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Hello there guys and gals and welcome to yet another review. Tonight I present to you my second entry in the innovative games challenge presented by the Blistered Thumbs Reviews Submissions Forum. Now this happens to be a review of a classic title that teaches children that drugs aren’t cool. Before we get this started I just wanted to say that I’m not talking about Wally Bear and the No Gang. This little PSA game hit arcades in 1988, which was during that time in the 80’s (and early 90’s) when there was a huge movement to teach children about the dangers of drug use and I do mean huge.
The entertainment industry (in the form of cartoons and after school specials) and the government (PSAs), seemingly joined forces to do everything in their collective power to prevent drug use. This is why we saw such things as the Ninja Turtles/Ghostbusters/Alf/Muppet Babies/Duck Tales/LoonyToons/Chipmunks/Smurfs/Winnie the Pooh team up, Ultimate Warrior screaming about how smoking disrupts his power filed, Pee Wee Herman talking about crack and that one commercial with the egg and the frying pan. Which is a noble idea, although many of these efforts/PSAs would more or less be either scare tactics or overly proactive bits of fluff that would demonize drugs/ drug users, rather than simply telling kids the truth. This game does (sort of) fall into that category and it became a hit with the kids but would also become the center of controversy.
You might be wondering why would anyone, especially parents and political figures be upset with a game (and like to stress this again, a popular one) that would paint drugs in such a negative light? Well to make a long story short, let’s just say that Wally Bear didn’t shoot no hookers. This is NARC.
The story of NARC involves a police officer who’s mission is to take down the evil drug lord Mr. Big and his KRAK (because poor literacy is Kewl) organization by any means necessary. That’s it really. It doesn’t have a gripping story but this is only an 80’s arcade side-scrolling shooter, so it’s not like one would have been expected.
The game doesn’t really offer much in terms of music. I mean I can’t literally remember any of the tracks from the game aside from the main theme. The audio quality of the voice samples that were used is actually surprisingly clear for a game that came out in the 80’s. I would go so far as to say that it is almost perfect. Well-done Williams (RIP). Is there anything else to say about the game’s audio? Umm. The sound effects are pretty cool.
(You can arrest the drug dealers without the use of excessive force)
NARC is one of the sharpest looking arcade games to come out of the 80’s and was one of the first video games ever to use digitized graphics (the style made famous by Mortal Kombat). The characters look pretty damn realistic for the time I must say, since their sprites are after all based on real actors who were shot in front of a blue screen. They don’t look quite as real as the MK sprites, probably because they are so small in comparison but they definitely standout more thanks the stylistic use of bright colors, which was made possible with the game’s 32-bit processor. The backgrounds look pretty good and also make good use of the game’s color scheme but it suffers from Flintstones Syndrome. You know about Flintstones Syndrome right? When cartoon characters are walking and the same background just loops continuously. Well in NARC, that happens in every level. How many porno theaters can one town have?
One last thing I should mention is the look of the High Score screen. It looks awesome! It is a nice flash of bright colors, which turn out to be graffiti that you add to when you tag your initials. Pretty cool eh?
Now let’s talk gameplay, which is where the big controversy surrounding the game rears its ugly head. You see, not only is this one of the first games to use digitized graphics, it is also one of the very first examples of video game ultra violence. You see, it is a side-scrolling shooter with realistic looking characters killing each other. You might argue that these cops (if you happen to be playing two player) will have to shoot some of the enemies since there are so many and they do have to protect themselves. However, these cops seem to live by the “Straightedge means I’m better than you” philosophy, which I guess means that they have no qualms about blowing these druggies into tiny bits with a rocket launcher. That’s right. You can literally blow other people into flaming, gory pieces in this game. But this is only the beginning of the questionable material that is littered throughout NARC. A child friendly game this is not.
(Or you can say screw that and blow'em all to Hell)
Each level starts with a message from your commanding officer and a picture of the perps you are supposed to deal with in each level. Like the flasher looking guy, a lurching crack addict, a Randy Savage looking hippie, a psycho clown that looks the end result of a Ronald McDonald/Bozo fusion dance, some guy in a fedora and Mr. Big. Not exactly a wholesome bunch of characters. Once you have your marching order, you exit from your squad car and proceed to either shoot every goon in sight then take their money and cocaine (you know, for evidence) or you can try to arrest them, which is done by walking into them. However, since the screen will literally always be littered with enemies, you’re probably going to shoot more often than asking questions. Which is too bad because arrests bring in more bonus points than drugs and money. As you are doing this, you will be looking for a colored card that will allow you to use the exit at the end of the level. Since levels are short (like the blink of an eye really), they won’t take long to find. Other than that the game pretty much follows the same formula for each level until you fight Mr. Big. But there are few exceptions. In one level, you can drive a car. In another you can destroy a drug mill for bonus points. One level has you collecting pot plants and another has you protecting prostitutes from being carried away by the killer clowns, although they tend to stand around like a complete moron and get killed in the cross fire.
The game plays fairly well….for an absolute quarter sucker. The controls respond well enough to each command but sadly that doesn’t help much. Like I said before, the screen will literally become cluttered with enemies that are armed to the teeth with hand-guns, flame throwers and crack needles (which drain your life). You also have seemingly invincible/hulking crack heads (mixed message?), snarling attack dogs, irritating bugs (which also drain life) and don’t forget to look out for those damn clowns. They’ll stab you. You might be thinking to use that rocket launcher to help shorten their numbers. This is a good idea but you’ll run out of ammo pretty quickly, so make to use it only when you absolutely have to, which sadly seems to be all the time. You might be thinking that it would be better to dodge enemy fire while running for the exit but with enemies coming at from all sides, you are going to have to shoot at least a few guys or arrest them (if you don’t mind being hit or if they don’t walk right through you). Besides, dodging doesn’t help since you at move at a friggin snails pace and all enemies move like the friggin Flash in comparison. The dogs especially, which you have to bend down and shoot (don’t miss or you’ll get mauled). Oh and those damn bugs. They latch onto you and drain your life in a nanosecond. If you are going to play this at the arcade, make sure to have a second player to watch your back or at least have this month’s laundry budget on hand.
If you’re like me, you’ll prefer to play a port of the game (thanks Midway Arcade Treasures 2). If you play it in port form, you won’t have to worry about death since continues are unlimited (and free). So you can actually spend more time racking points through arrests or through killing/drug confiscation and still beat the game in 30 minutes or less. Yup. It’s that’s short. I guess that’s why it’s so damn hard.
(Calling all cars! Calling cars! We have a flasher selling coke on Main Street)
What do I think of NARC? It’s got some great trend-setting graphics and I think that although it is a really repetitive and overly difficult experience, it is still a fairly fun time waster (if you have the luxury of unlimited continues). It may have been an innovator of violence but it is far from great.
I can understand the point that the concerned parents were making about the game's use of violent and sexual imagery and I would agree that young children should not be playing these kinds of games. However, I think when their complaits about the drug references were a bit off base since the drugs weren't being used as power-ups but rather as evidence to use against the drug lords, which is what real cops do.
Oh and if you want to talk to children about drugs, just be honest with them. Tell that drugs are incredibly addictive substances that can alter their personality and destroy their bodies and possibly kill them in the long run. Not too mention that they are illegal and the possibility of getting arrested is all too real. No need to sugar coat the message or try to scare the Hell out of them. Just be honest with them and they’ll listen.
The More You Know! *Insert star and rainbow*
Final Score: 5/10 (Just because I said it was innovative, doesn’t mean I thought it was great)
(Remember kids, say no to drugs and then you to can jump 20ft in the air)