DEVELOPER: Sega (port by Sanritsu)
RELEASE DATE: 09/90 – (US), 11/90 – (EU)
Sega sure had a thing for RoboCop, didn’t they? The Detroit cyborg cop has uncredited cameo appearances in Revenge of Shinobi, Mahjong Cop Ryuu, and Assault City. With E-SWAT, Sega makes their own unlicensed straight-to-VHS RoboCop ripoff. Unlike Alex Murphy’s cyborg uniform, Duke’s mech suit is bulky, goofy, and falls off the more he’s shot. Additional firepower and a longer lifebar are great, but it’s clear that the Liberty City Police Force needs to bump up their budget if they want to compete with the real thing.
In the first stage, Duke’s in his civilian clothes, shooting at swarms of enemies coming from either direction. He can get shot four times and his pistol is slow compared to the enemies’ swift movement, but otherwise he gets along. After you beat the first stage, you’re promoted and given the mech suit. With it, you get a machine gun and you can get shot several more times. You also acquire limited special attacks like a Plasma Cannon or a Multi-Shot. These special attacks supposedly pack an additional punch, but they’re hard to pull off (buttons 1 and 2 at the same time, in theory) and they didn’t seem much more powerful than a traditional attack.
In between each stage, you fight weird comic book type bosses. There’s the Fire Breathing Tub of Fat (actual name), the mohawked Boomerang dude, and an Axe Warrior straight out of “Mad Max,” among others. Their difficulty ranges from stupid easy to damn, son. Up until stage 3, I had no problems taking down each boss on my first try, but stage 3’s Giant Machine Gun stopped me in my tracks. This boss’s four cannons must be taken out one by one, and their all-at-once fire is nearly impossible to avoid without getting killed.
E-SWAT‘s arcade big brother was never on the cutting edge of the run-and-gun genre, but this Master System port takes its design cues from 1986. The enemies that never stop coming remind me of awful early Master System brawlers, My Hero and Black Belt. The stages are sparse and can be cleared quickly, particularly if you have the mech suit. Each enemy only takes one bullet to kill, and it’s incredibly easy to mow them down before they even get a shot in. While E-SWAT controls ok, the graphics are some of the worst I’ve seen on the system. Muddled colors and scratchy sprites remind me of some unlicensed Color Dreams mishap on NES, not a Sega arcade port by Sanritsu.
E-SWAT is slightly more entertaining than Sanritsu’s previous Master System flop, Assault City, but both games share a malaise, as if they were assigned to the company against their will. Each game has a grim ugly aesthetic, abundance of killing, and stories that deal with the uncomfortable interlocking of robots and mankind against a dystopian background. No wonder Sanritsu was over it! Compare E-SWAT and Assault City with their wonderful, colorful golf game, Golfamania, and it’s clear where the company was most comfortable.
In 1990, E-SWAT was a disappointment for those who held out hope that Sega would finally provide a decent arcade port for the Master System. Today, the game is a sad reminder that developers have to take jobs they don’t want in order to put food on the table. Don’t worry, Sanritsu: RoboCop doesn’t hold E-SWAT against you and neither do I. Better luck next time.