Little Things: Undercover Cops

Let's discuss Undercover Cops, Irem’s gem of an arcade brawler from 1992. It follows the rules of a Final Fight clone, but it adds all sorts of satisfying touches. For starters, the three playable characters have sturdy repertoires of attacks and improvised weapons. Instead of jabbing away with pitiful knives and broken bottles, they can toss steel girders, swing massive stone pillars, heft motorcycles and Humvees, or pelt enemies with particularly large fish. They can also throw the first level's boss into a trash compactor. And they do it all in the same grimy detail perfected by Irem staffers, the same staffers who later formed Nazca and started the Metal Slug series.

There’s another small sign that Undercover Cops was made with a bit more care than the typical Double Dragon imitation. In the first stage, the game’s violent peacekeeper heroes come across a pack of criminals squatting around a television. Whatever could they be watching?

Hey, they’re watching R-Type! That skeletal, Giger-ish embryo is the first boss from Irem’s classic arcade shooter, and perhaps the most recognizable monster in shooter-nerd history. It’s a great little touch in a game replete with impressive sprite work by the future members of Nazca. And I rather like the idea of the citizens of the Undercover Cops world all gathering every Sunday evening to watch the latest exciting episode of R-Type.

This detail was even included in Varie’s Super Famicom port of Undercover Cops (which almost came to North America). It’s yet another sign of Irem’s penchant for referencing its heritage, a tradition that continued right up to the R-Type cameos in Hammerin’ Hero for the PSP.

Unfortunately, that heritage lies in disrepair now that Irem’s halted most of its game development. They’re now dealing in Pachislot titles, though the most recent of these features the Game Boy versions of R-Type, Ninja Spirit, Hammerin’ Harry, and…Undercover Cops. Perhaps Pachipara 3D: Ocean Story 2 will keep Irem going, but no one would recognize it on a tiny television set.