A good way for us to start off with the first article for this (soon to be) very great retro gaming website, is to look at a game that is a terrible adaptation of a thing, that is part of a different type of media. A Video Game Movie Tie in of Richard Donnor’s hit action franchise Lethal Weapon.
Developed by Ocean Software and released in 1992 on Nintendo little grey box of dreams and micro PC’s, Lethal Weapon is a side-scrolling shooter with lots of platform elements Which is so far, so standard for the era of video games that this game comes from. Ocean themselves will always be remembered as a developer/publisher with a dubious reputation, and it’s a reputation that is well earned. The software house’s output in the mid-80s to its liquidation in the late 90s was mainly licensed games of various quality, and it always seemed to many (with the exception of LJN, another company pumping licensed sewage into the video game industry) that no license was safe from the hands of the Manchester-based software house. And on the eve of the release of the third film in the franchise, Lethal Weapon was no exception. It’s strange that a video game adaptation of the highly successful and beloved franchise had not been attempted until this point. But Ocean had sought to remedy that by snapping up the rights to produce a number of video games based on it. Unfortunately, none of them are very good.
Ocean’s first attempt offered an opportunity for gamers to play as police officers Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh for the first time, and live in Richard Donner’s high octane action-orientated world. The game is not directly based on the third movie, but instead serves as a “greatest hits compilation” of the partner’s adventures. For example, the first mission in the docks has the duo taking on a gang of international villains who are using diplomatic immunity to export drug money out of the country, mirroring the plot of the second film. The presentation is also pretty decent, with the game sporting some detailed, if a bit cartoony, graphics and a decent soundtrack, even if it is missing Eric Clapton’s iconic soft jazz from the films. Thank god!
Unfortunately, once the game starts properly, this beautiful facade falls away. The level design is quite bland and unimaginative (docks, sewers, nondescript warehouses, the basic b*****s of level design.). Where the game really falls down, is the platforming. The controls lead to a very frustrating and unfulfilling experience as the jumping is very floaty, and it’s hard to turn in the air, leading to lots of narrowly missing ledges or slamming into enemies that have just appeared for a murder hug. Ammunition is limited but ammo pick-ups litter the levels, so this is never a problem. The difficulty is relentless, even on the lowest setting and I think the films would be less thrilling if Riggs was shot to death while hanging from a crane because if he’d returned fire, he would fallen to his death.
The game piles enemies and obstacles on the player at an almost unfair rate. You quickly learn there is no skill to the game, and it just requires a large amount of trial and error, but even then, the enemies can still appear randomly and mess things up. There are also boss battles at the end of each mission, but they are just larger versions of the standard bad guys with more health. They’re pretty easy to defeat too, as their attack patterns are not very difficult to work out and the areas you fight them in are quite large.
It’s a shame that Ocean didn’t try to capitalize more on the main draw of the license. The “buddy cop” element that the series is built on, and arguably popularized, is completely missing, as the game is single-player only. The player can only switch between characters in the Police Station locker room between levels. It’s also an even bigger shame that there’s no difference between the two characters apart from the sprites.
The manual states: “You must choose [each character] wisely for each mission”, but this doesn’t actually mean anything. At the time of its release, the game received mostly mediocre reviews across most of the systems. The main complaint was that the game was very derivative (we know long words 😉 ) shooting platformer, much in the same mold as Ocean’s other efforts at the time.
All of these versions of Lethal Weapon were developed in-house by Ocean, so they all share a lot of similarities. The SNES version is the flagship version being the prettiest graphically, plus the level layouts are more interesting. As the character can shimmy on bars and climb ladders, ropes, and chains. However, the controls still suffer – the jumping is incredibly floaty as the character will stay in the air even if their head hits an obstacle until gravity pulls them back down, plus all levels feel they’re coated in a layer of ice. Also unique to the SNES version is a timer, which is unfairly tight. The soundtrack by Dean Evans is excellent and is deserving of a much better game. Like Power Rangers or something.
The Commodore Amiga version was developed by Mick West, a former Binary Design Employee, and is the best of all the versions. While it’s not as pretty looking as the SNES version, it has smoother scrolling and is much better to play with its tighter control scheme. Also, the presentation has a lot more thought put into it, as the hub level is populated with NPCs that make it feel more “lived in”. (However, they cannot be interacted with, which given the ‘boys club’ office culture of the early ’90s, is probably a good thing). The music is also the best, as it has stronger instrumentation and more listenable, mainly because of Amiga’s PCM-based sound chip. The Atari ST port retains the same level of presentation, tight controls, and level layout of the Amiga effort, but has worse music and muddier, muted graphics. Also, there’s plenty of stutter in the animation and there is no smooth scrolling. When the player reaches the very right edge of the screen, it will then “shudder” back to reposition the view, like some demented typewriter.
The MS-DOS version has the worst graphics of all the computer versions, with jagged sprites and very basic backgrounds that are muted, dull, and colorless. Although it has proper scrolling and the character sprites stutter during movement. Thankfully, the controls are just as good as the other two micro PC versions, which is small comfort. But the music! The developers slapped on an awful MIDI piano, giving the soundtrack a bizarre wild west saloon feel. To make matters worse, there are no sound effects to complement the action, which makes you want to turn the sound off after 0.05 seconds of play.
Last is the C64 version, which is the worst of the bunch, as everything about it is pretty atrocious. It has the worst graphics, no music, and standard controls (only joystick support). It only allows the selection of Riggs or Murtaugh at the beginning of the game, then proceeds down a linear path of poorly re-designed versions of the levels from the other games. There’s a lot of sprite flickering each time a character is hit and because of the muddy graphics, it can be difficult to spot hazards due to headaches.
|PLATFORMS||Amiga / Atari ST / C64 / MS-DOS / SNES|
|PUBLISHER||Ocean (Amiga / Atari ST / C64 / MS-DOS)|
Blast Processing does not recommend any of these games but gives a participation trophy to the Amiga version for at least turning up and NOT throwing up on everyone’s shoes.