Sunday, 30 December 2012

Cyborg Justice

System(s): Mega Drive

Genre: Beat em' up

Developer: Novotrade
Publisher:  Sega

Release Date: April 1993

In the early 90's, sidescrolling Beat em' ups were extremely popular. Streets of Rage and Final Fight, among others, set a trend for these games, along with tournament fighters like Street Fighter 2. In recent years there has been a revival of the genre, with games such as Castle Crashers. But some less well known fighters slipped under the radar despite having a lot of potential. It's tempting for me to say Cyborg Justice, despite it's flaws, is one of these.

Cyborg Justice is, for all intents and purposes, a Streets of Rage style scrolling fighter, but with robots. There is very little in the way of plot development - the game reveals there is a 'malfunction' in the players' cyborg, causing it to go rogue. So you fight your way through a number of stages, subdivided into three levels each, and fight a boss at the end of each stage. Beyond that, there is little plot beyond 'destroy the evil cyborgs.' Nevertheless, this sounded pretty awesome to me when I was about 7 years old. However, there are numerous differences between this game and more well know fighters, besides the sci-fi theme. If you pick up a copy of Cyborg Justice expecting it to play like Streets of Rage, you'll be disappointed, like I was..

There are some unique features that make Cyborg Justice stand out. When you start a new game, you will be asked to build your cyborg from a number of parts. Most of these, at least the legs and arms, will function as weapons or will have useful applications that will help you make your way past foes. There are numerous hand weapons such as saws, flame throwers and even a slow but powerful laser arm. Some of them will let you cut off body parts of opponents. Unfortunately most of these are too weak and easily avoided to make them useful, which is a pity, as they look dangerous and are fun to use. You can stun an opponent in order to use these weapons more effectively, but most of the time you won't really feel like you need to.

The legs, however, are much more important. You can get pneumatic legs if you struggle with double
jumps and want an easy escape from enemies, and tank legs that take you across the screen, charging at your opponents and knocking them off balance. By far the most useful though, are the giant legs, which slow you down but make you tougher and negate the effects of traps that are occasionally scattered around. Torso parts are purely an aesthetic choice and add little to the gameplay at all. There are some creative ideas for the part selection screen like the hand that you can launch across the screen (although you'll then have to pick it back up again, which can be annoying), although the game simply lacks the balance required to make most of these choices worthwhile. Chances are that you will simply come to rely on one or  two parts.

This balance issue is mirrored by the vast array of moves you can use. Again, Cyborg Justice shows its' potential by providing a large amount of choice before promptly making that element of choice worthless. You can do shoulder charges, backflips, leech energy from opponents, uppercuts, dropkicks - yet a handful of these are so overpowered you'll come to rely on them. The jumping dropkick in particular is devastatingly powerful, and there is one move that you can use to steal an opponents hand weapon (not that you would ever need it). You can then add insult to injury by throwing it at them, which will usually take off most of their health. You can even score an easy kill by using the same move for a second time, which will allow you to pull apart their torso for an instant kill. That's not all - the game then allows you to use the torso of the hapless foe to restore a very large chunk of health. Regardless of how much health your opponent had when you severed their torso, it will still restore the same amount every time.

If that sounds very fun, it is, and you get rewarded for "brutality" by gaining a score at the end of the level. But it also makes the game far too easy. It appears the intention of Cyborg Justice was to combine the moveset of a tournament fighter with the swarming chaos of a sidescroller. Unfortunately, there are never more than two enemies at once, completely negating the effect. Not being able to fight more than two cyborgs at once doesn't really help mitigate the lack of challenge provided by the default difficulty setting either.

To demonstrate the level of depth the gameplay of Cyborg Justice strived for but never achieved, you can put opponents back together or pick up body parts that are left over. This will also add extra to your score at the end of each stage, as pointless as that was by 1993. What makes this difficult to pull off is that after defeating an opponent, their body will explode within a few seconds, so you have to be quick if you want to use their remains. But this is no easy task, because the controls for picking up body parts can be very stubborn and finicky. Often you will do a crouching shoulder charge instead, and the game demands laser like precision when picking things up. Overall it's just not worth the bother. One of the most frustrating elements is that between opponents there will be rockets flying at you. No explanation is given for this besides spurring you on and it just feels like an annoyance rather than adding anything useful to the game. Additionally, lock-on seems almost random, and dealing with enemies behind you is needlessly difficult. It speaks volumes when the only difficulty a game presents is unintentional or due to awkward controls and weird, out of context missiles flying at you.

As if a low difficulty weren't enough, Cyborg Justice is fairly short too, and will take you probably around 5 hours to finish, at the most. There is also a co-op mode. This is the only part of the gameplay that doesn't suffer from being too easy, as you can both damage one another. It's hard not to recommend co-op in most games, especially a Beat em' up. Multiplayer also features a one on one, but it doesn't amount to much and is over all too quickly, and thus adds little replay value.

The gameplay may not achieve what it sets out to accomplish, but at least the boss fights add an extra flavour. At the end of the three stages on every level, you come up against a decidedly ordinary looking robot, besides being purple in colour. However, it makes quite an entrance. It shoots orange crescent shaped beams from somewhere off screen, before making an appearance. It's the only enemy that uses the laser weapon effectively, and won't hesitate to use it to kill you in two hits or less, or by pulling off your torso. This, at least, will jolt you from your own complacency and serve as a lesson in ironic punishment for the trail of enemy torsos you've left behind in your wake.

Cyborg Justice looks reasonably good, the character design is interesting if a bit repetitive. All enemies are made up of the same parts you can choose at the beginning, apart from the 'default' torso. It certainly won't amaze you with visual effects or anything like that. The level design is functional, at best, and given that each stage within a level is identical with a different colour palette, you'll soon get bored of the scenery. Chances are you'll be too focused on watching all the crazy backflips and somersaults that make levels look like a circus show with robots to even notice the scenery anyway. There are shadow effects, but these just consist of a black circle underneath each cyborg. Cyborgs are well animated and when you walk backwards, it almost makes them look like they are moonwalking along to the game's funky soundtrack.

Speaking of which, the music and sound effects are probably the highlight of the game. The boss music is particularly good, making use of the Mega Drive's punchy bass for an atmospheric track. Sound effects have a nice metallic echo as you would expect from a game featuring cyborgs, but the impact of the moves result in a lot of impressive clanks and thwomps.

Cyborg Justice looks like a shameless clone from a distance, but has enough unique elements to set it apart. It has an excellent, rhythmic soundtrack, customisation options and a vast array of moves for you to use. The front cover makes the game look like quite a brutal affair, and in fact it very well could have been. But despite having all the ingredients in place for being a serious challenger, Cyborg Justice disappoints by failing to fulfil that potential. If it had not been so easy and wildly unbalanced in its combat mechanics, it could have been a game that rivalled Streets of Rage or Final Fight.

+ Excellent soundtrack
+ Realistic sound effects
+ Plenty of fun moves to play with
+ Customisable main character

- Combat system is very unbalanced
- Short and fairly easy
- Backgrounds are bland and frequently re-used
- Controls are occasionally awkward
- Mostly predictable and repetitive A.I

Overall Score


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