Author: John Legendoffzelda
As the adolescent escapism-junkie Danny Madigan watches the Arnold Schwarzenegger franchise picture “Jack Slater IV”, the magic ticket in his hands begins to glow. Suddenly, he finds himself transported into the film, lying face-down on the nighttime sidewalk where he sees his hero, Jack Slater, about to barge into an elementary school and face his nemesis on the rooftop. It’s already bad enough the video game of the 1993 action-fantasy film Last Action Hero is depicting an incorrect scene from the movie (it’s the wrong Jack Slater film being shown at the wrong time), but when the action proper commences, Danny doesn’t make a single appearance. In spite of the cutscenes, which insist on Danny’s role in the plot, the story feels as if the player has been inside Jack’s world all along. The clincher is that in this adaptation, “Jack Slater IV” has absolutely no sense of heightened reality to differentiate it from our world, or in fact the world of any other piece of hopeless action-game hackwork.
Sony Imagesoft is unfortunately the creator of many of the Super NES’s deeply terrible games, and this collaboration with Bits Software can potentially stand as its worst. Muddy, shapeless, and unplayable, the game seems to reprimand the player at every moment through dour self-loathing. It’s like the two companies are actively bitter about creating a tie-in product to something that failed as badly as Last Action Hero did. They both seem to say “Were you seriously expecting any enjoyment from this? You really should play some other game instead, because this is a dead zone.”
Jack Slater is presented by the story as an Arnold Schwarzenegger character above all. In his own universe, he’s a generic Los Angeles cop in a jacket the color of spicy brown mustard, and though his methods routinely frustrate the chief, he gets results, darn it. That isn’t to say any of his scripted backstory is mentioned whatsoever: he isn’t anything here except a brawling cipher.
Throughout the game, he runs around flat side-scrolling areas encountering violent thugs that he must defeat in order to advance. He can punch and karate kick, and though those moves are his only means of attack, they’re gratingly insufficient. Their reaction times aren’t fast enough, and the only real way they connect with an opponent is if Jack wanders dangerously close to their hitbox. The first three minutes of the game, featuring fights with mooks who resemble Wayne Campbell and Andrew W.K., prominently displays how unfair and tedious the gameplay is. Combat is reduced to the dull formula of jumping around an enemy’s range and timing your actions so that Jack can land a blow before they react. The enemy types make this method of fighting insultingly easy or aggravating, and it’s only guaranteed to work when there’s one foe on-screen at a time. Jack’s snail-paced fighting skills are useless against a group of those guys, and his big green health bar will take a serious licking when multiple people are involved. It’s quite possible that a regular player won’t get past the first three minutes. The bar only gets meagerly replenished by collecting movie tickets sparsely scattered throughout the entire game, but if the thugs don’t defeat Jack before he gets a chance to reach them, the time limit surely will.
There are five levels of this plodding nonsense, plus two driving sections with Jack chasing a villain on a L.A. road to round out a repetitive and apathetic action title. With your eyes settling on the smaller details in a struggle to maintain any interest in continuing, the ugly intricacies of the game’s design are unearthed. There’s no imagination behind the mook types, and the brawling levels reuse the same cliched images of armed urban thugs so often that it’s almost a relief whenever the gun-toting men in the suit jackets arrive to fight Jack.
The single grunt emitted by everybody when hit, including Jack, indicates a foul process of development that’s expanded upon further by the levels themselves. They’re meant as the exciting locations of one of the giant, glittery action blowouts that comprise the “Jack Slater” series, with the final level taking place at the crowded movie theater where the fourth installment is set to premiere – but for almost the entire game, the levels are empty. No one’s walking along in the background, or stopping to witness the violence, or anything. Except for the other motorists acting as obstacles on those L.A. roads, the game exists in a depopulated nowhere.
All of it indicates Last Action Hero is made with the thoughtless, ramshackle feel of a bad NES game. The petrified, limited gameplay mechanics; the cyclical repetitions of in-game assets; and the absence of any life in these places all paint this game as a rushed, cheap waste of programming designed for technically inferior hardware. There’s a similar level of creativity in the game’s setpieces, a desperation that thinks perhaps Jack doing something like playing tennis with a helicopter’s missiles can at least partially make up for everything being awful. This isn’t actually the NES version given improved backgrounds and other extra flourishes to try and pass it off as a 16-bit game, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were. A mindset like the one behind this presentation hopes to obscure the fact that blotchy, washed-out colors and the same fake rock-and-roll that plays in every bad action game like this one aren’t improvements even in a pig’s eye. On top of this, whatever sloppy details are applied to Jack Slater’s character design don’t make him seem like Arnold Schwarzenegger any more than the dreadful gameplay. With all these factors, we have a tie-in to an Arnold Schwarzenegger picture that bears no more resemblance to Arnold in his prime than the main film, or a month-old stalk of celery.
It’s a toss-up with what the central mood of this game is – could there be any thrills delivered if there was more faith in the source material, or is any work associated with this name doomed to large-scale ineptitude? The most I can tell you about this query is just that the final video game is bad. When the ugly soiled-1990s atmosphere and numbing, substance-free fights that clog this excursion are through, Last Action Hero peculiarly uses its final cutscene to suggest that the title has some kind of uplifting iconic stature. Its real legacy, on the silver screen and the Super Nintendo, is as a synonym for a special kind of pop-culture disaster.
One out of five stars.
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