Well, now that I have taken a look at Robocop on the big and small screen (in two parts) in my previous retrospective, to celebrate 35 years of the first RoboCop flick. I am now going to tackle the digital version of the character and look at Robocop in video games. From games directly based on the films, ones ‘inspired’ by the films and even some unofficial Robocop games that were better than the official ones. Well, I guess I’d better start at the very beginning. Oh yeah, an advanced thanks to any YouTubers and video creators that I link to for gameplay, all credit to them for the videos.
The first RoboCop game was based on the first film… funnily enough. Released in 1988 from Data East. This was actually a sub-license game between Data East and Ocean Software, with Ocean handling the home port versions, which I will cover later. Anyway, the arcade game was part beat ’em up, part shooter, all action (they should’ve used that as a tagline). Using the basics of the plot from the film as its backdrop (the game takes place in 1990 even though no year is mentioned in the film). Set over seven scrolling levels, with a couple of target practise stages thrown in for bonus points. You don’t even go after Clarence Boddicker and his henchmen, they’re not even in the game, just a brief mention of cop killers in the intro. You go after Dick Jones at OCP… while killing dozens and dozens of bad guys along the way.
I can even remember the first time I played this in the arcades. It was during a school trip to France and we were on the ferry crossing the English Channel. The ferry had a very small arcade with about 4 or 5 machines in it and RoboCop was one of them (it also had Operation Wolf, After Burner and P.O.W.: Prisoners of War). I had recently watched the film on VHS too as the home release of the film and the arcade game were both in November of 1988, though I think the France trip was early 1989, if I recall correctly. Anyway, the thing that impressed me about the game was its little intro that showed RoboCop pulling the gun from his leg. I remember telling my friends on the ferry at the time that it was just like the film, as they hadn’t seen it at that point. The speech samples, effects and even digitised images on the high score table were all taken from the film itself. and I recall being really impressed.
It played well too, hard as fuck mind you and I don’t think I ever got past the second level in the arcade. But on that ferry trip to France, I spent all my time in the small arcade and while some of my friends were throwing up due to seasickness, I was happily pouring 10ps into RoboCop. The return trip from France was crap though as it was a different ferry and it didn’t have RoboCop on it.
Later that year in 1989, RoboCop got various home ports from Ocean. These were a lot like the arcade version, but with a few added extras. My older brother had an Amiga 500 at the time, so that was the port that I played first. It was an okay port, playable if a little slower than the arcade version but with some added bonus stages like the photofit suspect thing and the first person ‘shoot the rapist’ bit from the film. Yeah, it was an okay port, not as good as what the Amiga was capable of at the time though. I believe the Amiga version was just a port of the Atari ST version, which is why it’s not as great as it could’ve been if it had been built for the Amiga from the ground up (sorry Atari ST fans, but it was an inferior machine).
There were several different ports for the home market. The ZX Spectrum version is a massive highlight. Graphically, it is very ‘Speccy’ of course. The music was awesome and used for a TV ad here in the UK. Gameplay-wise, it was amazing. It played a little differently from the arcade original and Atari ST/Amiga port. It had fewer levels but some of the levels were a bit more ‘open’ in that you could slightly explore them. It was a tough game though as it added limited ammo to your base weapon, so you had to be careful not to waste any shots. But the Speccy version was awesome and it stayed in the ZX Spectrum charts for a year and a half… that’s pretty impressive even now.
Other home ports included the Commodore 64, which apparently had a major bug in it as when you reach level 7, the game’s graphics are completely corrupt. The C64 port was also notoriously hard, to the point where it was pretty much impossible to play. It has been suggested that the game was made so damn hard as to put people off and stop them from reaching the very bugged level 7. I mean, look at it…
This version just was not finished properly and was farted out quickly to help with sales of the VHS. Even the loading screen on the C64 version advertised the video release of the film. A fixed version was released later though. Give this a click if you want to see the Commodore 64 version played through from start to end with no bugs. Also, just take in the high score table that the programmer included… I’m pretty sure that is some kind of indication that the game was forced out unfinished.
The NES version is also worth looking at, as it is very different. While it still has the basic scrolling, punch/shoot bad guys gameplay from the arcade, it’s a completely different title. All of the home ports were done by Ocean Software, except this one. RoboCop (NES) was a whole new game (not a port) built from the ground up, it was also developed by Data East themselves, who did the original arcade version. The NES game follows the film a bit closer than the other ports too as the levels are based on scenes from the movie such as City Hall, the warehouse drug den and the junkyard/factory. You even actually go after Clarence Boddicker, unlike the other versions where you just go after Dick Jones. The presentation is better too with a detailed intro of who RoboCop is and little cut scenes that vaguely follow the of of the film. A playthrough of the NES version is right here. There was a Game Boy version too and this one was more like the arcade original.
Of all of the various versions of RoboCop that I have played though, I think the arcade original was the best. It may have lacked some of the ideas and features that the home versions had and some of them may be arguably ‘better’, but the arcade game’s gameplay is just pure nostalgic fun. If I ever fancy a quick game, I’ll always go for the arcade original over any of the other ports. Even today, it still plays well
Oh yeah. Data East didn’t just make the arcade game, they also released a RoboCop pinball table in 1989. Now, I was never much of a pinball player. If I was in an arcade, I’d be much more inclined to be pouring my coins into the RoboCop arcade machine than the pinball one. I think pinball is fine, it’s just not my thing, so I never actually played this one to tell you what it was like. I did find the following description though:
“Robocop is a fun filled pinball with many appealing features. An exciting jump ramp shot which sends the ball flying through the air at the top of the playfield, spot targets, eject holes, multi-ball, captive ball, and a host of other pinball standards such as spinners, thumper bumpers, and roll overs all serve to keep play exciting. Couple that with voice call outs based on the movie sound track and a catchy musical theme that will keep you humming all day, and you will see why Robocop is a great playing and sounding pinball machine.”
Feel free to click on the header link to see this one being played too, thanks to tattyadams on YouTube. From what I have read though, this was a really good pinball table and those who’ve played it always seem to speak very fondly of it.
Much like the first game, RoboCop 2 from 1990 also had multiple versions for different platforms that were different games. The first one I ever played was the Amiga version though. Just speaking on a performance level, this was far, far superior to the Amiga version of the first game and showed what the machine was capable of. Bigger and more detailed graphics, faster gameplay and even a lot more interesting gameplay too. The basic scrolling, shoot bad guys gameplay from the first game was in the sequel, but it had been built on to add more depth. Platforming was included, having missions and sub-missions added to the gameplay and the levels were much more open and explorable.
There were only three levels to play, but they were pretty big levels that offered a layer of freedom. Intercut with digitised images from the film and bonus stages, RoboCop 2 on the Amiga was not a huge game at all. But then again, nor was the first arcade game. What you did get was a massive step up from the Amiga port of the first one and a title that showed how much better the port of the original game could’ve been, if it had been made specifically for the Amiga and not a port of the Atari ST version. Just for a comparison, here’s the Atari ST version of the same game and I think you’ll agree that it was ‘lacking’ when compared to the Amiga one.
The Commodore 64 version of RoboCop 2 was a mix of the first game and the second one. The levels were linear as with the first game, but it featured the nuke collecting and hostage rescuing from the other versions of RoboCop 2. I never played this one as we sold out C64 before 1990 to buy an Amiga. There was even a ZX Spectrum version and from what I can tell, it was pretty damn good too. This one was more like the Amiga and Atari ST games over the Commodore 64 one. Open and explorable levels and all that. For the Speccy in 1990, this was massively impressive and far better than its C64 counterpart.
Of course, there were NES and Game Boy RoboCop 2 games. The NES version was a far superior version, graphically and gameplay-wise, of the C64 game. As for the Game Boy’s take on RoboCop 2. In typical Game Boy fashion, it was a ‘chunkier’ version of the NES game. You know what I mean. Graphics that were too big that took up too much of the small handheld screen, which makes seeing what is going on a pain. A few changes to fit the game on the smaller carts, etc. All told, the Game Boy version wasn’t bad… not great either. Very typical Game Boy fare. All of these versions were developed by Ocean Software.
Data East, who developed the arcade version of the first game, also made an arcade RoboCop 2 that was released in 1991. Being an arcade game, of course it kicked some serious bum-cheeks. This one played more like a scrolling beat ’em up… with a gun, over the more shoot ’em up-like first game, even though you spend 90% of this game shooting. It followed the film pretty closely too and the action took place in locations that you’ll recognise if you are a fan of the film. Even the gang hideout with all the Data East arcade games. You can even smash up Data East games in this Data East game. The best part of that level is the fact that the RoboCop pinball makes a cameo appearance in the background. Aside from the usual side-scrolling stuff, there are third-person shooting and first-person vehicle sections. You could even play two-player co-op. Yes, two RoboCops!
The arcade version was shallow but satisfying stuff and great fun in two-player… even if it didn’t make any sense having two RoboCops. I mean… Lewis, why do all of these games forget that RoboCop had a kick-arse partner? I do suggest that you seek this one out though of all the various versions of RoboCop 2, this is the most fun and here’s a two-player playthrough for your eyes too. The Amiga and ZX Spectrum titles are also worth playing… the NES version if you really, really want to. The others… not so much.
Here we are again with very different games released on multiple different systems. I do kind of miss those days. Nowadays, if a film has a game released based on it, pretty much all platforms get the same game. Back then, you could have three different machines with three different games based on the same IP. Despite being the first version I played, I’m saving the Amiga game until last here… for a good reason too. So first, I’ll take a look at the 16-bit games and the SNES version.
The SNES version was released in 1992 and the film in 1993. Yup, the game was released before the film because (as mentioned in my film retrospective) RoboCop 3 had a delayed release due to the production studio going through bankruptcy. This one went back to the more linear and simple style of gameplay of the first film. Basic scrolling and shooting everything that moves. RoboCop 3 on the SNES followed the film pretty closely, it even had the bit where that annoying kid turned ED-209 ‘loyal as a puppy’. There were vertical scrolling shooter sections that used the jetpack from the film too. If there was one thing this game was known for, that would be its punishing difficulty. See, it was one of those ‘not very long, so let’s make it had hard as possible’ type games. It also was not very good and featured very uninspired gameplay.
There was a Mega Drive version too and it managed to both look better and worse than the SNES title. They both played pretty much the same though. Both basic and lazy shooters with stupid difficulty because it was a very short game. Neither of these 16-bit console games are really worth seeking out, they are just very okay at best.
Unbelievably, there were versions on the NES and Master System. I mean, these machines were pretty much obsolete by 1992/3 when the Robocop 3 games were released as the 16-bit consoles were taking over. First up, I’m going to take a look at the Master System game, even though it came out after the NES one. Anyway, RoboCop 3 on the Master System was a diluted version of its 16-bit brethren. Honestly, this was a better game than either the SNES or Mega Drive ones. Obviously, not as appealing visually, but it just played so much better. This is still not a great game but I would pick it over either of the 16-bit renditions.
The NES game was very different though. Still with the basic scrolling and shooting thing, of course, but now with that very distinct NES look and feel. The NES version was even shorter than the others, you had to repeat one level twice… so it is far shorter than it first seems. No vertical shooting sections here but you do get a horizontal jetpack level. The version also had you having to repair RoboCop between levels, which isn’t in the other games. Overall, this RoboCop 3 was very NES, you’ll know exactly what I mean if you play it. There was a Game Gear RoboCop 3 too, this was just the Master System version on a smaller screen.
Even more unbelievably that there were NES and Master System RoboCop 3 games… there were Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum ones too. The C64 game was pretty good, for the time anyway. A mix of first-person shooter, scrolling and jetpack levels, oh and the repairing thing from the NES game. Seriously, for the Commodore 64, this was really bloody good and it kind of embarrasses the 16-bit versions when it comes to gameplay, especially on a far inferior and even more redundant machine. The ZX Spectrum version was a lesser game than the C64 one but they were pretty much the same thing.
And now that all of those versions of RoboCop 3 are out of the way, I can talk about the Amiga version (also released on the Atari ST and DOS) because honestly, it was pretty damn bold and impressive. You don’t get a bog-standard scrolling shooter as with all of the 8 and 16-bit games. Oh no, you got something that pushed exactly what the Amiga could do. This game was developed as the film was being made, with the idea to release both at the same time. However, the producers of the film were not exactly forthcoming with details of the film (did they already know how shit it was?) for the devs of the game to follow. Aside from some behind-the-scenes stills, storyboards and vague plot details, the game devs had very little to work with and they had to make a lot of stuff up. So while this is based on RoboCop 3 the film… it kind of isn’t at the same time.
Anyway, RoboCop 3 on the Amiga was far and away from the scrolling arcade shooters of the other versions. This was a 3D action game with multiple, various gameplay styles. Look here’s a playthrough for you to watch that would save me a lot of time and effort describing… but I’m still going to do just that anyway. So there were two modes to pick from Movie Adventure and Arcade Action. Arcade Action let you play any of the game’s levels in any order as one-off missions. Movie Adventure, you still had the same levels and now you followed the basic plot of the film. Also, what you did on those missions would affect the others and the game gave you choices to make too.
The various gameplay styles included a Chase H.Q.-like driving section where you would have to ram the bad guys (why RoboCop didn’t use his gun, I have no idea). First-person shooter levels where you had to kill enemies and try not to shoot the hostages. A jetpack flying stage and even a bit of a beat ’em up type thing was thrown in too. The driving sections took place in a semi-open world environment giving you the freedom to drive anywhere you wanted. The first-person shooter bits were very maze-like and had you killing splatterpunks (seriously, that was the best name they could come up with?) whilst not shooting hostages and trying to save Lewis in one level, or escaping into the sewers and even tracking down McDaggett in the motel, just like in the film. The jetpack level was like a stripped-back flight sim (the game’s engine was a modified version of the same one used for F29 Retaliator, same devs too). Then the final level was a kind of a 3D beat ’em up bit where you had to take out the ninja robot from the film… and it was utter arse, easily the worst part of the game. Still, it was only that ninja section that was a letdown as everything else was pretty damn great.
The fact that the game used 3D polygons (with some sprites) meant that you could change the camera and while most of the other views were pretty pointless, looking left or right when in the car was awesome as you got a good look at RoboCop. The scenes between the levels were pretty impressive too and while not using digitised images from the film (because of the film studio’s secrecy) the devs put their own spin on them and did a great job too.
Seriously, this game was far better than it honestly had any right to be. Don’t get me wrong, now in 2022, RoboCop 3 has not aged well at all and you’d probably be better off playing one of the other versions. But in 1991 when it was released? RoboCop 3 on the Amiga was unbelievable. Developed by Digital Image Design, they did a phenomenal job with everything, especially when you consider that the film studio were being top secret with a lot of the details of the film. RoboCop 3 on the Amiga was groundbreaking, pushing 3D gaming and it certainly offered the player an amazing experience, especially when compared to the other versions of the game on other machines at the time. But the main reason I wanted to talk about this version was for its now-infamous copy protection. Oh man, how I love this story.
See, back then, software piracy was rife and studios were always trying to come up with new ideas of how to stop pirates from copying their games. Ocean, who published RoboCop 3 on the Amiga, had an unbeatable copy protection, so they claimed. Before the game’s release, they made several boasts in various gaming magazines about how their new copy protection just could not be cracked. Ocean claimed that their new way to beat the pirates had 50 separate layers of protection and that they gave RoboCop 3 to one of their programmers and asked them to crack it… they couldn’t. Even with a two-week time frame, they only managed to crack one layer of the protection. This thing really was uncrackable So how did this copy protection work? Well…
Now, I am not the most tech-savvy person around, so this is how I understand the copy protection from my point of view. RoboCop 3 came with a physical electronic key, a dongle that you had to put into the second joystick port. The dongle would run a series of checks to ensure that the game you were playing was a legit copy. If you didn’t have the dongle because you had gotten hold of a pirated copy (or even if you had a genuine copy and no dongle), then the game just would not load.
Now, the thing about the Amiga was that it had a very dedicated and (obviously) underground legion of crackers all over Europe. The Amiga piracy scene was massive in the 90s and there was a network of crackers who had set up their own little groups that would copy and send out games all over the place. One such group was called Fairlight and if you were a big Amiga fan back then, that name (and the following picture) will spark off a wave of nostalgic memories. Now, at this point in the story, I really would be no surprise if I told you that Fairlight cracked RoboCop 3. What is a surprise is how quickly they did it.
Bearing in mind that Ocean said it was impossible, that they had given the job of cracking the game to a professional programmer and they could only break one of the 50 levels in two weeks. So then, how long did it take Fairlight to crack the game, a couple of weeks, months, a year? Nope, it took them five hours. I’m not going to go into details of just how the dongle worked and how Fairlight cracked it because, as I said, I’m not the most tech-savvy person… but five hours to crack an uncrackable game. After that five hours of cracking and within 24 hours of the game being cracked, copies were being sent all over Europe to Amiga fans, who would copy it themselves and so on. Oh, and this was before the game was even officially released too. By the time RoboCop 3 hit shop shelves, it was already in the hands of and being played by many Amiga owners all over Europe.
The funny thing is that if Ocean had not made such a big deal about this copy protection, then the crackers most probably wouldn’t have taken it on in such a big way. I’m not saying that RoboCop 3 would never have been cracked, of course it would’ve… eventually. But I don’t think the crackers would’ve seen it as a challenge and perhaps it would’ve taken longer than five hours, maybe six? Ocean kind of screwed themselves in that regard and they should’ve just released the game without all the bluster over their unbeatable copy protection.
After that lengthy look at the first slew of RoboCop games and a little history of RoboCop 3 on the Amiga., I’ll take a break here and split this article into two, as there are still are quite a few more titles that I want to take a look at in the next part.