What do you think when you hear the words “movie tie-in”? Most peoples reaction might be that of eye rolling, a long, deep sigh and the vision of a really horribly, cheaply made game to cash in on its silver screen counterpart. What if I told you that it didn’t have to be this way? What if I told you that despite all of these horrible tie-in games, there are still plenty of good ones to be played?
In Reel Gaming, I’m going to take you on a journey to try and find that shining beacon of hope within the wasteland of badly made barely playable titles. Don’t get me wrong, we’ll most likely encounter some downright unplayable and joyless titles, but in doing so we’ll have a laugh right? Right?….
So for my first outing in Reel Gaming, I’m going to take you on a personal journey. As a kid my family and I would go on holiday to the seaside, mainly the seaside town of Ingoldmells (not too far from the more popular Skegness). There we would be made to go paddling in the brown, murky depths of the sea, watching as some questionable things floated on the surface, search the cheap markets for a bargain, or indulge in seaside food. My favourite times while away from home and all my games would be to visit the amusement arcades, because you know, you take the boy from his games by taking him to place with even more games! There I would come across one of my all-time favourite arcade games; Robocop. I always remember as a child going through the arcades, as the bright neon illuminations shone brightly into my eyes, screens flashing, inviting me to come spend my pocket money with them. Out of the blue, I was searching in one of the quieter arcades when I came across Robocop.
Robocop was made by Data East in 1988 and first impressions are still pretty impressive. The game invites you to insert your coins as a demo of the game is being played with quick flashes of the leaderboard and shots of Robocop are shown on screen. Upon hitting start, you are greeted with an extremely short story overview before you’re thrust into the game.
The controls are simple, left and right controlling the direction of Robocop, with two other buttons for attacking and jumping. Robocop has the ability to shoot both left and right, but also diagonally and straight up in the air. The gameplay is akin to that of a side scrolling beat-em-up, with you initially starting out with no weapons having to punch your way through wave after wave of enemies. As you scroll to the right on screen, enemies will try to attack you from all directions. The enemies range from standard thugs, bikers, chainsaw wielding thugs (remember those from Robocop?) with bigger end stage bosses with the likes of ED-209. There are plenty of alternate weapons to collect throughout the game, making Robocop’s arsenal even more destructive than his iconic Auto 9 pistol from the movies. These power ups include spread shots that will shoot bullets in three directions, making it easier to dispatch enemies from all directions, although for precision targeting it makes it a pain to shoot in the angle that you want to. There is a more powerful one shot kill power up that acts like a laser gun. One of the other pick-ups in the game includes the cobra assault canon, (state of the art. Bang bang!), which can be used to blast away multiple enemies on screen in one go. Throughout the game, on the rarest of occasions you come across baby food, which is used to increase your power, or life in the game. These aren’t given to you generously and you have to pick them up as and when you see them or be doomed to continue feeding the machine with money to continue. Consider it a very early version of pay to play, only these games were actually enjoyable.
The gameplay itself is very fun, with multiple enemies on screen at all times, making for some quick reflexes and skills required to get further into the game. One of the main things about Robocop is its difficulty. It is extremely difficult, which of course makes perfect sense for this type of game. It’s an arcade game, they want you to put as much money into it as possible. They’re forcing you to put more money in after you died because you have to see what’s next. However this doesn’t mean that the game is annoying, quite the opposite, as you’ll find that you want to go back time and time again and try to figure out patterns in the way that the enemies approach you and trying to get the timing down correctly. During the game you’ll visit many areas including the streets of old Detroit, abandoned warehouses, scrap yards, and the OCP building from the movie. Once every so often you get a bonus level, which they have tried to tie into the scene where Robocop is in the shooting range. Here you must try to shoot as many targets as possible before the timer runs out, trying to earn bigger bonuses towards your score. This is all done in a first person perspective and actually works surprisingly well, again requiring great skill to pull off a perfect round. This never happened for me because, well, I sucked at it. I don’t think I ever once got to the bonus round before dying a death and running out of coins to put in the arcade machine.
Visuals are pretty impressive; with a lot of foreground / background stuff going on that seamlessly create greater depth to the environments. Foreground environments are detailed with fake store branding, the “Future has a silver lining” billboard from the attempted rape scene in Robocop makes an appearance, cleverly offsetting the bleakness of what’s going on around you with its message of prosperity and happiness. Robocop is well detailed too, as are the enemies, with the massive hulk of a machine in ED-209 coming across as faithful to his movie counterpart. The one little thing that does annoy me though is the way that Robocop walks. Everyone else has a natural walking animation, but Robocop just looks like he’s strutting down the dank alleys of old Detroit without a care in the world…Actually come to think of it, that’s a plus, disregard that last sentence.
The soundtrack is one of the main things about the game that stood out for me when I first played it. The main theme of Robocop as well as other tracks from the movies score are here in a midi arrangement, but manages to stay extremely faithful to the original material. Not only do you get arrangements of the soundtrack, but you also get sound bites from the film. Hearing Robocop saying lines from the film such as “Drop it!” and “Your move creep” is still pretty great, especially as they took lines from the film to give it that more authentic Robocop feel. Of course this wouldn’t be a true representation of Robocop without one thing. At the end of every level after defeating the stage boss, Robocop does the iconic gun twirl before slotting his gun in his leg while proudly announcing “Thank you for your cooperation” As a kid this made me smile like an idiot. 20+ years later and it still makes me grin like an idiot.
Unlike most film tie in games, Robocop actually feels like a labour of love. Data East have gone out of their way to give you that authentic Robocop feel and with technology being somewhat limited at the time have done a fantastic job at giving you that true movie feel whilst still making a very fun, albeit difficult game to play. Subtle things give the game a more authentic feel such as Robocop’s leg opening to grab his gun, with the original sound effects from the film. With the brilliant take on the soundtrack, detailed visuals, with some really fun game play, maybe if you can find it in one of the older seaside amusement arcades, gathering dust in the corner, i’d say give it a try. Its simplistic controls and fun game play is the exact reason I kept pumping coins into the game. That and I hold a ridiculous sentimental value of Robocop the film *insert obvious Robocop movie quote here*
Robocop is available in every 80s amusement arcade and…other places too….
Reel Gaming isn’t just about movie tie-in games that hold sentimental value to myself, but to you guys as well. I’d like to know if there’s anything I should play, either because they’re awesome, or you’re still going through some form of therapy due to the anguish you felt after playing said abysmal title. Let me know in the comments below if there’s anything I’m missing out on, or if you’ve played the same game, let me know what you think.