Unlike Bubble Bobble II, an unreleased prototype game that, after looking at the evidence, was possibly sent to magazines in its horrifyingly broken state as 'review code', Judge Dredd for the arcade clearly isn't quite finished, a fact that the programmer himself confirmed. However, it was put out for location testing anyway. Before it was cancelled (for reasons that are elaborated upon in this location test report and at the end of our own full playthrough) the developers managed to finish three levels and three bonus stages, with an unfinished 'boss rush' level that can be found in the test menu and a 60-70% finished encounter with Judge Death. However, the game has been preserved thanks to MAME, albeit in a slightly less-complete form (missing the Death fight). Not quite a full game, then, but just about enough to justify a review, eh, readers?
Enough of the history of the game's release, Judge Dredd isn't like other scrolling brawlers of the time period. With a button layout apparently borrowed from NASA (actually borrowed from NARC), each of the three stages (oh, wait, they're called Waves in this game) are actually very different from one another. Wave 1 is a typical side-scrolling stage where you have to beat up thugs (and giant rats), Wave 2 gives Dredd his Lawgiver gun (which you can aim straight ahead or angled up) and also adds some rudimentary platforming into the mix, and Wave 3 is the most interesting. You have to kill Block War thugs with your Lawgiver and four different kinds of ammunition, but the catch is that both Block War sides are developing a death cannon, represented by a meter, and killing block warriors keeps the meter of their side from dropping for a second. If either side fully develops their cannon, you have to start again with a reduced time-limit. This is a nice bit of variety in a genre that's otherwise characterised by being the same thing over and over again, so kudos to Midway for that, and since the brawling itself is solid enough- not perfect, as it adds confusing eight-way attacks- it's pretty entertaining.
However, while it's a nice start, this game still wasn't ready for mass production, and it's mainly because of a lack of polish, for wnat of a better word. The platforming sections in Wave 2, for instance, are a bit of a mess because with the game engine Midway used, precision platforming really isn't its forte, but they decided to shoe-horn it in anyway, which is a shame. Wave 3 may be unique, but the difficulty is pitched a bit too high- you'll have to repeat the assignment a few times to actually win! Really, most of the criticisms in the location test report are pretty much bang-on, such as the difficulty, the awkward brawling controls, and so on. It does get some things right, though- the foundations are fairly solid, the training stages in-between each Wave are a nice addition, the license is adhered to to the letter (the references to the comic are spot-on, and the voices are pitch-perfect) and you can tell that the guys behind this were going for something more than just a cheap cash-in- they really wanted to be faithful to the comics. As such, it's really hard to dislike the game too much- it's certainly different from other brawlers of the time, so while it's still not quite there, it's worth a shot.
For being ultimately unfinished, Judge Dredd is awarded...
In a sentence, Judge Dredd is... Unfinished, but with a bit of promise.