To classic gaming fans, Robotron: 2084 is well known for being one of the most frantic games of all time. The game helped to induce panic as well as a feeling of claustrophobia and inspired later games such as Smash TV and more recently Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved. After making appearances in a handful of Midway/Williams compilations over the years, Robotron is resurrected once again as an Xbox Live Arcade title. While it still sports the same classic gameplay as the original, it’s got its fair share of improvements such as slightly updated visuals and Xbox Live support. While all these additions may seem exciting at first, you’ll come to learn that they can be easily exploited. Above all of this, Robotron: 2084 is still a solid and enjoyable game especially when you consider the price.
Since this was originally an early 80’s arcade title, Robotron isn’t too big on story elements. You play as a super human in the distant future where machines have essentially killed all of humanity and taken over the world. It’s your job to blast through waves of these killer robots, quarks, and brain bots while attempting to rescue the last family on Earth from the human hunting hulk bots.
What Robotron lacks in story it more than makes up with twitch gameplay. Just ask any classic gaming fan and they’ll all come to the consensus that Robotron is easy to pick up but impossible to master. You’ll start the game in the center of a simple board where you’ll often be surrounded by enemy bots. You’ll have to quickly blast your way through the advancing bots while attempting to pick up family members for bonus points. Bonus points are multiplied with each consecutive family member you pick up. You’ll have more than the advancing bots to worry about and you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled for the indestructible hulk bots, avoid fire from aggressive quarks, and try not to hit any of the randomly placed obstacles placed in the level. Every fifth wave takes you to a brain bot level where they’ll attempt to turn your human bonuses into missiles to take you out. The action doesn’t hesitate to build up and you’ll have to adjust to the games overly frantic pacing by wave three and face constantly increasing difficulty from then on. While the visuals may seem dated, the game is great at making you feel like you’re fighting for your life, not to mention doling out tons of heart-stopping close calls. Robotron is the king of twitch gaming. Extra lives are plentiful, but quickly lost since it only takes one hit to kill you. You’re able to move and fire in eight directions using the two analog sticks or a combination of the d-pad and face buttons. The game ends when you (duh) run out of lives. If you manage to score high enough you’ll get to enter your initials into the standard high score table. The perks don’t end there however, with the game being Xbox Live enabled you can compare your best score against other players to see just how all of your hard work has paid off just to show you how much you really suck.
While the single player game is entertaining, the multiplayer modes are really where you’ll get the bang for your buck. The game offers only two modes of play: versus and co-op which you can play for fun or through ranked matches. If you’re a sucker for competition, Robotron’s versus mode will quickly suck you in as you race against another player to get the highest score before either player runs out of lives. While playing versus mode is beyond enjoyable, it can be easily exploited much to the chagrin of competitive old-schoolers everywhere. The first flaw is making the game end when one player runs out of lives, no matter how many lives the other player may have on reserve. If the first player to reach game over is ahead, the other player never gets a chance to catch up which is just plain wrong. Furthermore, if the first player manages to get a decent lead going, they can kill themselves repeatedly and get away scott-free, which pretty much eliminates the chance for skill and makes Robotron’s versus mode more of a race than anything. You’ll have to work solely on the honor system if you want to find another player who plays like you which is essentially the luck of the draw. To make a long story short, versus mode becomes a little disappointing once you discover what’s up.
Co-op mode has two players working as a team, but with a twist! One player is in charge of running while the other shoots only to switch places on the next wave. While the novelty may wear off quick, those in search for those elusive achievements will get some enjoyment out of bumbling around with another player in an attempt to score high in the co-op rankings.
The simple sprites of Robotron have been redone for this new version and help to better determine friend from foe. One enhancement over the original game is the addition of a floor instead of everything taking place on a barren black background. The game gives out some great, epilepsy inducing effects from enemy bots blowing up, constantly flashing obstacles and scores, and the psychedelic tunnels that flash up between waves. Needless to say, if you know who Jeff Minter is, then you'll definitely dig Robotron.
The sound consists of the simple bleeps and bloops that were common during the era, which may sound minimalist to the contemporary gamer, but they do the job well. Robotron doesn’t feature any kind of a soundtrack and depends on a soundtrack of shooting, explosions, and human death screens to do the job. F course, you could always fire up your custom play list instead.
Robotron is like the Mr. Miyagi of video games. It may seem old and feeble on the outside, but under the hood it’s still fresh and extreme. Anyone looking for a quick gaming fix is sure to get some enjoyment out of this one, though the demo doesn’t do the full game justice at all. The single player game is great and the ranked versus games have potential to be addictive if you can find the right people to play against. No matter how you look at it, Robotron makes itself to be a great addition as one of those “tweener” games you’ll fall back on between major 360 releases and with a price tag of about five bucks, the price is right.
- Brad Hicks (Dr. Swank), SwankWorld Media