I really enjoyed Data East’s original RoboCop arcade game. Apparently, so did everyone else, because it set the standard for every RoboCop side-scroller to follow. There was its assorted ports, an arcade sequel, and even a successful spin-off, so when the third movie came rolling around, there was no reason for this train to change course. I found this game after getting nostalgic for the arcade original, and as is my luck, stumbled upon one of the most pointlessly difficult games ever made.
RoboCop 3 has no arcade counterpart, but it’s still a clear continuation of Data East’s original style. Robo thunks along slowly down Detroit streets, snipers plink at him from windows, and various weapon pickups – including the famous 3-way spreader – can be collected and armed. The first two stages could easily slot into either of the previous arcade games, which actually could be a good thing. The arcade games were fun, and at a minimum, there’s no reason to change the formula for the worse.
Ocean did exactly that.
The first confounding change is that every gun has a limited ammo supply, including your default pistol. Ammo pickups only load the gun selected, so running out of bullets is a very real possibility. Especially if you’ve gotten used to spraying lead ahead of you to catch enemies appearing as the screen scrolls. These are all automatic weapons too, so you have to fanatically ration your button taps and make shots count, doubly so when compared to other platformers. Run out of ammo and you’re stuck with your weak robo punch and a ticket to an early grave.
Next, there are no checkpoints. Not a single one, even before a boss fight. If you die, you’re back to the beginning of that level. The levels themselves are a fairly standard length, but the challenges within them make the prospect of fighting through them again pretty crippling. This is especially nasty when you get to the main bosses (the Japanese cyborgs in the final two levels), and find your weapons taken away. You’ve got to punch them to death, while dodging their acrobatic leaps and lethal kitana strikes. Lose your health and it’s all the way back to the start of the level.
Third, you can destroy your own powerups. What kind of twisted shit is this? Plenty of times I was crouching to hit an enemy and watched as the extra bullets passed through him and detonated a bouncing health icon. Or there were the times I was standing on a box and the downward-angled spray of the 3-way gun took out a waiting ammo icon. Again, I guess it’s supposed to force you to conserve your shots, but Jesus Pete… Someone on the staff was taking real issue with the thought of anyone beating his game in a way he didn’t specifically endorse.
Finally, just like the previous games in the series, touching enemies is the most damaging attack in the entire game. Sustained physical contact with anything rips through your health like acid, so you’ll have to prioritize charging enemies or chainsaw robots. That’s fine, except it’s taken to extremes here. The motorcycle gangsters are back, but even if you kill them, the passing cycle will slice through and likely kill you. You can’t punch it to destroy it like before, so you have to pop the rider and leap (Robo’s made of metal, you know) over the careening hog.
It gets worse, as touching any enemy causes the same amount of damage. Tiny rats in the cathedral level cause just as much damage as chainsaws and errant bikes (Robo’s made of metal, you know). There’s a particular sequence atop an elevator where flying robots attack from both sides, slicing through you before you can land enough shots to down them. You’ll have to waste a lot of that precious ammo on predictive shots to stay alive, which increases your chance of having no ammo left. It’s a perfect vicious cycle.
Levels 3 and 5 have you strap on the jetpack introduced in the movie and take to the skies. A little bit of scaling sets up the level, then it’s pure vertical shooter against an airspace crowded with mines, missiles, and attack choppers. Robo’s nimble enough, and there’s certainly enough gaps to fit through, but you can destroy your own powerups here too. So if you’re used to peppering the screen with concentrated fire, be ready to watch your scarce health pickups get vaporized, followed shortly by you. And while these levels might add variety in a longer game, I don’t feel they do much here to increase the player’s interest. I can take ’em or leave ’em.
All this is probably meant to cover up that the game only has five levels. If you make those five levels incredibly difficult, well then there’s some replay value as players keep stubbornly trying to prove they don’t suck as gamers! Even with some Game Genie codes, I was only able to bludgeon my way to the third level, so my hat is off to one of the few people who actually beat it. Judging by his videos, a Castlevania-like level, another flying level, a boss fight I want no part of, and a lame ending screen look like nothing I can recommend to anyone.
The biggest disappointment is that the art isn’t that bad, and the controls work perfectly well, so there’s no reason for this game to turn out like it did. Still, even if it worked flawlessly, five platform levels would only be worth a rental. Maybe that (and the notoriously short “movie game” development time) sapped any interest they had in making the arcade formula shine as a full-priced home title.
So, there you go. RoboCop 3 is a shoddy movie tie-in, and is not worth your time – but you already knew that.
Graphics aren’t bad. Good work on the audio side, from Robo’s footsteps to decent music.
No checkpoints, limited ammo, can destroy your own powerups, five meager levels.