Welcome to “Raising ‘Cade”, a retrospective feature about the original gaming arena: the arcade. Every week, we’re setting out around the darkest corners of America in search of a different game to play. The goal? Chronicle every arcade game in existence. In part 5 of our 15,435 part series, we grow mullets, tuck our t-shirts into our jeans and grab a neon blue gun.
Ah, to be a detective in the ‘80s. A hard-boiled everyman who puts his neck on the line to save law-abiding citizens and stuff the bad guys in jail — but what’s the point? They’ll be back on the streets in time for Cagney and Lacey. It’s not an easy life. You’ll somberly cruise the streets of a city past redemption with your partner — a partner thought of like a brother who will be killed a week before retirement. There’s no respect; instead of congratulating you, your boss reams you for causing $500,000 in property damage while taking down two drug dealers. Sure, you get a car, but it’s a 1986 LeBaron and nobody likes LeBarons — well, besides Jon Voight. It’s a thankless job that takes its toll on your psyche. So what better way to escape the normalcy of life than stepping in the shoes of a detective? That was Konami’s thought behind Lethal Enforcers, a game that aged about as well as an early episode of COPS.
Released during the wave of late ‘80s early ‘90s police procedurals, there’s nothing unique or endearing about the concept to be nostalgic for today. Arcade games with poor gameplay mechanics like Mutation Nation and Area 51 remain endearing because of their colorful sprites and interesting concepts. Lethal Enforcers, however, is about as dull, lifeless and dreary as it gets starting with the cabinet. Look at this thing:
It’s as clunky as arcade games get, wide enough to allow for two obese enforcers to stand side by side (a foreshadowing?) and about as deep as a Lincoln Town Car — fittingly as they’re on the side art (note to arcade developers: never feature a real, current car in the art of your cabinet — it makes it hard for bowling alleys to pass it off as new). To be fair, its depth is explained by the old school mirror/CRT set-up that admittedly did slightly improve accuracy and calibration. The cabinet is an off-putting shape and features generic graphics of a male (sporting a mullet) and female detective (dressed in a pink tank top tucked into mom jeans). With dated font and an unappealing white/blue color fade, the cabinet is gaudy down to its logo. There’s a reason why there’s not a huge aftermarket for these games. It’s the sort of arcade machine that pops up for $150 on Craigslist and ends up in the mancave of a guy desperate for a shooting game, forever forcing his friends to fake enjoyment of it during halftime.
As unattractive as the cabinet is, gameplay is even uglier. Lethal Enforcers is one of the first games that used “photorealistic” representations of characters. Instead of being pre-rendered with pixels, characters and environments were digitized photographs. Don’t imagine Mad Dog McCree; this looks more like the results of a kid sloppy at photoshop cutting out a character from a photo and placing it in another. The characters are jaggy and facial detail is poor enough that youth playing now (please don’t let that happen) would probably never guess photos of real people were used. Ironically, this caused quite the controversy in 1992, as many were outraged that impressionable children could go to the arcade and shoot real people (little did they know Gears of War was just around the corner). Of course, the violence is quite tame by today’s standards, with gun flashes taking out enemies who immediately flash and disappear — now a detriment to the game as the slow-motion deaths make it impossible to take seriously.
Shooting mechanics are as simple as a light gun shooter can get, with multiple enemies popping up that must be quickly disposed of before they shoot you, taking out one of 3-5 (depending on what the game is set to) life units — the depletion of which results in a game over. Innocent bystanders (also hilariously dressed in early ‘90s attire) pop up frequently and also result in the loss of a life unit if slain. Removing whatever primal appeal this shooter has is the incredibly slow rate of firing. The default weapon, a revolver, only fires six bullets before it must be reloaded by shooting off the screen, leading to a good amount of the game spent shooting away from the action. More powerful weapons are found as levels go on, but even the automatic ones feel like faster versions of the revolver.
Five stages are featured: The Bank Robbery, Chinatown Assault, The Hijack, The Drug Dealers and The Chemical Planet. Environments are repetitive and confined, due mostly to the game scrolling around at a snail’s pace. Up to four waves of enemies can pop out of a single view of an area before it moves on, which is not only boring, but nonsensical from a plausibility standpoint — how could two-hundred criminals be robbing a bank at once? Worse yet, missions are featured where enemies must be shot out of a moving car (as Mazda Miatas with innocent bystander babes roll by) as the background remains stationary. In an unbelievably poor effect (even by 1992 standards), a new generic background is slowly transitioned into every ten seconds. It must be seen to be believed.
Some vintage games have rock solid gameplay mechanics that remain relevant today. Others are cheesy enough to have ironic nostalgic appeal. Lethal Enforcers, on the other hand, takes an unrewarding career and turns it into an even more unrewarding shooter. Epitomizing everything wrong with early ‘90s gaming and throwing a bland sheen of sleaze over it, Lethal Enforcers is uninspiring trash. It’s amazing that Konami, who went on to produce thought-provoking titles like Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill just years later, has their name emblazoned on this 300lb farce. Perhaps its only use now is as a training tool for kids brainwashed by television into thinking being detective is all fun and games; five minutes of Lethal Enforcers will nip that in the bud.