You make me wish I had three hands
I have a history with Total Recall on NES. Not only has it been frequently trashed by everyone I’ve ever looked up to, but it also soured my early retro gaming experience. We had an NES growing up, but my family sold it for an SNES while I was still too young to care. I reacquired one when I was a teenager and it came with potentially the worst assortment of games I could have started with: Kid Icarus, Castlevania 2, and Total Recall. It would be years later that Punch-Out!! and River City Ransom would teach me that not every game on the system would make me feel like peeling my skin off.
I’m not very familiar with the movie, Total Recall. I’ve seen glimpses of it, but mostly I just know that there’s a woman in it with three tits. The fact that I know this and still haven’t watched it makes me question my priorities.
Like many NES games, the 8-bit adaptation of Total Recall has no bare tits. It’s entirely deficient in tits. You may think I don’t have a point here, but I do: the developers had the opportunity to make Total Recall essential playing, but they didn’t take it. Instead, we’re left wandering a wasteland bereft of tits. They could have also maybe had good gameplay, but alas.
I can say with confidence that Total Recall is without nipples because I went to the effort of actually beating it. I would appreciate your admiration for this, but otherwise, I accept your pity. I had never seen past the Subway level. It’s not that Total Recall is difficult, it just requires a certain amount of willpower to put up with it. It constantly finds new and effective ways to frustrate, and since there are no continues, that makes the prospect of starting over enough times to learn the game about as enticing as a pillowcase made of headlice.
Get Your Ass To Mars
You play as Arnold Schwarzenegger who is a… guy. Suddenly people are after him and he needs to fight them off with the slowest punch imaginable. I told you, I haven’t seen the movie, and that’s really how the NES game presents it. Here is a dude. These other dudes want him dead. To win, don’t die.
That’s pretty difficult. The enemies are extraordinarily stupid, and usually just a matter of figuring out how to take advantage of that deficiency. However, Total Recall has a habit of presenting you with new hazards and giving you absolutely no chance in discerning them before you die. Then you die a couple more times and it’s back to the start of the game. At this point, you’d put it down if you have any sense. I don’t, evidently.
The second(ish) level, for example, has a guy burst in with a machine gun if you take too long to kill an enemy. This machine gun ends you in one hit, and there’s no way to know this is going to happen until he pops his head in the doorway and mows you down. Then later, you have to fight a homeless man in a trenchcoat who hurls his hat at you like a boomerang. He seemed impossible at first until I found a gun. Then I found out that, even though you could punch him anywhere from too-close range, the gun only works on his face. So I had to play this awful game of skip rope, landing the odd shot to his mug until it ended.
It doesn’t help that there’s actual variety to the levels so you never know what to expect. Each one brings new enemies and hazards that you have no time to prepare for. It’s like Battletoads except without the personality to back up its cruel design. One moment you’re gunning down the homeless in a derelict building, the next you’re driving a car that handles as well as a crokinole disc. It would be a great way to keep a player’s attention if it wasn’t actively trying to drive them away.
Then the game gives you a level-skip code so you can continue from the halfway point, but before you get too excited, it only works once you’ve reached that point. So, if you turn off Total Recall expecting to come back to it later, the code just doesn’t work. Total Recall is a master of passive-aggressive design.
Consider That A Divorce
The good news is that most of Total Recall’s pain is front-loaded. Don’t get me wrong, it never gets any good, nor does it get easier, but the first few levels are easily the most vexing. Towards the end, it actually plays like a video game, rather than just an instrument of torture. Does Arnold fight skeletons in the movie? Just asking. The second half is also more forgettable than the first, skeletons aside. I almost get the feeling that they didn’t expect anyone to make it.
This experience has given me a bit of peace of mind. I now know that, as bad as Total Recall is, it isn’t as putrid as Predator. There are some aspects to it that remind me that humans made it and maybe they didn’t want it to be made fun of for the next three decades and counting. Does it do anything new and interesting? No. Unless you count the X-Ray section.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a game worth playing. What would have improved it? A lot of things. Better combat for starters. Level design that doesn’t focus mainly on its horrible combat. Gameplay that doesn’t require you to be clairvoyant to enjoy. Heck, unlimited continues would have made things a lot less painful.
Instead, it’s just another bad licensed game brought to us by Acclaim: the most prolific purveyors of bad movie games. I’m just not exactly sure why this has gotten all the ire when Predator is even more egregious. I guess it’s not necessarily the damage that you do, it’s the size of the crater you leave behind.