The good, the bad, and the soul-crushing.
Let’s get the most disappointing thing out of the way first: Dick Tracy for the NES is based on the 1990 Disney movie of the same name. Some of you are saying, “duh” here, and I weep for you, as apparently you are unfamiliar with the comic strip source material. Yes, Dick Tracy the comic strip featured hardboiled detective Dick Tracy hunting down the likes of Flattop Jones and Big Boy Caprice, it also featured a Dick Tracy that had a literal arsenal of sci-fi gadgets. And then Tracy became chief of police. On the moon. And then Dick Tracy Jr. married Moon Maid, who had a daughter named Honey Moon Tracy, who had magnetic hands.
Screw this Madonna crap, I want a game where you cycle through different Tracy family members and their amazing skills and battle crime on the moon. Only Honey Moon can slide across the ceiling using her marvelous magnetic powers! Game of the year!
Dick Tracy also had a sidekick called Groovy Grove at one time. Groovy’s mortal enemy was Dick Tracy’s 70’s moustache, and he eventually defeated his furry foe by tackling Tracy and shaving the thing off. Gentle reader, there’s an entire world of better Dick Tracy media out there, and it’s up to you to find it.
Also, don’t get me started on the print media nirvana that is The Jumbler.
Realtime Associates really tried to do something interesting with this game, rather than create yet another rote platformer based on a popular movie property. Dick Tracy plays like a real noir detective adventure. Tracy is taunted by villains, tempted by dames, and harassed by the chief, all before hopping into the Dickmobile to explore the city looking for clues. Evidence leads to more evidence, and then, finally, Dick Tracy busts the responsible crook. Rinse, lather, repeat for five stages, and, gee, I wonder if
Dr. Wily Big Boy is the felon of the final stage?
Dick Tracy is also bound by being a good cop, so the player has to play along with all the “rules”. Tracy starts with a pistol, and you can find a tommy gun and screen-clearing tear gas, but you are forbidden from using anything lethal on unarmed men. There’s a super powered punch powerup that is fun to play with, but you better holster that gun when fisticuffs will do, because you actively lose health for every unarmed palooka you gun down. Maybe Dick Tracy wasn’t the game to make a statement about proper usage of weaponry in video games, but it does prevent the game from becoming just another Contra.
It’s the tale of a benevolent detective in a city riddled with crime. What could possibly go wrong?
Tracy is in a city infested with criminals, and all he has is his fists, a pistol, his car, and, most importantly, ten slivers of health and zero extra lives. This is significant, as Dick Tracy is going to die a lot, oftentimes while just trying to parallel park, and then it’s back to the title screen, followed by possibly the first aggravating, unskippable cutscene in video game history, and then it’s back to square one on the case. Everyone in this city apparently hates Dick Tracy: snipers fill nearly every rooftop, toughs overrun every building, and guns come free with every third pack of cigarettes in The City. Dick Tracy is going to return to his desk with a jacket that doubles as a colander one way or another.
And this wouldn’t be so bad if the game was remotely “fair”. The previously mentioned snipers are effectively invincible, which I suppose makes perfect sense when your only option is to shoot out the window of your moving car, but it translates to “drive by a sniper, get shot a bunch”. Dick Tracy doesn’t have any amazing psychic powers (this week), but you better hope you do if you want to drive to even the first building with your health intact. The ruffians occupying the building/action segments of the game aren’t much better. Unless you want to creep along as Dick Tracy: Snail Detective, you will be shot repeatedly by hooligans with guns juuust off the boundaries of the screen. Tracy does have the ability to angle his shots up for enemies on a different floor, but it’s at the exact same angle his adversaries can angle down, so prepare to take another bullet to the brainpan.
Reminder: Dick Tracy can receive ten hits, total, for an entire chapter. You can recover health by finding a first aid kit (good luck), and then entering the intuitive command B+Select. If you figured this out on your own, good job, Stephen Bloody Hawking. As an extra special “screw you” from the designers, if you are down to your last hit point, you can swing by any police department, and they will restore you to… two hit points. I wouldn’t worry about it, though, as you’ll just die on the car ride over anyway.
There is, at least, a password system that allows one to “continue” at the start of any given chapter, but this seems more like a concession to not including a save battery, and not something that is actually there to make anyone’s life any easier. You still have to continue every chapter at its absolute starting point with every death, as you can’t arrest a criminal with evidence you gathered through visions of another life where you were gunned down outside an accountant’s pad. The chief is just going to yell at you for that!
Dick Tracy: frustrating failure. I understand the movie itself is interpreted in much the same way by historians and number crunchers, so at least the game is accurate to its source material. Honey Moon Tracy? Please use your magnetic powers to wipe your grandfather’s digital legacy clean.
FGC #17 Dick Tracy
- System: Nintendo Entertainment System, but there are other similar-but-different versions across other systems, including Gameboy. None are worth playing.
- Number of players: One.
- Sex Factor: Breathless Mahoney spends the entire game making really overt sexual advances on Big Dick Tracy, which seems so weirdly out of place in a NES game. Would this game be rated T nowadays? I don’t think we’ll ever know, as I believe releasing this thing on any given virtual console is outlawed by the Geneva Conventions.
- Favorite Criminal: I’ve always been a fan of Littleface, but The Rodent really seems to have the best nickname of the bunch. Would you hire a guy who looked like a human rat? Crime was obviously the only option here.
- My sense of direction is poor: My copy of this game came compliments of a neighbor, so I’ve never seen a boxed version of Dick Tracy for the NES. I kind of pray that the original game came with a map, because navigating The City is an absolute hell on top of every other terrible thing in this game. If this imaginary map had sniper locations marked on it, well then, maybe this game is only half-horrible.
- Did you know? The Sega Master System version of the game was almost entirely action based, and you’d get penalties for shooting… windows, fire hydrants, and other inanimate objects. Not unarmed men. The value of life plummeted after the NES.
- Would I play again? It likely won’t be the last time this happens, but this is the first game in the FGC that is just completely appalling to play. It’s entirely based on how easy it is to have to restart everything, but, unlike Ice Climber or Yoshi Touch & Go, this was just a bear from the first moments. This is a long way of saying “no”.
What’s next: Random ROB has chosen… Ecco the Dolphin. Ah yes, that should be a completely relaxing game and free of the frustrating death penalties of this past chapter. Please look forward to it!