Saturday, 6 December 2014

Undercover Cops (Arcade)

Undercover Cops title screen
I see a lot of shiny logos due to playing and writing about all these games, but that's the shiniest, most metallic logo I've seen since... well, Unreal a couple of days ago. But still, it's pretty damn metal. It's like two 80s action movie title logos were fused together, and both of them were from RoboCop.

Today on Super Adventures I'm playing an hour or so of Undercover Cops, a 1992 arcade game developed by Irem. You should probably just ignore the title though, as it's likely going to feature about as much actual police work as a Streets of Rage game. It's really about people in jeans and shoulder pads punching other people in jeans and shoulder pads, while walking over to the right for several stages in a row in order to eventually save the city from a mad doctor. At least that's what Wikipedia says.

Wikipedia also says that many of the folks who worked on this later split off from Irem to form the Nazca Corporation and create the legendary Metal Slug franchise, so I won't be entirely shocked if this turns out to look kind of amazing for its time. In fact I've gone and got my hopes up now.


The year is A.D. 2043. (That'd be 50 years in the future back when they made the game, but only 30 for us at the time I'm writing this. At least we haven't overtaken it though!)

Eight mysterious people gather around a mysterious desk in a gloomy symmetrical meeting room. I first I assumed this must be the mayor's office, but then I noticed the guy with the shoulder tassels and now I'm wondering if they're actually a shadow cabal of dictators and businessmen who run... uh, a town. It's just a meeting in the mayor's office isn't it?

Anyway the condition of the peace in this town is at the worst state in, like, forever, but the gentleman speaking right now has a plan to put things right...

Undercover Cops Bubba profile
... he'll send city sweepers to clean up the villains! I'm not even joking, that's exactly what he suggests.

Of course he doesn't literally mean road sweepers, no he's talking about sending in an ex-pro football player who was banned from playing due to false allegations that he was a 'dangerous man'. His name's Bubba, but his friends call him 'Fire Ball Crusher'.

Bubba is only City Sweeper #19 though. There's at least 189 Sweepers in total, but the developers have only let me pick from two blokes and a lady. I guess Golden Axe and Streets of Rage must have been popular in the office that year.

The guy in the middle is the U.S. karate champion, who once accidentally killed a man with his bare hands, and the woman on the left is an ex-vigilante with both an excessive hatred of evil and leg warmers bolted on to her knee guards. Together they are... not actually undercover cops, weirdly.

Funny how the two guys' arms are almost as wide as the woman's waist, while she looks like some kind of regular human being. Seems that they've been hoarding more than their fair share of the steroids.

Undercover Cops player select
It's a two player co-op game, but I'm all on my own here so I only get to bring one of them out at a time, and I think I'll go with... Flame. Mostly for irony's sake, as she'd be utterly dwarfed by your average scrolling beat 'em up punk. It's cool that the developers have included a female hero, it's just a shame I reckon that they didn't go as far as making her actually look the part. In fact she looks like she's got school tomorrow morning.

Alright, mission 1! Apparently we've been sent out to apprehend TEAM JAWS, with our orders painted onto a scruffy scrap of crumpled paper with snot. Fortunately they've also attached a Polaroid image of the leader posing dramatically in front of an explosion with two golf clubs held into the sky, so I'll know what to look out for.


MISSION 1.


Uh, you think any of these guys might be part of Team Jaws? They're loitering near the sea and they look like they've wandered off the set of Mad Max, so that's close enough for me. Shirts are a rare commodity in the grimdark future of 2043, and apparently so are cardboard boxes by the way that guy is hugging his one so hard his arm muscles are bulging out.

Okay, I'm just going to go and take back everything I said about Flame not looking the part. Her ingame sprite actually looks like a woman who could pick a man up by the throat and throw him across the screen one-handed, which is cool because that's exactly what I plan to do.

Man, how did Irem's artists pixel a recognisable hand at that resolution? That's some skilled spritesmanship right there. Bit of a shame though that Flame didn't think to pull that knife out of the Polaroid earlier to give her something to put in it.

Holy shit, I thought I'd try tearing that girder out of the sand, but I didn't think she'd actually do it! Well now I've got a girder tucked under one arm; handy for construction work, but impractical for close range combat.

Uh... are those two on the right trying to take a crap or something? Oh I see, they must be watching that TV.

They said she was an ex-vigilante, but they never mentioned anything about being a superhero! She did that one-handed! The enemies don't have their own on-screen health bars in this, but if they did I imagine that would've just emptied them all out in one go.

No idea what the TV is about by the way. I can't even tell what's on it it; some bird-man waving his creepy bird-man hand maybe? I'm curious about this now, I wonder if anyone online has figured this out.

R-Type (Arcade)
Turns out that it's the first boss from Irem's famous arcade shooter R-Type. Yep, in the bleak dystopian future street beach thugs will be so desperate for entertainment that they'll actually sit and watch other people play video games.

Flame's good with her hands for sure, but I'm not really as impressed by her 'flying kick'. She basically just throws her ass at people, and it looks as ridiculous in motion as it looks up there in that screenshot.

I can also do a running attack, a throw, and a super attack, but other than that my moveset seems pretty limited. I'm basically just walking over to enemies and hammering the attack button, and that's likely to be my game experience here in its entirety. I always struggle to write about scrolling beat 'em ups, even when they're as pretty as this, because there isn't usually anything new going on worth mentioning past the first few fights. You're going to see a shot of me punching someone, a shot of me getting punched by someone, a shot of some graffiti that made me smile, maybe a shot of me picking up some fast food if you're lucky... and so on.

She just picked up a giant fish.... and a snail fell out. She then tossed the fish away and ate the live snail instead. And a good thing she did too, as it restored a fraction of her health.

Hey I just noticed that my timer reset back to 60. Doesn't seem like I'll have any need to rush through these stages thankfully; I've got time to slow down and smell the tuna.

She just picked up a entire Humvee... and a piping hot roast dinner fell out. She then tossed the car away and ate the meal instead. Not so weird you may think, but she managed to shovel that entirely plateful into her mouth so fast that you couldn't even catch it in a slow motion replay. Right after eating a whole snail as well!

Well I don't see any golf clubs or explosions, but my spidey-sense is telling me that this guy's the gentleman I was sent out to apprehend (my first clue was the health bar in the middle of the screen).

Seems I can't afford to just walk right up and wail on him with my fists like I've been doing to everyone else or I'll get a pneumatic punch to the face, so this time I'm going to have hang back and wait for the right moment to strike. If only she'd brought the knife, she could've cut his arm cables!

Oh he's THAT kind of cyborg is he; more of a Terminator than a RoboCop. That 'Beat it!' sign in the background suddenly makes more sense now I know that he's an inhuman automaton. Looks like I'm going to really have to work to chip away his final health bar, hamming at his metal endoskeleton with my bare hands a little bit at a time.

Or I could just throw him into the fish crusher one handed. Now this neighbourhood is finally safe enough for our crew to come in and start distributing shirts and fresh jeans to his former victims.

I got an 'O'! Is that good? I honestly have no idea. Not that it matters, I'm not exactly trying to get my name on the high score table here.


MISSION 2:


Mission 2 hasn't been much more challenging than the first stage so far, especially with all this burning debris around for me to throw at people. You might think it's unnecessarily cruel to burn a man to death, but it's own damn fault for dowsing himself in petrol earlier. I mean he must be dripping wet with something flammable; look at the guy on the right, his right shoulder's on fire and he hasn't exploded into a fireball.

Oh man, I saw 'REGNAD' clearly written on the box, but then went ahead and foolishly disregarded its backwards warnings... like a fool! Turns out that the thing contained two dozen grenades (pins sold separately), and now the whole screen is breaking out into beautifully pixelled knee-high explosions! Good thing she was wearing those asbestos leg warmers really, or else this could've gone very bad for me.


MEANWHILE, IN JAPAN...


Undercover Cops - Japanese version (Arcade)
Over in Japan, the same shit's going down but if you look carefully there's a subtle difference. Check out the bundle of pipes, the pieces of girder, the flaming barrel... this is the exact same location and yet the Japanese version takes place in the flooded wreckage of a city and looks fantastic, while players in rest of the world get a couple of trees and a concrete wall to look at instead.

My character is even pulling out extra moves in combat, like headbutts. I've always been able to double tap a direction to dash forward and set up a kick, but in the Japanese version I can end with a jumping kick instead. It's weird how much was cut out or changed for the World release for no good reason I can think of.

Irem Arcade Hits (PC)
I got a PC port of the game when I bought the Irem Arcade Hits compilation, which I thought was pretty awesome right until I learned that there's no way to turn the screen filtering off entirely, no matter how many options I toggled or F keys I hit. No way that I could find anyway. This means that it's apparently impossible to get quality clean screenshots out of it, which kinda makes it useless for my purposes right now. On the plus side, it still gives you the option to stick 99 credits into the thing if you feel like it, and you can tweak the difficulty settings.

You can likely tell just by looking at the background, but the game that comes with the PC compilation is the World version with the missing moves and inferior artwork. There is actually a rare updated edition of the game called Undercover Cops: Alpha Renewal that combines the English translation with the Japanese gameplay, music and visuals... but this isn't it.

Irem Arcade Hits (PC)
One thing I got from owning the Irem Arcade Hits version though, is this bit of text explaining that the guy who hired the City Sweepers is called... Commissioner Gordon. Also we're in New-York city apparently.

Hey, it's a Streets of Rage style fighting arena lift!

The regular enemies have been fairly down to earth thugs up to this point, but these clones are all bouncing around like lunatics on one leg. I kill one wave of them, and another just bounces right in out of nowhere, which is a little bit strange considering that I'm halfway up the side of a skyscraper, but okay.

SNES version
Here's the SNES port for comparison. Well I should call it the Super Famicom port really, as it never reached Europe or America. This is actually a really close copy of the Japanese Arcade game, just scaled down a little bit in resolution. The higher quality backgrounds are in, I've managed to pull off some of the extra moves, and it doesn't seem like they've had to compromise all that much to get the game running on the less powerful home console hardware.

There are a few differences I've noticed though: props like the Humvee and the box of grenades are missing, you're limited to just 5 continues, and these hopping lunatics have been forced by Uncle Nintendo to pull their tops down a little to avoid exposing themselves when they're kicked across the level.

Man, after barely surviving an entire lift ride with this pack of hopping pogo-girls preying on me the entire way, it was a regular sliding thug at the top that finally did me in and cost me my first credit! I've been finding it surprisingly hard to get airborne in time to dodge attacks, and it's starting to get a bit frustrating.

That kick that the woman in purple does at the end is amazing though.

There is no law of physics that says that kick is anywhere near possible. Though it's the way that she easily recovers from it afterwards that's truly taking the piss.

Anyway, I could continue as Flame, she's certainly proven herself capable, but I think I'll take the opportunity to bring Bubba out on this continue.

Yes he just beat a man to death to steal and eat his live pig to recover some health, what of it? This is the cold reality of life in A.D. 2043; a man cannot build this amount of muscle mass by eating snails alone.

He may go to the same hairdresser as Duke Nukem and he dresses like he couldn't decide whether to cosplay as a knight or an American footballer, but Bubba has the build of a bulldozer and the dogged tenacity to chase a pig around the screen for hours. And now that lunch is finally taken care of, I'm pretty sure he can handle anything this stage has to throw at him.


30 SECONDS LATER.


Okay first, that is not the correct way to use a jackhammer.

Second...

...MAGICAL TOUCHDOWN!

Yeah I just summoned a football made of pure willpower and then slammed it into the ground with enough force that the shockwave even sent Fatso here airborne, what of it? Shame it cost me a chunk of my own health to use it though.

Oh I'm not trying to be insulting by the way, she really is called Fatso, check the health bar. It's presumably an ironic name though, seeing as she's clearly all muscle. Look at the tone on those arms!

Sadly Bubba didn't survive the true form of Fatso's attack, so I had to bring out Claude instead, code name:  'Lightning Slasher'.

He's the bloke with the gi who kicks like Chun Li, and he has equipped both a beard and a mullet to supplement his machismo. It's possible he's named after Jean-Claude Van Damme, but only in the Western release, as in the original version he's a Japanese guy called Zan. Yup, the names Claude, Bubba and Flame were added during translation, as Zan Takahara, Matt Gables and Rosa Felmonde were apparently considered too weird/mundane for English speaking audiences.


MISSION 3.


With Fatso finally defeated, Claude heads down into the undercity to take on the mutated mole ninjas. I don't want to end up playing this too long, this is meant to be a quick look not a Let's Play. but I might as well stick with the game until Claude runs out of lives.

Crap! I think I could keep going until Claude's out of continues and I still wouldn't see the end of this stage. These mole things are real bastards, especially when they start doing their Sonic the Hedgehog spin.

Still, those explosion effects are amazing. If I absolutely had to blown up by something today, I'm glad it was by something so well animated.

Alright I'm getting a bit bored of bombs now. Also these little moles are just as annoying as the mole ninjas! How am I supposed to fight a creature like that? Explosions don't even faze them!

Sorry Claude, you had a good (but short) run, but it's time to bring out a professional vigilante to get this job done properly.


FOUR CONTINUES LATER.


Gunpuncher... more like Fistshooter. That's apparently the Japanese kanji for 'fire' on his arm and it ain't lying, though if that's meant to be 'heaven' on his chestplate then I guess we'll just have to disagree. Sure are a lot of dead folks around though.

The guy likes to dive in and out of the ground, and smack me when I get close, so he's a bit of a bastard to get within punching range of, and as you can see he's a bit of a bastard at a distance too. Fortunately I have one advantage in this fight... I wasn't actually planning on winning it! I've already got all the screenshots I need, so when he strikes me down that'll just gives me the excuse I was looking for to turn the game off and walk away.

And so the mighty Gunpuncher goes down for good, with a single cloud of gas escaping from his ass to signify his final humiliation. I hope that's the Japanese kanji for 'owned' on his back.

Wait, fuck, I didn't want to win this! It's all going wrong.

Now it's telling me I get to go to the evil secret factory and smash things! Such cruel temptation.

I made it this far on the Japanese version as well, but man it was a struggle, and I'm not entirely sure what was making it so much more difficult. I can tell you though that this is a game you really don't want to get surrounded in. Okay, I'm done now, I'm turning it off.


CONCLUSION

Undercover Cops looks too damn good for me to ever really dislike, I love that awesome 90s Irem arcade art style, but man when those mole ninjas and slide-kicking bikers turned up I sure wanted to.

I'm not a massive fan of scrolling beat 'em ups, so I think half my problems with the game are more like issues with the genre itself. It's very repetitive, sometimes you find your punches aren't connecting because you're not lined up right, you can get stuck in the middle of a group but only attack in one direction at a time, and it seems like it takes a half-second too long for your dude to jump out of the way of an incoming slide-kicking biker... man I hate those guys. I found that I always wanted my character to be a bit more agile than they were, but those bikers made it readily apparently how crap I was at getting out of the way.

The game has five stages and I found I could fly through the first three fairly fast, but it's an arcade game so you wouldn't expect it to last all that long anyway. I just wish there was a bit more variety to it. It doesn't necessarily need some awkward platforming section or an impossible hoverbike tunnel sequence, but maybe something more fun and interesting than 'the floor is now bombs and there are tiny moles leaping for your face' would've been nice.

If you enjoy the genre I'm sure you'd find it worthy of an hour of so of your time, and I'd play it again myself, so it's an easy Gold Star. I liked it, but I didn't love it.

Also, it has nothing to do with undercover cops.

If you'd like to respond to anything featured in the text or screenshots above, you can use the box below! I read every one of your comments, even on ancient articles from times long ago, and I'm sure that someone else somewhere must be reading them too! Except for the spam obviously, which is automatically deleted. Bots posting messages which are then erased by bots... it's a grim precursor to a inevitable war of machine vs machine. I just hope that when things go down, the aimbots are on our side.

5 comments:

  1. Ohmygosh this game is so '80s action movie, but with a plot twist: badass female heroine!! (Disregard the character select picture, I'm talking about that though in-game sprite!)

    I have a sudden urge to play this game.

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  2. I can't stop looking at those character portraits, in part because of that weird smile Claude and Bubba are doing, but also because I think Claude and Bubba have the same face.

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    Replies
    1. There is a certain similarity between the two for sure: Bubba_n'_Claude.gif

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    2. Perhaps if you play to the end you discover Claude is Bubba's Secret Dad.

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  3. > so desperate for entertainment that they'll actually sit and watch other people play video games

    Ha, ha, this will never happen! Instead we'll be reading about other people playi...

    > I got an 'O'! Is that good?

    I think that's zero.

    ReplyDelete

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