Lethal Enforcers is such an obvious spawn of 70’s – 80’s’s crime drama cinema that I remember standing in the arcade, looking at the cabinet for the first time, and thinking “It’s about time!” The first scene in the game is the robbery of a bank that looks exactly like the one from Heat – though, to be fair, I suppose all banks really look the same. Regardless, I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been standing in line, looking around at all the glass and places to hide, and drifted off into their own little mental action sequence. At least someone at Konami did.
So if you’ve seen a Dirty Harry or Lethal Weapon movie ever – any one of them will do – then you know what to expect from this game. LE has you playing a detective of some sort, though you ultimately cause more homicides than you solve. You’re either tracking down an organized crime syndicate, or responding to a large number of coincidences; take your pick. However you want to explain it, you’ll be standing with a .38 special in middle of a bank robbery, airport hijacking, drug bust, etc.
Your enemies mostly come in either “stiff grey suit”, “ski mask”, or “bulky coat and sunglasses” varieties (all Konami employees, as I recall). They appear from strategic places about the level; such as behind the teller counter, from the doorway, around the corner, and take potshots at you. You have infinite ammo with which to dispatch them, and can occasionally find improved weapons to pick up and increase your chances of dispensing justice. You are to shoot anyone who brandishes a gun and announces their presence with “You Can’t Shoot Me!”, and not to shoot anyone who has no gun and says “Helllpp Meeee!” Proper justice dispensing will earn you promotions at the end of each level, along with the expected demotions for killing innocents.
I’m fairly to almost certain that another company besides Konami had made a video training system to sell to police departments before this game came out. The officer would stand in front of a screen, get a piece of video setting up the situation, and would shoot or not shoot. I know it existed, I know it used lightguns, I’m just not sure if it was before or after LE. Either way, a modern-day update to the FBI’s Hogan’s Alley only made good sense, and Lethal Enforcers is sort of the amped-up commercial version of that.
That’s the arcade version anyway, and the Genesis port retains the same ideas. Except that somehow, in the transition from arcade to home system, somebody made a stink about the violence in the game. I remember this clearly, as it was right when Sega started their voluntary rating system, and this was one of (maybe even the) first MA-17 games. All because the people you shot were digitized photographs of Konami USA employees playing dress-up.
Therefore, censorship in the home systems abounds, and plays out in the usual manner. Nintendo caved. Sega put up a bit more of a fight. Still, the list of differences between the Genesis port and the arcade is long and not particularly distinguished. In the arcade, bad guys you shot would run through a couple frames where they flung themselves around in reaction to getting hit, before freezing and blinking out of the game. In the Genesis, these have been culled to only the last frame of this reaction before they disappear – certainly to save space, and to save violence.
This is still better than the SNES, which has no reaction frames, just the blinking, certainly for censorship reasons. I guess that having people simply blink when shot makes them more like the pop-up targets that they, for all practical reasons, are in this game. The women robbers have been removed, because everyone knows shooting ladies isn’t nice. You’ll still get a bloody bullet hole when you’ve get hit, suggesting you’ve been shot through the screen, but the hit effects on bad guys are far less red, and less suggestive of blood.
For various technical or lazy reasons, the Genesis port doesn’t show bullet holes in the environment, or features a single pane of glass anywhere in the game. I must admit being quite bummed about the lack of glass to shoot out, which made for satisfying mayhem in the arcade. The arcade villains would duck back behind the cover they came from if you shot near them without hitting them. In the Genesis, they simply pop out and stand with guns pointed for really awkward lengths of time before getting shot, or shooting you. The appearance and number of enemies seems noticeably less hectic than in the arcade, and certainly less varied. Part of the fun was having a bad guy appear in a totally unexpected place, which often required a specific bad guy photo to pose into that area. It seems to save space, the Genesis port went with less photos.
The resolution of every texture from the arcade took a dive on the conversion, far more than expected, probably because they’re digital photos and the lack of expected detail becomes more noticeable. The contrast also gets a little flaky, with black suited goons becoming harder to pick out from the background than they should be. As I mentioned before, the backgrounds in the port are completely uninteractive. They are, otherwise, faithful reproductions of the locations in the arcade game, and no screen has been left out, including the hectic car chases. Though I would love to know how you can fit six gunmen in a two-seater T-Bird. I guess when you’re being chased by the cops, a lot of things become possible.
Your options for controls are the joypad, or Konami’s customized lightgun – the Justifier – created specifically for the home version and molded after the revolvers attached to the arcade cabinet. If you bought LE when it came out, the Justifier came packaged with it, which I also recall made the damn thing around $80. Finding one now should be a fair task. I have also yet to see a Genesis emulator that mimics the Justifier, maybe because its just obscure enough to not be worth the trouble, but all this means you’re probably going to be looking at the joypad controls. And oh, what “fun” you’ll have…
I’m of the mind that you simply can’t win when trying to make a lightgun game work with pad controls, and LE certainly helps prove my point. Like a good tennis player, the game will lure you over to one end of the screen, then pop a bad guy up on the extreme opposite. Your little cursor will march over valiantly while you get shot by the firing squad of bad guys that has appeared over the time it takes to move. As if to compensate for this, the timing of the enemies has certainly been slowed compared to the arcade version. I already talked about how they stand in place for uncommon lengths of time, but there are also fewer enemies on the screen at one time, and they seem pretty slow to appear overall. You also get the C button to reload immediately, instead of having to shoot the little speedloader icon on the cabinet in the arcade.
Sound is pretty average for an arcade port. The digital voices made it, at the cost of sounding softer and muffled. The music made it, or at least the MIDI replications of it. As an interesting note, and probably why I won’t review it separately, the ONLY difference between this version and the Sega CD one is the background music. It’s flashier than even the arcade music, but better for sure than the Genesis proper. Otherwise, it looks like the CD version uses the Genesis port in its entirety, which is hardly uncommon. But back to the Genesis, about the only thing done better than expected is the various sounds for the weapons. Throughout the game you can shoot glowing weapons that will give various benefits over your standard six-shooter, like a magnum to shoot through things, or a shotgun to get a wider shot area. The effects for all of these sound quite meaty, especially the shotgun and machine gun. The exception is the .38 default gun, with its little “pew pew” shots. Though to be fair, I remember it sounding like a cap gun in the arcade as well.
Lethal Enforcers wasn’t the first lightgun game, but its main distinctions are the use of digitized actors and locations, and its rockin’ cop-movie feel. It’s a game just obvious enough to have only been a matter of time before it, or something like it, was made, but it certainly did much to influence lightgun games to follow. And did I mention it was one of my favorite arcade games? As for the Genesis port, well, it’s Lethal Enforcers in your own home if you can’t imagine buying a cabinet, or won’t deal with MAME. It falls far short of the arcade, though the pain is lessened somewhat if you can rummage up a Justifier. And if censorship ain’t your thing, it’s a better choice than the SNES version.
All the fun of Lethal Enforcers, without the quarters.
Okay, not all the fun, but about as much as would fit one one of those little cartridges.