According to James Cameron, the original Terminator film came from a literal fever dream. While being laid up with a particularly bad flu, Cameron experienced a vivid vision featuring a metallic torso of a man lurching forward with some very pointy weaponry, and that image eventually gave birth to
Arnold Schwarzenegger the terminator. It’s not difficult to understand why: the picture of an “undying” and relentless pursuer is one that seems to be lodged pretty firmly in our collective unconscious and, metal monster or not, I think a lot of us have had “that dream” involving an unyielding, inescapable monster. This is a primal fear (probably courtesy of one or two saber tooth tigers that were real dicks), so giving such a thing robo-flesh was inevitably going to tap into an endless market of people that want more homicidal android action.
Just kind of a shame someone forgot about that invincible torso somewhere along the way.
The Terminator franchise has been complicated from the very beginning. Right from the get-go, we’ve got a time travel story that is doing its best to simultaneously create a “new future” and a stable time loop. John Connor sends his best bud back in time to become his dad (thus creating a future where there is a John Connor) and prevent the Skynet robopocolypse from ever existing (thus creating a future where there is no reason for a John Connor). That’s a surprisingly convoluted plot to get to “there’s an unstoppable robot on the loose”, but I suppose credit should be given to Cameron for not just tossing out a “btw there’s a killer robot now” story and putting some thought into the whys of an unstoppable metal torso. Of course, this begat Terminator 2, which brought the concept to its logical conclusion: what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? What happens when two relentless robots collide? And maybe there’s an annoying kid involved, too, because we have like another hour to fill? Yes, Sarah Connor is a great role model, and her PTSD from a future that might never be is pretty neat an’ all, but the focus of T2 is the Judgment Day when two invincible bots clash. And, once again, audiences seemed to react well to that kind of thing.
Then it all went to hell.
The image of an army of terminators, whether they have flesh or not, is a chilling one. These are unstoppable androids, and even one seems to be completely invincible. What hope does humanity have against an entire planet of the buggers? No wonder time travel seemed to be the only option: once Skynet has built an impassable wall, there’s nothing that’s going to bring it down short of rewriting history. But there’s a problem with terminators, and it’s basically the same as the inverse ninja law. Duel one threat, and you can have an exciting, one-on-one battle that is all about tactics and psychology and the very real threat of one combatant exploiting the tiniest advantage and pulling a victory out of seemingly thin air. But pit one hero against a group of greater than, say, four, and suddenly everything is tilted in the favor of the lone protagonist. Storm Troopers can’t shoot straight, ninja get kicked in the face, and terminators are suddenly about as threatening as a Roomba. Yes, maybe you can’t “beat” an army of terminators, but they’ve rapidly lost that ability to actually hit a target, mow down humankind, and, ya know, terminate. The more terminators, the better for humanity.
And this is where we join RoboCop Versus The Terminator for the Super Nintendo. Robocop is a fairly unstoppable cyborg himself, and he’s also had a number of videogames to his name. That’s no mistake, as he was practically built for 16-bit battles. He’s powerful, but he’s not invincible, so he’s one of the few protagonists that possess a life bar and an excuse for said life bar. Heck, you could even make such a thing some part of Officer Murphy’s in-visor HUD. And then you’ve got the whole “future Detroit that is moderately more deadly than OG Detroit” thing to provide an army of criminals, mutants, and criminal mutants to indiscriminately gun down. Toss it all together, and you’ve got a complete videogame. Throwing in a terminator is just sprinkles on the hyper violent sundae that is Robocop.
But the problem isn’t that Virgin Games involved a terminator, it’s that they went for terminators. Terminators leave their lovely dystopia to visit Detroit’s slightly less futuristic dystopia, and the mechanical malcontents descend upon Robocop. One Terminator is encountered at a construction site, and, with the right positioning, it can be defeated without Robocop even having to move. But the next terminator is slightly more invincible! He can’t be defeated with simple armaments… but there is a pretty conspicuous pit nearby, and you know what you have to do. The next terminator is similarly doomed, but his death is slightly further away. And then Robocop takes the long way to a future full of terminators.
And then it gets really silly. Robocop is stuck in a future filled to the brim with terminators, so, naturally, he has gained the ability to mow the mechs down like they’re less killing machines and more farm equipment. Yes, the story does offer the tiniest concession in Robocop grabbing a futuristic pistol and other advanced weaponry to gain the tiniest edge, but previous levels granted ol’ Robo a rocket launcher. Is it even possible to improve on the destructive power of that old standby? (Please don’t tell me the answer to that, I’d prefer to sleep at night.) This all comes to a natural conclusion in “the vehicle stage”, wherein Robocop is piloting a futuristic (maybe) flying thing, and the goal of the level is to destroy twenty terminators before moving on. Can they really be called terminators anymore at that point, though? Aren’t they more… target practice?
And, unfortunately, it seems the Terminator franchise has followed the lead of this misbegotten Super Nintendo game. Terminators are no longer terminators, they are simply fodder for our rebellious humans to trick and humiliate. The days of invincible torsos are behind us, and a dramatically less invincible robot army explodes in its wake.
The dream is dead. The future has failed us.
(But that is pretty good news for Robocop.)
FGC #302 RoboCop Versus The Terminator
- System: Super Nintendo for this review. There are also Gameboy, Game Gear, and Genesis versions available, too.
- Number of players: Robocop is a singular hero. … I’m kind of surprised there wasn’t ever a Lady Robocop with an obtrusive ponytail. Meh, maybe in the animated series.
- Port-O-Call: Apparently the Genesis version takes the smarter route of focusing primarily on the present (not too distant future?) and a baddie or two from Robocop 2. Meanwhile the SNES version is pretty evenly split between past and future. The Gameboy version is all bad future… That is to say it is the worst possible future, one wherein videogames are absolutely abhorrent.
- Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Robocop is simultaneously built for videogames and… absolutely not. His jump is more of a hop (maybe even a skip), and he controls about as precisely as a walking corpse. That said, there’s the potential for a good game here… if it wasn’t wall to wall stupid mazes and lame traps. See also: B.O.B., Harley’s Humongous Adventure.
- Favorite Boss: The first boss of the future area is a tank… that doesn’t move. It just sits there, and you shoot pieces off of it. The NES Technodrome was a more mobile threat!
- Did you know? Meanwhile, the inspiration for Robocop’s prime directive of “serve the public trust” was inspired by… a fortune cookie. Robocop and Terminator come from very different places.
- Would I play again: Nah. Another lame SNES platforming/action game that involves too many easily defeated robots. I’ll just play Mega Man X, thank you.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Nier Automata! Wow, now there’s a game about robot on robot violence. Please look forward to it!