Released in the summer of 1993, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Last Action Hero opened to tepid reception, both critically and commercially. Simultaneously inhabiting a space of being both a dumb Hollywood movie and a satire of dumb Hollywood movies, it was easily overshadowed by Jurassic Park, and while some movie fans still enjoy it for its sense of humor, it has otherwise mostly been forgotten. Obviously, Sony had high hopes for the movie, which resulted in tie-in video games being released for nearly every platform at the time. While the movie itself is still watchable cheese, these games are mostly all terrible.
Last Action Hero – SNES (1993)
Developed by Bits Studios in the UK, Last Action Hero for the SNES is a sidescrolling beat-em-up that brings nothing new to the table. In fact, it probably takes a few cups and spoons off the table. It tries to bring the movie’s story into a somewhat condensed form into the video game, and to its credit, it sort of achieves this. Though one wouldn’t say the story of Last Action Hero was its saving grace, it was the fun nonsensical action, so let’s skip the oh-so-terrible looking cutscenes and get right into the game.
Now from the very first level, you’ll realize something is very wrong. First of all, Arnold is balding and about the same size as a general thug, so that’s already a massive let down in the visual department. It’s hard to understand how you do not represent the most popular and iconic movie star of the era properly in a video game centered around him, but that’s the least of its problems. From the very start, Arnold has no weapon. (Well, he doesn’t really need a gun probably; he killed some dude by ripping his arm off and slapping him with it in Commando so anything goes.) But despite firing a hand gun multiple times in the movie, here he goes into action with only his Jell-O mellow hands. Well, maybe that’s not so bad, you might say, then you realize that every enemy in this game carries a weapon. Seriously, look at this roster of enemies:
They are all carrying something to inflict bodily harm on Arnold, and he can’t even throw a wooden branch to protect himself! The game puts you at such a disadvantage from stage 1 and never lets up. Seriously, why can’t he shoot anything? Jack Slater killed a guy with an ice cream cone in the movie; couldn’t you at least pick up ice cream cones and throw them at people? And my god, he’s so slow to even punch. There’s so much superfluous animation for just something as simple as punching, and all the enemies’ strikes have less frames of animation so it’s not even about timing. All you can do is punch and run for your dear life hoping they won’t catch you back. Oh, and that kick attack, just forget about that one, it takes almost a second before it hits the enemy. It’s completely useless. There aren’t any other moves in the game either, all you have is a punch and a kick, both delayed to the point where they can’t be repeated without taking damage, and most of the time enemies will come from both sides and just bully you back and forth because your only strategy is to punch and run, which means you’ll run into another enemy defenseless. There is one additional move, actually, and jumping split kick to take out both sides, but it’s so sluggish that even if it hits, both enemies are back in place by the time you land that you might as well just put the controller down if you’re attacked from both sides.
The horribly handicapped game doesn’t stop there. You see, there’s a timer too, and it ticks down at one eighth of a second, and there is no way to refill that timer. You can’t properly defend myself AND you have a broken time limit to deal with?
Oh, and these driving levels, these dear old driving levels.
This level is basically impossible. Cars are parked in the middle of the street and on sidewalks, there are pot holes, jumps, trucks, speeding cars ahead, speeding cars behind, sometimes jumping kills you, sometimes parked cars hit you despite being nowhere near them, sometimes you jump over a truck, other times you inexplicably come short of the jump.
Most stages have a boss character too, and for some reason they’re usually so much easier than the standard enemies that they become a joke. This is mostly due to the fact that they carry some sort of weapon that takes them even longer than your punch so they never get the opportunity to hit you. Some stages even try to incorporate some platforming elements by making Arnie jump from scaffold to scaffold or elevator to elevator, and his jump is like being on the moon on a windy day, completely uncontrollable.
But we haven’t talked about the worst thing in the entire game – the music. It was composed by Shahid Ahmad, who had earlier done Terminator 2: Judgement Day, so it might just be Arnold under a pseudonym composing the music himself. It’s the absolute drizzling shits, complete amelodic crap that sounds like a redneck baby repeating the first riffs he has learned. It is something out of a porno movie.
So does Last Action Hero have any redeeming qualities? No.
Last Action Hero – Genesis (1993)
So being the summer blockbuster that it was supposed to be, Last Action Hero was naturally released on multiple consoles, with the SNES and Genesis sharing games, as well Game Boy and Game Gear sharing theirs. The Genesis version of Last Action Hero is mostly identical to the SNES game short of a few noteworthy things.
Probably by accident or technical restraints, but to the general benefit of the game, Arnie now punches and kicks much much faster than before due to him having much less animation frames. Enemies also seem to take fewer hits, but that might be due to the fact that you never really get to win any fight in the SNES version so it might just be the euphoria of victory speaking. Arnie has a smaller life bar for some reason though.
But remember that thing about there not being any guns in this game instead of in the hands of the antagonists? Well guess what, in the Sega Genesis version, not only do all the regular bad guys have their weapons, there is now also a crosshair on screen shooting at you, so there’s a new shower of bullets coming into the screen which can’t be avoided. Arnie though? Oh, he remains empty handed. But good on them adding those things, if it’s one more thing Last Action Hero needs, its more challenge and unavoidable bullets. Apart from that, Bits also added the ability to interact with some objects in the background, like jumping on top of police cars, which wasn’t possible on SNES. It doesn’t do you any good however. There’s also some neat stuff like Arnie being picked up by a chopper at the first stage, but it makes no sense because in the next scene he enters the school from the front entrance anyway, which basically means he flew up like halfway and went “Wait, I want to go through the school, choppa man, GET DOWN”, and then carried on.
And what about the composer? Well, he’s back with the same soundtrack, just now performed entirely by constrained farts. What great use of the Genesis’s sound capabilities.
So does Last Action Hero on Genesis have any redeeming qualities not found in the SNES version? No.
Last Action Hero – NES (1993)
The NES version is completely different than the 16-bit counterparts and is more of a conventional 8-bit platform game with smaller arcade style levels. But that doesn’t make it any better than the other versions – in fact this might just be the WORST of all the Last Action Hero games, and such an unenjoyable romp that it’s hard to know where to begin talking and where to start crying.
The controls and graphics are a complete mess for the most part, with thick white stripes representing rain, and enemies coming at you from all angles, beating you to a pulp within an instant. Arnie’s repertoire of moves remains the same kick and punch as in the other games, only in the NES version the kick is the only useable attack since the punch barely even reaches in front of your own nose. Bad guys are shooting you from the background, including from the trash cans, and there’s nothing you can do. Oh, and what about this:
The game just went Day Dreamin’ Davey on us. Why are they stretching for straws with a movie that basically serves everything you need on a platter? Granted, there was a trailer scene in the film with Arnold playing Hamlet, but this is the best they could do? It’s like making a game based on Baywatch where on that episode Hasselhoff says that he wanted to become an astronaut when he was a kid, and then make a level where he’s on the moon jumping over space sharks and collecting gold coins. Sure, on some subconscious level that might be amazing, but that doesn’t mean it should be taken so literally. Otherwise, most of this game takes place in large buildings where Arnie has to fight his way up to fight a nondescript boss character. That’s pretty much it.
Unlike the other games where the music was absolute horse manure, here it’s just nonexistent, which is a step up from the music in the SNES/Genesis game.
So does Last Action Hero on NES have any redeeming qualities not found in the SNES or Genesis games? No.
Last Action Hero – Game Boy (1993)
Who wouldn’t want Last Action Hero on the go, wherever you are? Well, your wish came true with the Game Boy version of the game, which is cut up version of the SNES game with some changes made to better fit the smaller screen and make it a more sizeable game.
There are a number of differences this time around. There are now several golden tickets on screen which must be collected in order to acquire the proper item to continue, be it a key, a fire extinguisher, a rocket, or whatever it might be. Most of the graphics are brought over from the SNES game and actually look fairly impressive for the platform, though they animate sluggishly and the actual fighting is much too slow for it to ever become any fun. It also only takes one hit to fall to the ground, which takes much too long. The driving stages return, though here they are in an overhead view and handle much better, and can actually be beaten for once, which is a nice change of pace. The end boss is certainly interesting, being the Ripper’s face coming out of the big cinema screen and spitting bubbles at Arnie. At least there is no Hamlet nightmares this time.
So does Last Action Hero on Game Boy have any redeeming qualities not found in the SNES or Genesis games? Well… yes, actually. The game cab at times be a little bit fun, and the difficulty was evened out as were the controls. It’s still a terrible mess and mostly insulting experience, but when you been playing Last Action Hero for so many hours, you hold the happiness you find dearly to your heart and never let it go, and so this game manages to bring a shimmer of light to my soul, restoring faith, even if just a little.
The Game Gear version of Last Action Hero plays and looks identical to the Game Boy game, featuring the same golden ticket collection premise, same graphical style, same music. The only noteable differences is the added color, which actually takes away some of the detail seen on the Game Boy, and the jacket and shirt colors are wrong. But it plays no better or worse than the Game Boy version.
Last Action Hero – DOS (1993)
Being released several months after the releases on the standard home console systems, you’d think that the extra time would come with extra quality, and true chance to have the game come out something resembling playable, not just for disturbed individuals desperately looking for validation for purchasing all versions. But the developers clearly had other ideas when they finally released the home computer version of Last Action Hero. This version was actually developed by Psygnosis, who was acquired by Sony in 1993. This time around, there are two distinct styles of gameplay – open world racing and side scrolling brawler.
As the game opens, you now start in a car with a radio broadcast telling you to stop a robbery, and so you’re off to collide into an armored truck with a convertible. Immediately the controls will strike you as completely useless. At the slightest touch of the d-pad, the car will fly off into a frenzy, actually killing every pedestrian unlucky enough to be in the vicinity of Arnie and his slick ride. To make all matters worse, every single car on the road is programmed to aggressively collide into you, making just the simple act of getting to your target virtually impossible due to all the stuff coming at you at rapid speed. Weirdly enough, the game is something of a precursor to Grand Theft Auto, allowing for free open world driving and running over pedestrians, who even leave blood pools behind.
And the combat engine is completely laughable. Arnie moves slower than ever, to the point where you can actually tap the back button, let go of the controller and wait for him to slowly turn around and be beaten within an inch of his life by whoever is on screen. The hit collision is also broken beyond any hope, and most of your punches will never land. Arnie has had a bit of an increase in his move set however, and can now perform backflips, roundhouse kicks and thai knees jabs.
But the game is just so impossible there is nothing at all to get from playing it. Each stage is preceded by a clip from the movie running at 3 frames per second, which just begs for the question of why you aren’t watching the movie instead of playing this game.
Last Action Hero – Amiga (1994)
The very last of the Last Action Hero games to be released, the Amiga version was not actually developed by Bits, but rather by The Dome, who specialized in porting titles over to the Amiga, having also had the porting responsibilities for Shaq Fu. Their only original game was the puzzle game, Bob’s Bad Day. While the work they ported over was based on the DOS game, Dome made several changes to the gameplay and made almost an entirely new game out of the pre-existing material.
This version plays much closer to the classic Double Dragon games, enabling players to move into the background and foreground. The driving parts have been completely left out, and the cutscenes are nowhere to be seen. Most of the controls have been much more simplified from the DOS version, with most attacks just being a combination of up or down and the action button, and unlike in the DOS game, most attacks are pulled off reasonably quickly. Arnie himself moves as slowly as ever, and he also walks like a gorilla. The game basically leads you from one fight into another, with the only controllable parts being the battle sections, and the rest is done by the CPU.
But make no mistake, this is still a Last Action Hero game, and a good game is the last thing you’ll see here. The sprites and backgrounds are so drab and washed out that it looks like it was not even finished in production, and the illustrations are laughably bad, so it’s still a monotonous, repetitive, soulless piece of crap taking its worthy place in the lineage of Last Action Hero games. The only high mark is the music, which isn’t good at all, but out of all the games it’s probably the best even though it’s immensely cheesy hard rock with overpowering percussion.
So are any of these games worth having, no matter what reason there might be for getting them? No.
Last Action Hero – Sega CD (unreleased)
In my desperate attempt to own anything related to Last Action Hero as a kid, I came into possession of many magazines which featured previews and first looks on the various game versions created for the movie. While most of them only focused on the SNES version and were busy blowing smoke up my ass, there was one particular magazine which featured and in-depth look at the then-upcoming Sega CD version.
The article revealed that the game would be something closer to a fighting game rather than sidescrolling brawler, and it would make use of sprites and pre-rendered backgrounds and cutscenes. The pictures shows that most the sprites are taken from the DOS game and retooled slightly to look crisper. There is also a small interview portion in the article.
The Sega CD game was quietly cancelled with both the movie and the console not being any major success, and so we’ll never know if this would have been the one good game in the Last Action Hero line or if it would have continued to redefine how bad a game can be.
Pete Baron Interview
Through our conversations, Mr. Baron tried to shed some light on what went wrong and what should have been, had he had it his way.
What was the original plan for this game? I’m sensing that you guys had a different plan in the beginning.
The core concept was to take elements of the film script (the film wasn’t made at this point) and drop them into a high-speed multi-parallax side-scrolling game world. The weapons in particular were to be hugely extravagant with the player wielding a variety of weapons starting with a measly baseball bat but moving up through pistol, uzi, rocket launcher… maybe even a mini-gun. The enemies would come thick and fast and would wield comparable weapons… the helicopter was envisaged as flying in tilted forwards and tearing up the whole screen with huge numbers of bullets – really too fast to avoid entirely but you’d have to avoid staying in the stream whilst blasting back with rockets… LOTS of explosions and smoke all over. I can’t remember what the design was for the car section but it sounded pretty good too – it was never going to be Outrun, but with some high-speed dodging and weaving, throwing dynamite to deter pursuers, and a good solid impact feeling it had the promise of being an exciting sub-game and a worthwhile change of pace in the game.
So what exactly happened then?
After the planning stages we had a pretty solid game design document, I’d estimated each task and signed off on the payment structure (I was an out-of-house contractor for most of my career… still am actually) and I was ready to get started. Then the word came down from a lawyer at Columbia working for Arnie that he didn’t want to be associated with violence and the game should not feature him wielding guns. Even dynamite was included which messed up the plans for a toy company that was ready to go with a Last Action Hero doll holding dynamite – I heard they ended up recoloring it bright orange so it doesn’t look quite like dynamite (looking at Google Image Searc I do see one picture with him holding a plastic pistol but all the other sets come with weird irrelevant accessories).
This was complete disaster for our game storyboard of course, and there was a very hurried meeting in the London offices where we discussed alternatives. The game had a completely fixed deadline, there was no possibility of extension and communications with the American lawyer took ages (I think everything got proposed to either Arnie himself or to some sort of image consultant… either way a simple question like “can he punch” took a long time to get answered). So, the games company decided to play it safe. The game was to be largely non-violent despite the violent nature of the movie (apparently it was a parody, I didn’t get that from the script, or from watching it later!) and we were to try to fit the “Action” in between some tepid hand-to-hand battling, by including lots of scenes from the film like the elevator and the helicopter.
Given enough time, it could have worked. With a good story-board, a game doesn’t need violence to be exciting… but it takes quite a lot of fine-tuning to make even a simple chase really feel pressured. Jumping off a roof before a storm of helicopter bullets reaches you, landing on an elevator and luring the helicopter into crashing into the building sounds exciting, but in game terms it’s just run and jump then wait while dodging the incoming ordinance.
I think everyone involved in the project did a sterling job to turn a complete disaster into a game that was vaguely playable. It will always be remembered as yet another very bad film licensed video game, it could have been so much better – but it could have been even worse, given the redesign restrictions and time-constraints.
Was there any lead platform for this game?
There was no “lead” platform, both versions were developed concurrently to a single design document… any differences were spur-of-the-moment changes by the designers or the programmers in an attempt to make this lame duck walk.