Ask many what their problem with movie or licensed video games is and you’ll probably see some of the following: It’s a rushed cash-in job that’s not very fun to play and it isn’t very long, and both would be correct a very high percentage of the time, especially in the 16-bit era. Almost every major block buster film, particularly the ones starring the likes of Arnold and Sly, had a video game vying for your attention: Last Action Hero, True Lies, Demolition Man, Cliffhanger, the list goes on and on. One of the major culprits of producing these games was Acclaim entertainment, those who also go by the name of LJN and gave us a lot of comic book themed games of questionable quality. Every so often however there exists a game that takes this trend and turns it on its head, your Goldeneye’s or your Chronicles of Riddick, games that make you question why bad movie games get made when some people manage to get it so right. Judge Dredd on SNES is one of those head turning games, bafflingly from Acclaim, that’s well worth your time and maybe one of the positive things that came out of the poorly received Judge Dredd feature film from 1995.
Judge Dredd on the SNES initially follows the plot of the film it’s based on: You as Judge Dredd are convicted of murder, thrown out of the justice department and your home of Mega City One, and are tasked with apprehending your brother Rico before his army of clone soldiers bring chaos to the world. This segment of the game barely takes up less than half of the game, so just when you think it’s over, the game keeps going, charging you with keeping the peace from various gangs and eventually venturing to Darkworld to prevent Judge Death and Judge Mortis’ plan to invade our world. It’s something that’s quite uncommon and frankly refreshing to see in a movie game, as it not only pleases the people who bought the game because of the film but to those who enjoyed the character long before then in the pages of 2000 AD. Even better is that it gives the player quite a lot of game for their dollar, something that continues to be a problem in today’s movie games.
Much like other games of its type, Judge Dredd is a 2-D action shooter. It follows a linear progression but each level has a maze like structure that encourages players to explore for hidden items, lives and power-ups while accomplishing objectives that are set down at the start of a stage. Your mission can be as simple as finding a character or activating a computer, to something more complex like destroying a set number of ammo boxes or clone tubes scattered about a stage that requires quite a bit of level traversal. Although the universe of Judge Dredd is a rather bleak one, you do get a wide variety of environments, from the standard sewers and prisons, the industrial run down streets of Mega City One, the desert like wasteland of The Cursed Earth and finally the bizarre monster filled Darkworld, home of the Dark Judges.
The title characters controls are rather simple: You can jump, perform melee attacks with the “A” button and shoot with the “Y” button, but the real fun in the game comes from learning to use your rather extensive arsenal to maximum efficiency. Starting out you’ll have plain bullets that are great for taking out street thugs, but early on you’ll gather an arsenal of different types of missiles, grenades, ricochet bullets, and the “Boing” capture bubble used to trap ghost-like apparitions that appear when certain enemies are beaten (a skill you’ll require in the end, so get in as much practice as possible.) Success comes from learning what weapon to use against what bad guy and knowing if it’s worth using that rocket to take down a criminal with a shot-gun when a boss or ABC robot could be awaiting around a corner to rob you of a life. As your are judge, jury, and executioner, you can also chose to sentence those who give themselves up, which earns more points than simply killing them. Sentencing is something you’ll want to do more often than not, as the extra points lead to more lives.
Lives are something in short supply here and you’ll quickly learn to treat each one as your last, as make no mistake about it, this is a VERY tough game. At the game’s onset you have only three chances and zero continues, another unfortunate thread among Acclaim games. You can stock up to nine lives at any given time by coming across them in hidden nooks and walls within levels or by building up 250,000 points. The game does come equipped with a password feature, but you’re only awarded one when you can find a floppy disc in a stage; Something I only did three times extremely deep into the game. Why they just didn’t provide a password after each, or even a few levels, is strange and it almost makes you have to finish the entire game in one sitting, which is a problem given the game’s length.
I do appreciate that Judge Dredd is a long game for its type, but after you resolve the plot from the film by beating Judge Rico, the game ceases to give you anything new. The levels follow the same theme as the ones you’ve come across with remixed enemies and different objectives, and it feels like padding until you get to see the strange layout that is Darkworld. Another missed opportunity is the Lawmaster cycle that you only get to ride in one stage. The camera is facing Dredd with the vehicle controlling itself leaving you responsible for shooting enemies coming upon you or kicking them away when they manage to get close enough. It’s a very thrilling stage and a welcome break up from side-scrolling levels; A shame that developer Probe only let you ride it the one time.
Complaints about difficulty and length aside, Judge Dredd on the SNES is a game that I would recommend fans of 2-D action games check out. The controls are tight, the levels are sprawling and full of secrets and you develop an arsenal that rivals major armies. If only the password system was a little more friendly or perhaps if you had the opportunity to continue even a few times some more casual fans could see this through to the end, but only the most dedicated will bring about real justice. Hey, no one said the life of a Judge was easy, right?