Retro Game Review: “RoboCop” (NES, 80s August Special)

Welcome back to 80s August, The Splintering’s month-long celebration of the greatest decade since the breakup of Pangea!

Since the original RoboCop film was released in July 1987, that makes this year an anniversary of sorts. To celebrate, we’re going to pick apart RoboCop for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Published by Data East in 1989, RoboCop is for NES is based on the 2D arcade action game based on the hit science fiction action movie by Orion Pictures. How does RoboCop fare in an era where video games based on movies are still viewed with suspicion?

“Stay out of trouble.”

The game follows the story of the movie fairly well. You play as Alex Murphy, the once street cop turned cybernetic RoboCop intent on protecting the streets of Old Detroit from crime. Well, six stages of the city, anyway….

Getting around Detroit seems to be a tough chore for ol’ Robo. Even for a cyborg outfitted with steel armor, RoboCop himself is remarkably stiff. Not only that, but he cannot jump, either, which sometimes makes maneuvering around the stages difficult.

At least you have your trusty, fully automatic pistol, right? Sort of. RoboCop can only access his gun at prescribed moments in each stage where he draws it automatically. These areas are the most fun, as Robo can shoot in eight directions to take out criminal scumbags from afar. You can also pick up some slick, limited use weapon upgrades along the way, which helps.

That fella in the window is definitely tired of breathing

Outside of these moments, you’re forced to rely on RoboCop’s hand-to-hand skills to take down the worst Detroit can throw at you, which kinda sucks (no other word for it). Fortunately, many enemies are also limited to their fists, but why a normal guy punching RoboCop causes any kind of damage is beyond me. (Because video games, I know)

While you can’t jump, you can block using the select button. I found mastering the block to be key in surviving some of the rougher moments, though it would have made things easier if there was a better control scheme (maybe “up” to block?) There are also staircases to contend with, and by “contend with”, I mean frustratingly line yourself up at a perfect, pixel-precise point or you won’t be able to scale them. Pretty standard 8-bit fare in that regard, but it was annoying then, and it’s even more annoying now, especially when you’re fighting a time limit.

Not the time for slacking off, Robo! Shoot that guy in the face!

“You have twenty seconds to comply.”

That’s right, every stage has a time limit, too, which becomes especially difficult to contend with in the later stages. Sometimes you’ll feel like you have to skip on the exploring or grabbing out-of-the-way upgrades just to save a few seconds, though there are a handful of shortcuts that will shave some time off the clock. Time limits… more standard 8-bit fare that I don’t miss.

The enemies range from hand-to-hand fighters, snipers in windows, motorcycle riders, and eventually some out-of-place, high tech enemies later in the game. Many of the enemies are fast and hard to hit, especially the attack dogs, but the ones that animate do so fairly expressively, more so that RoboCop does, anyway. Of course, there’s plenty of traps to avoid or destroy, too.

RoboCop stands at attention for the flag… and shoots criminals in the face!

While not all of the boss fights are memorable, there were a few stand-outs. You fight the ED-209 twice, and while I didn’t find these battles to be particularly difficult, he looks cool and is honestly pretty big for an NES game. Another well-executed boss fight is the hostage taker in city hall (much like the movie), where Robo has to time his shots to take down the assailant without hitting the hostage. It’s a bit odd that this same mechanic wasn’t repeated for the final battle with Dick Jones, though.

Following every couple of stages, there are shooting gallery-esque bonus stages, which may help you blow off some steam after a rougher boss fight. There are also cinematic interludes that keep players in the know on the plot, if you haven’t seen the movie (If you haven’t, you should absolutely watch the first RoboCop movie. It’s a nearly perfect film). These might be quaint by modern standards, but they were certainly cool in the 80s.

I’d buy THAT GUN for a dollar, know what I’m sayin’?

“Bitches, leave.”

RoboCop isn’t a terrible looking NES game, but there’s not much to crow about, either. The joke may be old at this point, but RoboCop himself really does look like a blue skeleton. I know the NES didn’t have a remarkable color palette, but why not go with some kind of gray tone to make him look like the actual character?

The stages themselves look okay for an 8-bit game, but certainly nothing remarkable. There is some decent variety, at least, though I could have done without the conveyor belt segment in the final stage (where you are forced to endure a long series of oil barrels on a surface that is continually pushing you backwards).

Oddly, every stage plays the exact same music track. While the RoboCop movie theme is truly a classic, a twenty-second loop of it endlessly squeezed through the NES sound chip starts to grate on the ears and the patience. The home version is missing the voices of the Data East arcade game, too. This isn’t all that surprising, but it’s definitely a noticeable downgrade for those of us who played the arcade original at our local Putt-Putt mini golf.

See! They made the ED-209 gray! Why not Robo?

“I’d buy that for a dollar…?”

As much as I love RoboCop (the movie and the character), I have to admit that the NES game is strictly for RoboCop fans, and strong ones at that. Between the overbearing time limit, the aggravating stair-climbing controls, the lackluster visuals and the repetitive sounds, RoboCop’s flaws simply pile up too high to recommend the game to most gaming enthusiasts.

It’s a cheap pickup though, with loose copies on eBay regularly selling for less than ten bucks. So if you’re still interested in a clunky stroll through Old Detroit, there are plenty of RoboCop cartridges out there waiting to find a new home.

Part Man, Part Machine, All Game, Mostly Crap

Thanks for reading!

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