, presumably convinced that the player’s desire to eliminate crime will be sufficient impetus for them to continue without the waters needing to be muddied with something so trite as vengeance.

This stage adds a lot more platforming into the mix – fussy, miserable platforming that requires a lot of very accurate leaping from a character who’s made of a ton of solid metal and bloody controls like it, too. Fortunately, missing a jump here isn’t instantly fatal. You just loose health while you’re in the goop. No, the insta-death pits come later in the game, so that’s something to look forward to. Amongst its other quirks, RoboCop 3 also has a strange lives / continues system: you have one life, and when RoboCop explodes the “Game Over” screen appears and you go back to the title screen… where you can continue from the start of stage you died on. So, not Game Over, then? Okay, cool.

Suddenly, a ninja appears. That’s generally how ninjas work, I suppose. So, it’s the agile, speedy ninja versus RoboCop, who may be a hero but who is as lithe and nimble as a bin-bag full of microwave ovens. This seems like it would pose a problem for RoboCop, but the ninja seems less interested in stopping our hero and more excited to show off his totally sick flip jumps. It’s understandable that you’d want to showcase your ninja training, even if it does give the this fight the air of a junior school gymnastics performance with RoboCop in the role of the bored father. The ninja somersaults around the place, RoboCop shoots the ninja when the opportunity presents itself and the pair of them chase each other around the arena in this manner until one of them emerges the victor. On to stage three, then.

What? There’s another half of the stage to go, with another ninja fight at the end? I suppose I’d better get on with it, then, starting with shooting this criminal hiding in a pile of tires. Hang on, that exact scenario also happened in Rolling Thunder! Man, I wish I was playing Rolling Thunder, it’s a much better game than RoboCop 3: where Rolling Thunder has precise controls and easily-identifiable enemies with distinct attack patterns and threat levels, RoboCop 3 is a fussy game with enemies that puddle into a generic soup of felonious activity. There’s simply nothing interesting about them. Even the ninjas are boring.

When stage three does finally begin, a few things are different. For one, RoboCop is walking towards a tank. This fact is highlighted by the artillery shells that occasionally come flying across the screen. You can see one at the bottom left of the screen, where I managed to avoid it thanks to the other change: RoboCop can fly now, because he has a jetpack. It might seem like a very un-RoboCop thing to happen, this sudden change from the future of law enforcement to the Rocketeer, but it’s probably the nearest this game gets to being fun. You boost upwards by holding the jump button, RoboCop moves fairly smoothly and it’s a nice change from his usual leaden-footed stomping. It doesn’t alter the gameplay too much, because you still need solid footing to effectively deal with the enemies, but even if it’s little more than being able to do a big jump it’s a welcome addition.

I do like that graffiti down there, because it appears to say “diet.” Like, as a command, perhaps in response to the hefty thud RoboCop makes when he lands from a jump.

Oh, yeah, I should probably mention that RoboCop can upgrade his weapons during each stage by collecting the appropriate items. His pistol starts off firing single shots but can be powered up to three-round bursts – you know, like how RoboCop’s gun works in the movie – and onwards to a three-way spread shot. I think the spread shot is actually less useful than the rapid fire, because it doesn’t put as many bullets out as the rapid fire and the ability to aim diagonally makes part of the spread redundant. As for the missiles, they can be upgraded to homing missiles. “Homing missiles? That sounds great!” I hear you say, but they’re hardly flawless. For starters, they don’t work on some enemies, most notably the ninjas, who emit some kind of jamming field according to the on-screen text. The homing missiles also aren’t that good at homing, and will often fly around in circles a few times before lethargically wandering towards a splatterpunk. Supposedly there are also explosive rockets, but I don’t think I ever managed to upgrade the missiles that far so I’ll have to take the manual’s word for it.

Here’s the tank, well-camouflaged for the urban hellscape of downtown Detroit. Getting close to it is the hard part, because the grenade launcher on the side emits a constant stream of damaging ping-pong balls. Once you get right up to the tank, however, it’s a matter of dealing with all the criminals that pop out of it, as well as their accomplices who run in from the edges of the screen. A simple enough prospect, but there’s one problem: the splatterpunks have learned how to crouch. This makes it almost impossible to avoid their attacks when you’re fighting them on a flat plane (and makes it that much more difficult to snipe their gonads off), so the only real strategy is to kill them all before your health runs out.

Once the tank is dealt with, the stage is over and RoboCop’s jetpack is drained of fuel, regardless of whether you actually used it or not. This causes the game to order RoboCop to “walk back to the OCP tower.” What happened to that car he was driving earlier, huh? Walk back to the tower, I ask you. Is this any way to treat a RoboCop? He’s certainly not likely to win any speed-walking competitions, so the villains’ sinister schemes – whatever the bloody hell they may be – have plenty of time to come to fruition as RoboCop plods his way back to headquarters like a pensioner on his way home from the pub.

It wasn’t kidding, you really do have to walk back through the stage you just completed. As far as I can tell, it’s exactly the same lay-out as last time. Well, that’s one way to avoid having to design new levels, I guess. Most games make you complete the whole thing before you unlock Mirror Mode, but RoboCop 3 is generous enough to give you an early taste.

The only new things to worry about in this stage are these small, unassuming orbs that are scattered around the place like your nan’s throw cushions. They’re actually land mines that will blow up if you touch them. Exploding throw cushions, then. They’re also prone to some completely baffling collision detection, where sometime you can detonate them with your gun but at other times you bullets will pass right through them. It’s especially strange because the hit detection is pretty much okay in the rest of the game, it’s just these bombs that do their own weird thing.

Waiting at the end of the stage (and pacing back and forth) is ED-209, everyone’s favourite badly-programmed murder droid. It’s still his job to defeat RoboCop, despite being terrible at it. Makes sense to me, would you want to be the one to tell ED-209 he’s been made redundant? I thought not. Anyway, ED-209 hangs around the left hand side of the screen and launches many, many projectiles at RoboCop’s general position. This makes it difficult to get a clean shot at ED-209, especially because you have to shoot him in the head, but I managed to find a sweet spot near his feet where I took as little damage as possible while attacking his weak spot. It’s not quite as efficient as luring ED-209 onto some stairs, but it’ll do.

The final stage is about to get underway, but not before RoboCop 3 offers up a lesson in road safety.

You’re in the upper offices of OCP headquarters. There are multiple ninjas. Ignore the ninjas. Not only do ninjas hate not being the centre of attention, but you can’t hurt them anyway. Instead, the entire final stage consists of walking up to this computer terminal and holding up on the d-pad.

If you do that, RoboCop begins decrypting whatever this computer system is supposed to be. Don’t worry about the ninjas, they’ll spend 90 percent of the fight somersaulting around the screen while RoboCop gets to work. That’s right, the climactic encounter of RoboCop 3 involves the player holding a button on the controller and gazing at RoboCop’s arse. I’ve faced off against some truly awful final bosses in my time writing VGJunk, but I think “fiddling with a computer” might be the very worst of them.

With the computer thoroughly hacked, RoboCop flies away with two children. They’re acting as ballast, I think, lest RoboCop accidentally has an Icarus moment. That means RoboCop 3 is over, which is sort of a relief because even though it’s a very short game it still feels like a bit of a slog. Part of that is down to RoboCop himself, because he’s slow and lumpen. On paper, RoboCop feels like he should make a good videogame hero, but he’s not really a good fit for most action games. There must be some way to make playing as RoboCop fun while still feeling like RoboCop – a lightgun game, maybe – but side-scrolling platformers with lots of jumping are not it. On top of that, the swarms of boring enemies that pop up seemingly at random don’t make the gameplay any more engaging, and there’s a lot of annoyance in constantly taking little bits of damage. On the plus side, it doesn’t look bad and the soundtrack is above average, composed as it is by Commodore 64 music legend Jeroen Tel. Plus, you’re playing as RoboCop. There’s still a ten-year-old inside me that will always be excited by that prospect, even if he is flying around and rescuing kids rather than blowing away perps in an extremely gory manner. So, on the whole RoboCop 3 isn’t quite as terrible as I expected, but I would still highly recommend you watch RoboCop instead of playing it. Hell, I think I’d recommend you watch RoboCop 2 over this. At least it has that scene where the failed RoboCop experiment rips its own head off.

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