Where there’s a 16-bit video game to tie into a major motion action picture, there’s inevitably a Game Boy game as well. The question that has to be asked with most conversions to the under-powered Game Boy handheld is how well a developer can capture the experience that is found on the home consoles. In the case of Judge Dredd, it hails from the same developer as the SNES/Sega Genesis game, Probe, and has a lot of the DNA found elsewhere. While that is a positive for those looking for some Dredd action on the go as the SNES game is pretty terrific, it also has a lot of the same problems from that game that are made even worse, and some brand new performance issues exclusive to the Game Boy.
The Game Boy port of Judge Dredd feels much more like a film tie-in than the 16-bit game, due in part to the game following the plot of the film of the same name and ending after the battle with Rico, excluding the bonus content featuring the Dark Judges. Notwithstanding the extra content, the structure of the stages found here are very similar to the home console game: You’re given an objective at the start of a mission you must compete before locating an exit, such as destroying ammo crates, locking doors by accessing computer consoles, etc. The levels have a nice flow and are compressed for quicker play, which is nice, but later on the objectives make traversing the levels more frustrating than fun.
The objectives based around destroying things or finding an item or person are fine, but deep into the game you have to gather card keys to unlock laser gates. There’s no graphical indication as to what key opens what door, so the only way to get through these stages is to tediously run back and forth throughout the labyrinth-esque stages to find out which key works with what door, and then trying to find out which door opened. This is made all the more boring by the paltry music selection that repeats itself, and the title characters slow movement speed.
In trying to be as close to the work they created wit the other game, the game itself suffers from a performance standpoint. Dredd moves exceptionally slow even when sprinting and the controls do not feel as tight as they did in the console game, due in large to Probe trying to emulate the look of the character and enemies elsewhere but doing so at the expense of fluid motion. The collision detection on your shots also feels week and a little off, making it difficult to determine if you’re taking or doing any damage, especially in the case of the bosses as early as the first one.
Dredd has all the moves he has on the SNES, with the melee being worthless as it’s mapped to the shoot button and only triggers when you’re extremely close to an enemy, something I don’t recommend doing. The arsenal is quite extensive as well, but being able only to cycle one way with the select button makes getting to the right weapon quickly pretty unintuitive. Though it would reduce your overall weapon variety, it may have better had Probe limited Dredd’s weapon to just a grenade, a rocket, and perhaps one more weapon for ease of play.
A complaint I lodged in my review for Judge Dredd on the SNES was over the game featuring passwords but never issuing them on a regular interval, something that I’m sad to is the case here as well. It’s a tad forgivable on a home console as it’s expected that the player is going to devote a long time to play and maybe even finish a game, but on a system like the Game Boy where it’s meant to be played on the go or in small bursts there’s no excuse. Today this game can be played on the Game Boy Advance SP system that has rechargeable battery, but think back to 1995 where if you wanted to play this game as it was intended to, you absolutely had to play it on the Game Boy. Now imagine getting very far into the game, farther than you’ve ever been before and then running out of batteries without a password to recover your progress and having to start all the way back from the beginning. The best way to play it then, is via the Super Game Boy if it’s an option, which is what I did.
Judge Dredd on SNES was a pretty tough game, and this is the case here too. You still don’t get any extra continues and there’s no spare lives awarded for reaching a certain score, only hidden within the levels so you better keep your eyes peeled . If you are somewhat experienced with the console game however, you should have no trouble here, especially as the game is significantly shorter. Given the overall length, those who couldn’t quite make it to the finish line on their console of choice may be able to see this through to completion.
If you’re looking for a tight, fun to play side-scrolling action shooter starring Judge Dredd, stick with the SNES game. Much of the content found in that game is found within that package, and it’s presented much better despite Probe’s best possible efforts with this conversion. Fans of the console game may want to check this out for curiosity’s sake as a competent companion piece, bearing in mind you should play on either a Super Game Boy, Game Boy Player, or something that has a rechargeable battery.