Sunday, 02 April 2006
"The artists on [Robocop vs. Terminator] couldn't deal well with the limits of the NES so it looks very bad and the designer was a recently promoted play-tester and he didn't really know what he was doing. My attitude was that I would pretty much do what I was told (since I was doing it as a contract) and so I didn't push any design issues. [...] It was a very, very bad game."
The words of game designer Gregg Tavarez go a long way in explaining why the NES game Terminator vs. Robocop never made it out of the starting gate back in the early 90s. Despite being slated for a 1993 release alongside its SNES counterpart, the NES version of RvsT bit the dust early on and has since become a largely forgotten part of video game history. In retrospect, the project seemed doomed from the very beginning; Interplay continued production of the game despite realising its poor quality would prohibit it from being released in the U.S., where it would be torn apart by every video game player over the age of three. A European release thus became the primary goal. However, the game would never hit store shelves on the other side of pond, either, and its very existence would lie in total obscurity for the rest of time...
...Well, that's the way it would have -- nay, should have -- ended, if there were a just and loving God on this Earth. For you see, this would not be the last we'd hear of Robocop vs. Terminator, thanks to the advent of personal computers and, more specifically, video game emulation during the mid-90s. (Video game purists will now cringe at the very mention of the word.) Through a strange twist of fate, Robocop vs. Terminator would become the very first unreleased NES game to be made available to the public via emulation. Now here's where I always lose track of the plot; why would anyone in their right mind want to unbury RvsT from the stinking pile of feces it no doubt crawled out from (birds of a feather flock together, you see) and unleash this unholy mess upon the innocent game players of the world? Unlike the mysterious California Raisins: The Grape Escape, which went unreleased for reasons unknown, playing RvsT leaves little doubt as to why it suffered such an early demise; this game blows chunks. And lots of them.
Unfortunately, a copy of the RvsT rom recently wriggled its way into the Retro-Playback offices and, being the curious bastard that I am, I couldn't resist loading it up. While the SNES version of Robocop vs. Terminator sported excellent graphics and gameplay to match, the NES port suffers terribly at the hands of a dreadful, half-assed presentation that fails on almost every level. Granted, this is a pre-release prototype and as such, a fair amount of glitches and the like are to be expected, but even the core gameplay is terrifyingly lame. I've yet to figure out just what the hell the first stage is supposed to be -- is this garbled mess a junkyard? If so, how do you explain the huge vats of acid that magically pop up every three feet or so to assure your sudden and inescapable death if you happen to fall off one of the platforms? (Which happens frighteningly often, I'm afraid, since Robocop walks about as fast as my aunt Petunia and has just as much trouble jumping.)
If you manage to get past the poor level design and god-awful controls, you'll begin to wonder just who the hell you're fighting against. Apparently, junkyards in Old Detroit are patrolled night and day by an army of brown-clad, machine gun-wielding women? Mustering enough patience to actually play through the first level and mowing down all the broads treats players to a boss battle with the T-800 -- Ah-nold himself, albeit sans those beautiful blue eyes of his. (In case you haven't quite made the connection, there's the little sucker right up there.) 'Not exactly the scariest thing on two feet, if you ask me. Sure, at the time the Nintendo Entertainment System was an aging console and was definitely being outclassed by the newer, more advanced SNES -- but the NES had seen its share of great games such as Battletoads, Super Mario Bros. 3, and TMNT III: The Manhattan Project, all of which sported awesome graphics and superb character sprites. This tiny little thing looks like it should be crawling across the sewer in Ultra Games' Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (Ugh.)
The rom's only redeeming quality? A little while after the first stage, bad header info corrupts the rom file and the whole damn thing suffers an appropriately painful death, complete with plenty of scrambled sprites and a gloriously haunting screech, to boot. Thank God for small miracles.