The tie-in game to 1987’s RoboCop that came out in the States wasn’t on computers: instead, a clunky ‘VHS game’ was born.
Not only was 1987’s RoboCop a terrific movie, one that still feels eerily resonate some 33 years down the line. But also, it was the catalyst for some terrific computer games. Ocean Software picked up the licence for RoboCop nice and early, and across machines such as the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amiga, Atari ST and Amstrad CPC in the UK, it became an acclaimed hit game.
What’s more, whilst the cinematic sequels left what you could charitably describe as room for improvement, the British computer games continues to impress. Who else out there remembers RoboCop 3 on the Amiga? Now that was a game.
Videogame development in the mid- to late-80s was a swifter business than it is today, and thus when RoboCop became an unexpected hit on the big screen – and an even bigger one on video – there was a swift rush to cash in on it. In America, rather than develop a full home computer version though, the idea sprung to make a RoboCop game based around a videocassette instead.
This idea would come to greater fruition with the seemingly never-ending selection of Scene It! DVD board games that came to life in the early 2000s (and before that the better received Atmosfear in the early 90s). Scene It!, if you remember, was a collection of games based around popular properties that were bought as gifts every Christmas and remained in shrinkwrap until they were carted off to the charity shop/eBay/bin a few months later.
In the case of RoboCop, I wasn’t aware of the game at all until browsing through an old issue of Premiere magazine from the 1980s, where I happened across this (expensive) full page advert…
At first glance, I – as many must of – thought it was a computer or console game. But no: this was, according to the blurb on the back of the box, “a VCR game” that “lets you become part of the battle against despair and destruction”.
Yep, that still feels timely too.
The box also promises actual footage from the movie, “non-stop adventure” – although the enclosed videocassette ran to just 30 minutes (roughly the length of the adverts at the start of the first RoboCop sell through VHS release in the UK, if memory serves) – and “unlimited replayability”. Bold, bold claims.
Thanks to the miracles of modern tech, of course, all of this is now available to see. As the wonderful BoardGameGeek explains, what you actually got in the box was a board game with an accompanying video. That when you landed on given spaces, you were directed to watch a certain part of the VHS. The overall aim of the game was to make four arrests and then get back to the police station, and you did this with the aid of a playing counter, an ‘arrest log’ (pad of paper), game cards and a trusty six-sided dice.
Things hotted up when you landed on a square on the otherwise quite sparse playing board that had a code. When you found that, whoever was in charge of the remote then had to wind the video to the segment on the tape preceded by said code. It was at this point that players discovered the tape was not only a mere 30 minutes long, but it was also the same footage repeated over and over again, to save you having to rewind. You may have thought you’d get half an hour of RoboCop at least for your money. Think again, creep.
This is one instance though where pictures may work better than words, and thoughtfully, someone has uploaded the entirety of the VHS contents onto YouTube. You can browse it all right here…
Note how the footage you get is not, well, the more extreme ends of the movie. One other factor that the box was keen to point out was that the game was “based on the hit R-rated movie”, yet it had been “edited to be suitable for ages 12 and above”. Which gives you an idea as to just who the game was aimed at (appreciating lots of us managed to sneak a viewing of the movie long before our 18th birthdays).
Given the ‘Nuke’Em’ boardgame that’s actually in the film RoboCop, I can’t help but feel that may have been the better option in this instance. Yet what’s also clear is that the RoboCop VCR game was a quick cash-in to try and nab some more cash from what was turning into a surprisingly profitable project. Contrasting with the aforementioned computer games we got in the UK, it’s all a marked contrast as to what happens when someone puts in a shift on a tie-in product, and what happens when they’re less inclined.
If you have a bit of cash and are keen to check out what the lack of fuss is about when it comes to the RoboCop VCR game, one occasionally appears on eBay for around £30-40, although given that it only came out in the US, you’ll likely have to fork out for postage of that much too.
But the harsh truth of this one is it came, it went, and there was never any clamour for more…
Thank you for visiting! If you’d like to support our attempts to make a non-clickbaity movie website:
Become a Patron here.
Sign up for our email newsletter here.
Buy our Film Stories and Film Stories Junior print magazines here.