Total Recall (Interplay, 1990)
Bryan takes you on one ugly trip to Mars as he reviews 1990's NES version of Total Recall.
The 1990 film Total Recall is typical of that era’s box office hits in several ways: lots and lots of dollars were poured into it; it featured guns, tits, and gross stuff prominently; Ronny Cox played a bad guy we were ready to hate; and the protagonist was played by none other than the beloved Arnold himself. Based off a Philip K. Dick story, the plot centers around a man in 2084 who discovers his memories may be fake, and that his strange dreams my be his real memories. He quickly finds out that certain parties have a strong vested interest in him staying oblivious… permanently, if need be.
A lot of reviewers out there like to squat down over the NES adaptation of Total Recall and push as hard as they can. I try not to cave in to destructive impulses, and I also try to maintain an independent view on a lot of these titles… but they’re somewhat justified in this case. Interplay… well, Interplay made a video game. They produced a piece of programming that we can loosely label as a video game, and Acclaim released it. We’ll examine things from there and see where we end up.
The game starts rather abruptly, as you find yourself on the city streets with people immediately shooting at you from moving cars. As you tun forward, you’ve got men popping up out of trash cans to shoot at you and little men who look like someone glued a crepe beard on a child pulling you into rat-infested alleyways. It’s all very cartoonish. To be fair, I don’t feel terribly immersed in the Total Recall vibe. Because there isn’t one.
Remember in the movie when Quaid’s fellow construction workers attack him and he just fucking DESTROYS them with these out-of-nowhere Spetznatz combat skills? Well, good news: in the NES game, his punch carries the force of a wet paper bag. You eventually make it past more Looney Tunes shit and into your apartment, where Sharon Stone also takes fifty punches/bullets to lay out. THE PLOT THICKENS…
There are attempts throughout to signal really hard that his game is based off the movie, but they all come off as really heavy-handed, especially since the bulk of the game is utter nonsense. The labyrinthine cement factory contains nearly invulnerable 3 foot tall hobos and disappointing platformer tropes, and the awful music restarts on every new screen. Things get a little cooler on Mars, where you get a little Micro Machines style car stage mixed in, but even that’s unwieldy and seems like just another afterthought.
The controls, coupled with Quaid’s Barney Rubble clumsiness, are just plain sub-par. Considering you are constantly in imminent danger requiring quick action to avoid, you’d better just be ready to take punishment. You certainly won’t be dodging a great deal of it. Apparently in 2084 they have also rendered even the shittiest excuses for humanity into berserk fighting machines who feel no pain, because you have to punch the shit out of even child-sized foes to get them to relent. Even sinking bullet after bullet into your fake wife’s gut after she drops her gun doesn’t seem to faze her overmuch.
The sound and music will drive you crazy unless you’re good at just zoning that kind of thing out. The soundtrack goes right along with the action: some kind of cartoon they show in Hell. The graphics I can’t rag on too bad; they sort of have that drab-yet-fruity thing going on that you see in a lot of Sunsoft games, maybe not as detailed. The sprites are garbage, but that almost seems to fit. I can’t take this game seriously, so why should Interplay have?
I don’t know a lot of the history about this game’s development, but it seems like it was rushed and poorly planned. For an adaptation from another medium, it is utter crap, and even on its own, Total Recall isn’t a very good game. It’s kind of funny to look at, but playing it is tedious and you’ll want to stop almost immediately unless you’re the kind of person who likes putting out cigars on your own face while watching Bugs Bunny cartoons. I give this one 4/10, and I’m being generous because I got a laugh out of it.