The late 1980’s were some of the greatest years for high-octane action films, and when RoboCop hit theaters in 1987, people lost their minds. Very few films offered the dark, satiric themes and over the top ultra-violence that RoboCop brought to the big screen, and director Paul Verhoeven had to work hard to edit his way to an R rating after the movie originally scored an X from the MPAA. Although not immediately a blockbuster success (the movie finished 16th among 1987 releases), the property was lucrative enough for companies to go all-in on the decades favorite business strategy: video game and toy tie-ins.
Data East brought the RoboCop arcade game to market in 1988, and it was then quickly ported over to the NES and a plethora of other systems that same year. Many of the mature themes were stripped, and the end product resulted in another very average licensed side-scrolling action game on the console. The player controls Murphy through levels vaguely reminiscent of the movie, sometimes punching and sometimes blasting enemies with his machine pistol. The graphics are solid and there are a couple nice animations on the title screen, but the music is a very repetitive loop of the theme from the movie. In the end, the first RoboCop release on the NES is simply too slow paced, as Murphy lumbers about like he truly is made of metal, and only leaves me wondering about what could have been.
Meanwhile, Kenner Toys was brainstorming as to how they could create a toy line about a hard R movie full of gore and drugs. They succeeded and brought Robocop: Ultra Police to stores, with the first wave arriving in 1988, consisting of ten individual figures, ED-260, and five other vehicles. Many of the figures included what would be the signature action feature of the line, the ability to fire cap gun blanks through a special mechanism. Although Kenner’s RoboCop line wasn’t a smash-hit, it did pave the way for the licensing of other more “adult” movies down the line, such as Terminator 2, Aliens and Jurassic Park.
While RoboCop probably deserved a better NES entry, I am satisfied with the fact that there is a game at all, considering Nintendo’s stringent policies at the time and the controversial content covered in the film. Even better is the fact that the game and Kenner’s toy line were based on a movie that most kids at the time probably hadn’t even seen, but only heard about. I would imagine that kind of playground mystique is tougher to come across nowadays with the Internet, and to me it makes that period of time during the late 80’s and early 90’s stand out even more as something pretty unique.
Thanks for reading Game and Toy! Check back next time for a new foray into other bizarre product crossovers like this one. You can find me on Twitter, @RingMan_.