To celebrate the release of the dismal RoboCop (Padilha, 2014) on home media, June 3rd was declared “RoboCop Day” in the city of Detroit. While that movie wasn’t too impressive and had nothing on the original RoboCop (Verhoeven, 1987), this does give us the perfect excuse to talk, and celebrate, all things RoboCop on a specific day each year.
Developer: Data East
Also Available For: Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Game Boy, MSX, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), PC, Tandy Color Computer 3, ZX Spectrum
In 1987, director Paul Verhoeven brought us RoboCop, a delightfully over-the-top science-fiction action film punctuated by copious amounts of gore, strong performances by all involved, a kick-ass score that alternated between synthesised and orchestral music, a unique perspective on themes of masculinity and humanity, and a tongue-in-cheek analysis of corporations and the power of deceptive media. Produced on a budget of a mere $13 million, the film grossed over $50 million of that in the United States alone, making it the fourteenth-highest grossing movie of that year, and eventually made over $50 million worldwide.
This success, obviously, led to a number of sequels and spin-offs in other media and a slew of merchandising including comic books, action figures, and videogames. Ocean Software, a British software development company famous for purchasing the rights to make videogame adaptations of numerous film and television franchises, secured the RoboCop license and sub-licensed it to Data East, a Japanese developer known for creating arcade games, for the creation of a coin-op arcade adaptation of the sci-fi hit. Generally quite well-regarded amongst stiff arcade competition, the game’s various home console ports (also released by Ocean) received similarly-favourable reviews, with the game’s title theme later being licensed for use in a number of advertisements.
After police officer Alex Murphy is brutally gunned down, he is rebuilt by Omni-Consumer Products (OCP) as an unstoppable cybernetic cop and charged with bringing law and order to the streets of Detroit.
RoboCop is a 2D, sidescrolling action shoot-‘em-up in which players are cast in the role of Alex Murphy, now reborn as a cybernetic police officer and tasked with cleaning up the streets of Detroit and the corruption within OCP. If you’ve ever played a game with RoboCop as a playable character before, you probably won’t be too surprised to find that Robo is a sluggish, clunky character to play as. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some RoboCop but the guy doesn’t really make for the most dynamic playable character and games often struggle as a result of his inherent weight and awkwardness.
As a result, RoboCop plods along at a steady, but cumbersome pace, walloping thugs in the face and blasting at them with his iconic Auto 9, all while hopping around with one of the most unwieldy jumps in videogame history. Your choices for movement and attacking are extremely limited; RoboCop can go left or right, duck (though a lot of enemies shoot at you from above or from an angle, rendering this largely ineffectual), or awkwardly jump around the place and that’s about it. RoboCop is one of those videogame characters who also suffers a bit from the inherent need for him to have a health bar; realistically, RoboCop should be able to shrug off the small arms fire and melee attacks he has to endure in this game but, in an effort to keep kids dropping their change into the arcade cabinet, RoboCop’s health will whittle down pretty quickly thanks to an abundance of enemies, most of which run face-first into him or swarm the screen. To further drain your pocket of change, each of the game’s nine stages comes with a time limit; thankfully, the stages are quite short so this doesn’t really become an issue until the game’s later levels where the screen is filled with so many enemies and onscreen hazards that the frame rate slows to a crawl and you’ll find yourself dying every few steps.
Luckily, when you choose to continue, the game restarts you right where you fell, though this can lead to you quickly dying again soon after restarting as you can respawn right in the middle of a crossfire or at the feet of a boss. RoboCop can also replenish his health by finding jars of baby food sporadically throughout the game; these are few and far between, however, and you’ll generally take more damage (or die) trying to collect one and replenish your health. The damage you’ve taken carries over to the next stage, as well, for added cheapness but you can also replenish it by getting a decent high score in the handful of shooting range segments that mix up the gameplay.
As for the gameplay, it’s as basic as you could want; you simply guide RoboCop from the left to the right, or from the bottom to the top, taking out enemies, smashing crates, and battling a number of bosses as you go. There are also a couple of occasions where you’ll be dodging hazards, using elevators, or when enemies will take a hostage, similar to that iconic scene from the movie, and you must shoot quickly to rescue the victim.
Generally speaking, you’ll be taking out enemies with RoboCop’s piston-like punches but, about halfway through most stages (and, later, right from the start of some), RoboCop will pull out his Auto 9 and the game becomes decidedly more like Contra (Konami, 1987). Now, you can blast enemies from afar with infinite ammo or pick up other, limited ammunition to make short work of Detroit’s loathsome scum. Oddly, RoboCop can’t shoot through the numerous crates that block his way and it can be a little tricky to get the right angled shot but it’s a fantastic moment when RoboCop finally pulls out that gun and you can start blasting away!
The game isn’t especially difficult in the early going; as long as you’re quick to hit the attack button, you can take out most enemies before they drain your health away but, as you progress, more and more enemies and hazards begin to fill the screen, pretty much guaranteeing that you’re going to go down and have to put in another coin to continue. It’s a fun, action-packed game but there is a definite challenge there because of this; these days, thanks to emulators and ROMs, this isn’t really an issue and you can just continue as often as you like but the sheer number of enemies, hazards, and bullets can get frustrating and I can imagine kids wasting a lot of their money on this one back in the day.
Graphics and Sound:
RoboCop is a very attractive game with lots of big, expressive sprites and backgrounds. Oddly, unlike other RoboCop titles, Robo doesn’t have an idle animation, which is a bit of a shame, but he does dramatically pull out and holster his Auto 9 at various points; unfortunately, though, while RoboCop is a big and well-detailed sprite, he doesn’t really have too many frames of animation going on.
This is the same for most of the game’s enemies, too, who are quite generic and exist mainly to tick a box; while many are modelled after the thugs seen in the film, they’re largely indistinguishable from each other. However, the game’s environments are quite large, considering how short most of them are, and detailed, ranging from the streets of Detroit to a steel mill and construction yard to the futuristic offices of OCP itself.
A few static images are used to convey the game’s story, with a bit of text for good measure; it’s not much but it does the job and, as an added bonus, there’s even a couple of in-game cutscenes to advance the game’s plot and express the game’s ending. As you play, a fantastically catchy remix of Basil Poledouris’ iconic RoboCop theme plays pretty much non-stop; it is, thankfully, mixed up with a few other remixes of the film’s memorable tunes and never outstays its welcome. Even better, the game features numerous voice clips from the film to punctuate RoboCop’s war against crime and corruption and help to immerse yourself in the game’s simple, but entertaining, action.
Enemies and Bosses:
The streets of Detroit are filled with generic thugs and criminals, most of the them modelled after the gang seen in the movie; many of these will run face-first into you, causing you damage and killing themselves at the same time, or take shots at you from a distance or from windows above you.
You’ll also come up against a few more formidable enemies who toss grenades at you, wield chainsaws, drive at you on motorcycles, or buzz around in jetpacks. Some are armed with flamethrowers or the Cobra Assault Cannon and you’ll also have to contend with sentry guns and spider-like robots which fill the screen with bullets in the OCP building.
These thugs will pose a greater threat when they double up as end of stage bosses; you’ll battle them in an armoured van and in construction vehicles that swing a wrecking ball or pincer-like clamps to cause massive damage. Sadly, there’s no real showdown with Clarence Boddicker; you do grab one particular boss (which I assume is meant to be Clarence) and force him to take you to Dick Jones but you never get that chance to enact vengeance on Clarence in the same way as Robo does in the film.
By far the game’s most persistent boss is the unforgettable ED-209; this massive, tank-like machine greets you at the end of the first stage where it poses the first real challenge of the game but pales in comparison to the different-coloured variants you’ll encounter as you progress further. You’ll have to battle ED-209 five times in total (with one particular boss battle pitting you against two at the same time!) but, while ED-209’s attacks and aggression increases each time, the strategy remains the same: try your best to duck, jump, or stay away from ED-209’s shots and hit box and blast at its head until it is destroyed.
When you finally reach the top floor of the OCP building, you’ll have to contend with the final ED-209 and, afterwards, recreate the ending of the movie by shooting Dick Jones and rescuing “the President”. The context of the videogame changes this scene slightly, making it seem as though you’re rescuing a helpless authority figure from a corrupt businessman (or possibly even the President of the United States) and it offers very little challenge (especially compared to fighting ED-209) but its fidelity to the source material is admirable, regardless.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Unlike many arcade titles at the time, RoboCop is surprisingly lacking in its power-ups; they’re pretty much limited to a handful of health-restoring items and a few different types of ammo for your Auto 9. You’ll pick up a double shot and a spread shot to help you clear the screen of enemies and do additional damage to bosses; even better is the ability to pick up the Cobra Assault Cannon for maximum damage. Be wary, though, as all of this ammunition is limited (with the Cobra, especially, being severely limited), so you can’t just mindlessly blast away like you can with the regular ammo and you’ll also lose these power-ups if you die.
As an arcade game, the main aim of RoboCop (beyond completing the game) is to get your initials entered into the high score table, preferably at the top. Beyond this, there isn’t much else on offer here besides a turn-based two-player mode if you fancy playing alongside a friend.
RoboCop is a pretty simple, action-packing coin muncher of an arcade game. RoboCop is surprisingly fragile, dropping to his knees in the blink of an eye when faced with the game’s massive bosses or swarms of enemies, hazards, and bullets and, as always, he is a clunky and awkward character to play as. Yet, thanks to some large, detailed graphics, a catchy theme, and tight controls, there’s a lot to like about RoboCop. Taking inspiration from Contra was the right way to go as RoboCop excels when it is adapted into a run-and-gun shoot-‘em-up and, while these genres have been done better in other games and the movie might have benefitted from being an auto-scrolling first-person shooter rather than a sidescroller, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a fun way to spend an hour or so of your life.
Did you ever play RoboCop in an arcade? Which RoboCop videogame is your favourite? Would you like to see a new RoboCop game; if so, what genre do you think would best fit the source material? Which RoboCop movie is your favourite? How are you celebrating RoboCop Day today? Whatever you think about RoboCop, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.