Cyborg Justice – Sega Genesis
Platform: Sega Genesis
Release Date (NA): 1993
Genre: Beat ’em Up
Nerd Rating: 3 out of 10
“A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.”
–Isaac Asimov, on the Three Laws of Robotics.
Cyborg Justice is a passable premise hampered by awful execution. I won’t explain the story because it’s not very riveting and the game does it for you in the opening cut scene (while playing unfitting music). Cyborg Justice is a side-scrolling beat ’em up that lets one to two players build their own cyborg warrior out of a selection of different parts. Parts are divvied up into body, leg, and arm sections, and entice the player with exciting names like “Pneumatic Legs,” “Saw Arm,” and “Lobster Body” (what?!?). You’re usually given some indication of what different parts do based on your character’s animation upon part selection, but it’s not always clear. Fortunately, the game lets you test your characters out before launching into the level. Unfortunately, testing won’t help much, because every aspect of Cyborg Justice‘s controls are utter ass, and you’ll notice this as soon as the customization screen itself.
I’m not entirely sure what combination of buttons is required to switch from the customization area to the testing area, but pressing “Start” is involved at some point. However, pressing “Start” also starts the next level, soooo…I don’t know what to tell you. I’m sure there’s something simple here I’m missing, so feel free to call me out on it–just as long as you admit that the moment you start up the first level, simplicity and intuitiveness fly out the window. EDIT: Finally figured it out–you have to press Up, THEN start. My point still stands.
So you start the first level and you notice that there are missiles firing at you from some force off-screen. Those must be the enemies up ahead, right? Surely? No. Those missiles are there to frustrate you–that’s why they come at you from both directions. What real purpose they serve, I don’t know, I just know they punish you for standing in any one place for too long. They also discourage you from moving around. They discourage you from doing anything other than try to get through the level quickly, which is impossible. Why is it impossible? Because you’re slow. Oh, you walk fast enough, but your attacks? Your attacks are slow. This is a very slow, very sloppy beat ’em up.
I wanted to give Cyborg Justice the benefit of the doubt. It released the same year as the six-button Genesis controller; as far as I can tell, it predates the six-button by several months. I thought maybe that was holding this game back. I mean, to perform such a wide range of moves using just three buttons? Maybe there was no other choice. Maybe the developers had to compensate, work through their limitations, and deliver a product that matched their original idea, even if it was at the expense of immediate accessibility. But then I actually looked up the controls online, and I noticed something: they’re just terrible.
Cyborg Justice is a beat ’em up that thinks it’s a fighting game. Unfortunately, it thinks it’s some combination of Cosmic Carnage and Shaq-Fu, both of which are very, very terrible games. Fighting games. So Cyborg Justice thinks it’s a very, very terrible fighting game. Here’s the catch: those controls may very well be the result of having only three buttons to work with, but they are the worst possible way to address the limitation. Instead of having dedicated functions, each button has multiple functions assigned to it. Activating those functions is dependent upon specific directional inputs on the D-pad. A low kick, even in a fighting game, is usually a matter of pressing Down+a button. In the nicer fighting games, your character will even crouch when you press down, just to let you know you’re on the right track. How does Cyborg Justice handle low kicks? D-pad Down+C+A.
That shit is not okay.
The natural resting state for C is blocking. Logically, performing a low block would be a simple matter of holding Down+C. In Cyborg Justice, that’s how you crouch. Low blocking requires pressing Down+C+Back. By the way, Down+C is both how you crouch AND you how you perform a back flip. Don’t even get me started on the jumps–there are multiple pits in the first level that you have to jump over, but only a certain jump will work. Even then, it’s not that the jump goes far enough to clear the gap, it’s just the correct jump–it’s all scripted, like the loop-de-loops in a 3D Sonic game. You have to be pretty quick with those jumps, by the way, otherwise one of those off-screen missiles will knock you into the pit. Great game, great times.
Now granted, all of these button inputs are short, but that doesn’t make things any easier. Nothing feels consistent, nothing flows logically. Even in a game as crammed to the gills with combos and attack options as Bayonetta, players can naturally decipher combos. In Bayonetta, you can see that a certain attack leads into a certain punch; you can time things correctly based on the perceived weight and force of an attack (“press the buttttonnnn….NOW!”). Most importantly, buttons do not share multiple functions. BASICALLY, BAYONETTA HAS COMBOS. Cyborg Justice doesn’t have combos, it has inputs. Whatever you’re doing on that controller, it’s going to translate into one attack, and it will be incredibly awkward, clunky, and boring. There’s no wind up, just the pitch. Having only 3 buttons is no excuse–Battletoads gets by just fine, Streets of Rage gets by just fine, fucking Double Dragon gets by just fine.
But what if, by some miracle, there were a version of Cyborg Justice that had 6 buttons, and somehow this convoluted input system had been altered and alleviated simply by having more real estate to work with? Would that make the game any better? Marginally. As in, not by much. As in, very little.
Even beyond its controls, Cyborg Justice is a mess. Very few attacks come out fast enough to justify their use. It is a guarantee that most of your attack animations will be interrupted by your much faster, much more ruthless enemies. The attacks that you do land won’t always register, because the collision detection is spotty at best. Whenever you destroy an enemy, you have to wait several seconds for their body to explode before you can continue moving through the level. Tedious, boring, terrible.
In terms of presentation, Cyborg Justice is all of the worst parts of the Sega Genesis distilled into one cartridge. The graphics are as garish with their turd-and-vomit color scheme as they are drab with their dull backgrounds. The music and sound effects justify every argument ever made against the Genesis sound chip; everything either sounds like a garbled fart or like a compressed sample of the noise you get when you scrape a cheese grater against a chalk board. The occasional funky bass line notwithstanding, there is nothing here, aurally or visually, to enjoy.
Are there any redeeming qualities about Cyborg Justice? Well, it’s playable. The fact that your cyborg has a straight-up pimp-walk (which syncs up perfectly with the aforementioned funky bass line) is pretty sweet too. Perhaps the game’s greatest saving grace for me is that my copy froze at the end of level 2-1.
My inner moralist told me to press on and try again for the sake of reviewer integrity, but I decided to just look up some gameplay clips instead. Rest assured, things don’t magically get better later in the game.
Some people probably swear by this game. Some people swear that the nuclear bomb was a good idea. Some people think Sucker Punch is a feminist movie. Some people can’t be helped.
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