Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Dick Tracy's Least Absurd Incarnation

One day I will write about Dick Tracy for Genesis, but that day is not today. I don't know what happened to my copy of the game, so I'll just have to repurchase it. While the superior version, programmed by Sega, is a game I have such fond memories of, in the mean time I'll have to make due with this NES version from Bandai, which was programmed by Realtime Associates, whom have been around for a long time but never made anything noteworthy. I wanted to like the game because Dick Tracy is cherished, though inexplicable, part of my childhood, but the whole thing is just sloppy.

One of a few games that were seeking to capitalize on the 1990 Dick Tracy film, the NES one isn't fun. At least the concept for the game was ambitious. On paper it seems really neat. You play as the titular detective, and it is your job to solve the case, find the responsible criminal, and bring him or her to justice. There are multiple suspects, and you have to figure out which is responsible by traveling through an open world and discovering clues. Sometimes when going from place to place you need to deal with random enemies. When investigating an area, you need to show restraint and you can't just go shooting everybody you see.

So, I guess if someone were to do an NES demake of L.A. Noire, it might be remarkably similar to Dick Tracy. The problem with all the game's lofty goals is that it just doesn't work, and maybe it would have never worked on the old NES hardware. The game is split between overhead GTA-style traveling and standard 2D side-scrolling sections. While the amount of freedom allowed is impressive, there is just know way to figure where you actually need to go. The driving is awkward and you always feel like you are on rails even though you have complete control over where you go. You can fire a gun straight forward from the car to deal with other cars, and you can get out of the car and walk around in order to enter buildings and have better control over shooting, which is useful for dealing with the snipers on building tops.

In the side-scrolling sections, which are generally pretty small, you have to deal with enemies and find clues. If an enemy is unarmed, you have to punch them out, because if you shoot them you'll lose health, which is more annoying than interesting. Tracy has the usual skills of crouching and jumping, which you need to do in order to climb stairs, unlike the more logical Castlevania method of walking on them. While it is nice that you are able to shoot straight or at an upward or downward angle, because there are many enemies at different heights throughout the levels, it would have been nice to have been able to shoot vertically.

The combat isn't very fun. It is difficult to the drop on enemies and kill them without taking a hit, and that is frustrating because Tracy has very little life, and the game has no extra lives or continues, though it does have a password system to skip back to the various cases. Maneuvering seems sluggish and the Tommy Gun upgrade is just the same gun but it wastes ammunition faster by spraying a bunch of bullets when it doesn't take make to actually kill an enemy. A game that mixed the investigation/text-adventure format of Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken with a more action-based exploration style could have been really interesting, but Dick Tracy isn't successful at either of those things, so I'll just stick to the arcade-style action of the Genesis game.

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