Game That Tune


Cop Rock

A gory game becomes indie-rock trivia.

By Bryan Bierman • April 18, 2013

In the late ’80s, at the height of America’s “war on drugs,” children were being battered with anti-drug propaganda more than ever. Beyond the D.A.R.E. program and Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign in schools, drug abuse warnings popped up in kids’ everyday entertainment, from cartoons to commercials. It was a time before “Winners Don’t Use Drugs” graced arcade screens, so it seemed that video games were the one outlet where kids could still put real life aside and have fun. This era would come to a close, however, when NARC hit the arcades in 1988, triumphantly stating in its tagline that “No one had the guts…until now!”

In NARC, players control Max Force, a narcotics agent who attempts to take down the crime empire of Mr. Big by running over, exploding, or mowing down—in a Porsche emblazoned with a “Say No Or Die” license plate—hundreds of perps in the game’s drug-infested streets. Its gore and over-the-top attitude act as unintentional satire. (You do have the option of arresting offenders instead of making their insides rain down like a ticker tape parade, but it’s far easier to do the latter.) NARC’s hard rockin’ soundtrack is just as “extreme” and “in-your-face” as its gameplay, but the pulsating bass and spy theme throwback of the K.R.A.K. Street level (heard in the YouTube video above) is a mess of fun.

The song eventually caught the attention of Pixies frontman Black Francis. His addiction to the 1990 NES port of NARC, which took hold while the band was making the album Trompe Le Monde, led Francis to make a cover of the tune. So “Theme From NARC” appeared as a B-side to the “Planet Of Sound” single in 1991. “I thought it was pretty cool,” Francis told the Rock A My Soul fanzine, “because the chord progression in it is completely fucked up. It isn’t standard rock ’n’ roll progression.” In the Pixies’ version, the noisiness, big drums, and surf-rock factor are amped up, if only to prove that the band in their prime could make anything—even the soundtrack to a mediocre video game—sound amazing.

(Illustration by Derrick Sanskrit.)

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18 Responses to “Cop Rock”

  1. Roswulf says:

    I can not express how crushingly disappointed I was when I realized that this was not, in fact, an article on a video game adaptation of Cop Rock.

  2. I have fond memories of the NES version of NARC.  You mention that it was far easier to kill criminals rather than arrest them. However, BUSTing criminals gave you considerably more points, which earned you extra lives.

  3. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    Excellent entry.  I first heard this when I bought the Pixies complete B-Sides, and even though I always pictured the game’s title screen while listening to this, I never knew it was actually lifted from the game.
       It’s a shame that the combination of Nancy Reagan’s unique brand of WASP-ish, blue hair street smarts and the indiscriminate bazookaing into oblivion of street level drug addicts wasn’t sufficient to prevent a band of notorious narcotic users from getting their filthy degenerate hands on this righteous anthem of law-abiding fury.  

  4. Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

    Oh man, NARC is kind of stupidly awesome, and also hilarious as a piece of Reagan era propaganda. Anyone know if the developers who made this were crazy-conservative, or if it’s tongue in cheek, or if the were just making a cool game? Poe’s Law and all that.

    And also, Pixies are awesome, like duh.

    BTW, was this the first game that tune not penned by my boy @dsanskrit:disqus ? Or have I just not been paying attention?

  5. EmperorNortonI says:

    I played this one in the arcades quite a bit when it came out, and thought it was the most awesome thing ever.  Looking back at it now, with the realization that I was playing a renegade cop in an identity-concealing motorcycle helmet who set out to indiscriminately gun down hordes of American citizens is rather disturbing.

  6. ferrarimanf355 says:

    I gotta disagree, NARC is stupid fun, like anything else Eugene Jarvis makes. And I will admit that Target Terror is the definition of a guilty pleasure for me, at least the arcade version. It’s so over the top and it knows it, it can’t be anything but a great time waster.

    I’m just a big fan of anything from Raw Thrills, especially their Fast and the Furious games. They’re great evolutions of the Cruis’n series.

  7. Andy Tuttle says:

    I thought I was a pretty big Pixies fan but I had no idea they released this. Thanks for the heads up, I think I need to go lie down for a little bit now.

    • SamPlays says:

      It’s on their B-sides album, which also happens to have a better version of “Wave of Mutilation” AND a pretty bitchin’ version of “In Heaven” from Eraserhead. You may have missed it because it was a UK import – I think licensing issues due to the aforementioned songs being from their John Peel session.

  8. SamPlays says:

    In addition to being connected with the Pixies, NARC was also featured in the original TMNT movie from the 90s. Now here’s the amazing part:

    Sally Menke edited the original TMNT movie from the 90s. Wha????


    did anyone ever actually play the terrible 2005 reboot?