Last Action Hero
Before he became the governor (or Governator, that is) of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger was one of the biggest box-office draws on the planet as the big-muscled action star of such classics as Commando, Predator, True Lies, and the first two Terminator films. However, during a brief foray into such comedies as Junior, Twins, and Kindergarten Cop, Arnie lost his edge a bit for the lighter roles and, arguably, almost ruined his legacy. Among these not-quite-hits was the critically derided meta-movie Last Action Hero.
But, of course, since it was a big-budget film with a big-name actor, it was worthy enough to have a video game developed for it as released on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console in 1993. And, like so many others, this license title proves to provide low-quality gameplay, the result of publisher Sony Imagesoft wanting nothing more than to turn a quick profit on a media commodity with a low shelf life in the popular culture of the time. This is not a video game that showcases imagination or innovation.
The first mistake this side-scrolling, two-dimensional (not even the third dimension of being able to walk into the “depth” closer to the background, but purely left and right or up and down) beat-’em-up is that the A button attacks and the B button jumps, which is not only in reverse from the legendarySuper Mario Bros. original NES game that set the golden standard, but also serves as a stark reminder as to what camp this cartridge belongs to: The crappy one with all the terrible games.
Oddly enough, though, in addition to the typical movement left and right, the player is also granted a move other than the basic punch: A kick, initiated by holding up when pressing A. This is a nice touch, it could be supposed. The player can also crouch, punch from the crouch, and try to attack in mid-air as well, with mixed results.
The player takes control of Jack Slater, the movie-star protagonist of the movie-related movie, in a plot that loosely follows the film. It actually, at first, seems to follow it rather closely, down to the oddly rendered cutscene still frames that depict shots from the cinematic experience. However, rather head-scratchingly, the NES game departs from the movie right around the second level, when the boy dreams of a medieval setting involving a Robin Hood-like environment in which the player must then traverse. This seems like a tacky random add-on.
Now, a rundown of the entirety of the gameplay of Last Action Hero the NES game: There are seven levels. Each ends with a boss. Each consists of either running to the end of a one-way path, or repeatedly going back and forth and ascending to higher levels. The enemies infinitely respawn. There are no points or other rewards for killing enemies, so they are best avoided. The best strategy for bosses is to crouch and repeatedly punch until the boss dies. Some projectiles can be dodged by crouching, some cannot. The player begins with three lives and a six-hit health bar for each, measured in hearts. Occasionally, health refills can be found. Continues are offered if all lives expire. Attacking range is short and hit detection is terrible. This is Last Action Hero on the NES.
This video game actually looks really good for an 8-bit title on the NES; though, by 1993, the console was in its twilight years and developers had little excuse to not know how to best make the on-screen action look. Examples from the first level alone: The police cars are displayed in bright detail, the background cityscape is creatively drawn in little pixels denoting window lighting per building, these windows flicker in moody atmospheric effect to match the rain, the protagonist actually wears a two-color outfit and is thus not prone to the Monochromatic Character Syndrome that many NES figures were drawn in, and the action proceeds fairly smoothly with little-to-no flickering or slowdown. That being said, some portions look better than others, the enemies get repetitive, and no amount of good looks can make up for awful gameplay.
The music is not outright awful, but it hardly tries to break boundaries either. You can fairly clearly hear the buzzy and bumpy-grindy notes of the two square-wave channels on the hardware struggling to complement the non-ambitious whines and weak lilts of the triangle-wave piece. The effects are even worse, though; a series of hisses, thuds, and hollow bonks. With such a plethora of previous NES classic titles to have witnessed before, some with truly spectacular soundtracks, it is somewhat remarkable that the developers really did not try to at least grant the background tracks a broader range or add some punch to the punch effects.
By its very nature, a license game lacks originality. However, there is some flexible wiggle room that allows for potential innovation and creativity to nonetheless still be expressed; unfortunately, there is very little true vision to be found on this cartridge. The beat-’em-up gameplay mechanic is even more monotonous than the usual genre strictures, the lack of reward for dispatching of enemies really breaks the entire motivation for combat, and it may be the worst of the handful of Schwarzenegger-movie NES license games, turning in a magic ticket for one star out of five.