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Robotron 64 Review

Publisher - Crave
Developer - Player One
Platform - N64
Type - Action
Score - 7/10

In the good old days, when I was a lad, video games were very different creatures than they are today. Control was limited to a joystick and maybe two buttons, and most games had virtually the same gameplay: Run around and shoot everything that moves, without being shot yourself. And when you killed everything on one level, you went on to the next, where you got to do everything again only harder. One of the standouts from the early 80's was Robotron 2084. Its major claim to fame was the control. Rather than give you a joystick to move and a fire button, Robotron 2084 gave you two joysticks, one to move and one to shoot, so you could move in one direction while firing in another. Close to 15 years later, an update has appeared in the form of Robotron 64.

Robotron 64 is one of the many games in the recent retro gaming fad. Rather than try to update a classic game to take advantage of modern game console power, like Super Mario 64 or Bomberman 64, Robotron basically gives you the same thing as the good old days. The year is 2084. Humanity has developed intelligent, self-producing robots with one flaw. They're perfect. They take one look at humanity, decide that their flaws mean that they should be destroyed, and set out to wipe out everyone. In typical video game form, it's up to you to stop them.

The playing area is a big square, on which you, lots of robots, and a few other objects are standing. You have the gun, but they have the numbers. All you can do is shoot and run away, and hope you don't get cornered. Making life more difficult are mines which you have to avoid and other humans which you should rescue. Rescuing humans sounds good until you realize that they seem to be almost invariably in places where you don't want to go. Fortunately, the occasional powerup is floating around to give you a slight edge.

There's a good variety of enemy robots, starting with basic Grunts, who just try to follow you around so they can beat you up, and moving up to indestructible robots and robots that shoot at you, produce other robots, and capture other humans and send them to kill you. Each of the different classes of robots appear at different power levels, so just when you get comfortable with one robot, you encounter versions that take more shots to kill, or drop out of the sky on you, or generally make you wish that you had just stayed home. Your goal on every level is always the same. Destroy all the robots before they destroy you. Then you get to do it all over again, only harder, for 200 levels, with the occasional bonus round to distract you.

By now, you're thinking one of two things: "How boring!" or "I loved that game! Where do I sign up?" I'm not going to try to convince those of you who think it sounds boring to change your mind, because there's really nothing else to offer. But if you're like me and can't wait to get your hands on it, I should tell you how well it pulls it off. When I started the game, it was boring. In the first few levels, there's just not much going on. Shoot maybe ten robots who never had a chance to get you, and go on. Fortunately, I stuck it out, because it progresses to interesting without really being challenging, to difficult, to full blown adrenaline induced psychosis as you try to stay one step ahead of the hordes of robots that are materializing around you. This is a marked change from classic video game and Robotron X, (the version that appeared on the Playstation about a year ago) both of which made you suffer from day one. My recommendation is to take advantage of the fact that you can use a memory pak to save your game to find somewhere where it gets interesting, save there, and never look back. Although it might start slow, it definitely gets to the stage where you can't blink for fear of missing something, you're concentrating so hard you forget to breathe, you need the short breaks between levels so you can wipe the sweat off your hands, and you become one with the machine. I live for that stuff.

The graphics are put to different use than most Nintendo 64 games. The game is 3D, complete with a rotating, tilting ground, four camera angles, and fully polygonal robots, but its goal isn't incredible detail. The ground is a flat, tiled bitmap, and the robots look like 3D versions of classic 2D robots. They're kind of chunky and they move a little funny, but for a game that's trying to evoke classic arcade style, that's the way it should be. On the plus side, the game does have very nice explosions and good special effects. When the entire screen goes yellow with crosses as a new group of robots appears, it's time to be afraid, very afraid. Some of the ground bitmaps run into trouble with pixellation as the ground rotates in certain camera angles, but you'll probably be concentrating so hard on surviving that you won't care. It's also a step ahead of Robotron X (the Playstation version) by any measure you can think of. It has real ground bitmaps, more interesting robots, cooler special effects, and better camera angles. While it's not exactly eye candy, it's certainly enough to keep you satisfied.

Robotron 64 sports a cool techno soundtrack, which while not as perfect as Extreme G, still does an excellent job of keeping you in the game. There are eleven different tracks which all sound pretty much the same if you just go listen to them from the Options menu, but in the game they definitely succeed at building intensity through stepping up the tempo and other changes as you get farther in the game. The explosions and other sound effects are just what they should be, successfully giving the game the same feel as games in the 80's.

The control was what made Robotron 2084 what it was, and it's what makes Robotron 64 now. The original two joystick scheme pioneered by Robotron has periodically reappeared, for example in Smash TV and Total Carnage a few years ago. Robotron X on the Playstation used the digital pad for movement and the four fire buttons to fire, and the same configuration works on the Nintendo 64 with the pad and the C Buttons. Robotron 64 also allows you to use the analog joystick for either moving or shooting, or to use the analog sticks on two controllers simultaneously. Once you've experienced full analog moving and shooting, there's just no going back. It's a little weird to hold two controllers at once, and analog control makes it difficult to shoot along the eight basic directions, but once you get used to shooting anyone anywhere on the board, digital control is impossibly limiting.

Robotron 64 isn't for everyone. If you want games with a plot, where exploration is a major part of the game, or where thinking is as important as shooting, Robotron won't be your cup of tea. But if you're like me and wish video games had stopped developing in the 80's and you need that rush of continually barely escaping certain death, Robotron will make you very very happy. Just get past the boring stuff early on, and you'll be in heaven, in a land before fighting games when "racing game" meant Pole Position II.