Everyone’s a critic. When Arnie’s Last Action Hero opened, it was unanimously panned by the movie press but still earned nearly $140 million at the box office. As such, its popularity meant that video game tie-ins were a foregone conclusion and hot on the heels of Sony’s takeover of Psygnosis, the game based on the satirical stab at the action genre was released, albeit a full year later after the film debuted in 1993.
Playing as Arnie’s on-screen persona, Jack Slater, the game in typical lazy licensed cash-in fashion uses some of the film’s locations but eschews all of the narrative, or any semblance of story at all.
Most of the important characters make an appearance, including Charles Dance’s Benedict, but if you got a kick out of the merging of fiction and reality in the movie, you won’t find the golden ticket to do so here. In fact, despite Last Action Hero receiving more home conversions than Lindsay Lohan, the Amiga interpretation is by far the most bare bones, in terms of both gameplay and options.
Firing this up, the title screen gives you the ability to start with up to five lives as well as presenting difficulty settings, although there’s even one for ’none difficulty’. Novel. There’s no real intro so to speak, just some cycled character descriptions giving you a snippet of text that’s neither informative or interesting.
After a brief loading screen where Arnie appears to have stopped by a barber’s for a quick jheri curl, we drag our heels into the first level with a sloth like walking animation. When the character you control looks uninterested and doesn’t appear to want be there either, it sets the tone of what’s to come. To be fair, our hero is modelled competently despite looking like he’s missed neck day. However, when accosted by the first set of generic bad guys, something horrific is unveiled as a strangely hypnotic head butting animation looks like a severe seizure. But as a whole, attack animations while cumbersome, are adequate despite the oddly flamboyant spin kick. Being combo’d by a villain also results in some strange light as a feather stiff as board physics as your hulking frame glides through the air.
Enemies display a similar level of awkwardness as they fumble around the environment. Generic and repeated enemy types are a trope of even the best beat ‘em ups but there’s not even any palette swapping, meaning wave after wave of clones line up to walk onto a fist. The most prominent enemy lookalikes include the braided minor character from Nightbreed, an extra from Police Academy’s Blue Oyster Bar and a sun-dried Rosemary Connelly. Later levels inject a small amount of variety but the list is short and uninspired. The bosses are the best of a bad bunch but there’s still very little on offer.
Environments are equally droll as we trudge through the standard streets, warehouses, car parks and rooftops. Again, while inoffensive they reach for lowest common denominator and still miss. Weather effects such as rain look comical and interior locations are very by the numbers. In atypical fighting fashion, clearing the screen of enemies will allow progression but even the small amount of horizontal scrolling on offer is jerky. The real kicker is that during these transitions from screen to screen, player agency is removed as the computer walks you to the next location as the scrolling stutters along.
Graphically, Last Action Hero is blighted by blandness and stilted animations. Environments and enemy types go through the motions, doing the bare minimum at trying to provide some sort of interesting aesthetic.
There’s nothing like a good one-liner and digitised speech was an easy way to increase production value and blow minds in the 8 and 16-bit era. But when you’re treated to one miserly sample, it becomes old, fast as it’s reiterated time and again after completing a level. Screams, yelps and gunfire are straight out of the stock room and while punches and kicks sound quite weighty, most sound effects are as sterile as the graphics.
Music wise, the soundtrack is mostly metal driven, apart from the ‘Straight Out Of Brompton’ title theme. Metal and action are like two peas in a pod and it initially feels like it’s going to be the only redeeming feature of the game. It’ll appeal to the moshers among us and maybe the head butting animation is actually Arnie head-banging, but when the same short loops are reused in a tiny timeframe, it soon becomes rote, much like a Status Quo album.
As the game’s a tick box exercise in how to create a beat ‘em up, you’ll find all the tropes here. Food in bins and boxes will give you health and there’s a standard number of moves with a special crowd controller that will take off a small bit of energy. And that’s your lot. No temporary power-ups or modifiers and there’s not even a sniff of an over-the-top special move, Streets of Rage style. Destroy the limited amount of screen furniture as you wish across the game’s five levels, as there’s very little to see here.
Moving along, even with this distinct lack of variance, a brawler can be rescued with a good base move set and competent AI. Last Action Hero has neither. Holding the fire button and moving the joystick in a certain direction will pull off a different move with successful hits turning into a combo. While the combat is relatively impactful, certain moves such as the previously mentioned headbutt has too short a range to be effective most of the time and duck is only useful against one enemy type. Punches and kicks have some force but collision detection can be slightly off when fighting across the different planes.
The pathing of the enemy AI is rudimentary as they move away before coming back in for some cheap shots. On your initial try, you might feel overwhelmed as you get surrounded with no way of defending yourself, being abused from every angle, with the previously mentioned spin kick being a saving grace. It proves frustrating as you get bent over constantly until you very quickly figure out the exploit – stand in place and allow the ragtag band of baddies to politely walk onto a size 11. To exemplify the poor gameplay even further, you can endlessly combo an enemy by changing move every two hits, turning boss battles into a farce.
There’s very little else to talk about when it comes to gameplay. Destroy a wave, feel your heart sink when the UI fills up again with the same enemies, mood picks up as the screen scrolls, spirit broken as you rinse and repeat. It’s almost if that ‘none’ difficulty setting where baddies are dispatched with two blows is an olive branch from Psygnosis to get it all over with as quickly as possible.
When the game released, it seemed like it was dead set on winning the title as the worst reviewed Amiga game of all time. Unfortunately, it even failed at that, losing out to Domark’s International Rugby Challenge. More Wild Streets than Streets of Rage, Amiga Power famously gave the turkey a measly 3% indicating that the game must be broken or unplayable. It’s neither, but it is one of the least enjoyable gaming experiences to ever grace a home machine.
For added insight about the troubled development of Last Action Hero and additional trivia, check out the video below.
Movie tie-ins have always been a hit and miss affair. For every Batman: The Movie there’s a Superman 64. However, Last Action Hero even out does the worst adaptations putting it in a category all of its own, not even deserving a Razzie video game equivalent. The game lacks any of the film’s wit, settling into a dull and repetitive gameplay cycle within seconds. The troubled development and studio interference is visible in every abysmal frame and what should have been an enjoyable run-of-the-mill beat ‘em up, makes the player want to follow the developers in disowning its existence and get their ‘ass to Mars’. The mighty Arnie may be back, but Last Action Hero is nothing more than a choir boy in a sea of superior titles.