Saturday, December 19, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Dick Tracy (Genesis)

Retro Game of the Day! Dick Tracy (Genesis)

Dick Tracy for the Sega Genesis, released in 1991 and based on the previous year's film.

Early in the 1990s, Sega was enjoying the luxury of being the new Big Cheese with their Sega Genesis/Megadrive system. The only "true 16-Bit machine" on the block, at least until Nintendo rolled out their SNES a couple of years later, Sega tried padding their release lineup with lots of "big name-brand" titles featuring well-known sports stars (Tommy Lasorda, Arnold Palmer) and Superheroes (Spider-Man) and the like. It was still particularly hard for them to woo big names away from the Nintendo stable - which pretty much appeared to have all the exclusive rights for anything notable pretty wrapped up, as that was where the money was - still, a few got through.

After the Tim Burton-directed Batman movie release in 1989, Superheroes(and their fantasy worlds) experienced a huge rebirth in marketability. No longer seen as just "a kid's property," it became huge business and the stuff of Summer Movie Exposition/Cultural Landmarking - and all the crossover money that would mean. Dick Tracy was another very old property to be "rebooted" in a similar fashion, directly following this new legacy, in an attempt to cash in. Of course, some video games followed in the ensuing rollout.

Dick Tracy tells the story of a highbrow police detective who's sharp with his wits and sharper with his pistol, set against a bright and colorful 1930s metropolitan backdrop. The gimmick here is the atmosphere, which is very refreshing and unusual (and not really seen anywhere else these days). As with any other good superhero, Tracy's world is filled with a larger-than-life rogue's galley of villians, all appropriately cartoony (over the top - if a character was named "Lips" Johnson, for example, he'd literally have huge 5-foot puckered lips on his mug).

It all sounds like a promising setup for both a film, and a video game - unfortunately, neither turned out to be much more than a half-hearted effort. The Bandai-developed NES game was one story, and this Sega effort was another.

As for the game itself? Basically, they took the most generic side-scrolling blaster and skinned it with a Dick Tracy theme. This could have worked out, but considering Sega's similarly-developed efforts at the time, there was a bit of an expectation there. Dick Tracy was pretty easy on the eyes in screenshots - still, something was amiss. I picked up a rental one weekend and got my dose. There was the whole game - walk to the right. Shoot at enemies. Don't die. That's about it. Pretty graphics? Meh - colorful and clean, but mostly lacking pep. What was cool? There was a 2-layered depth system implemented. You could take out enemies up front with your pistol, but if someone showed up trying to blast you from across the street, you could whip out your tommy gun and open up on that sucker. That felt cool. Sadly, it was never really capitalized on, and just felt like another wasted effort in this whole drab game.

Why even bring up Dick Tracy at all, then? Well, some people liked it. It did represent a misstep of a young and eager Sega, who was making several right moves in many other directions of the time. I would say most people forgave them for putting out also-ran's like this when we got exceptional titles like ESWAT at the same time. In fact, I was really hoping that this title would end up like a 1930s ESWAT if that makes any sense. Not a "bad game," and one which is definitely fun to load up if you've not seen it - the theme alone makes it noteworthy, and some mindless blasting has its place as well. Just an empty effort with a wisp of what could have been. Moving right along!

1 comment:

  1. I've got the NES port of Dick Tracy...The Genesis version looks WAY better. Then again, it takes talent to be worse than the NES Dick Tracy...