Robotron 64

a Reeeview item by J Nash (Thursday December 3rd, 2009)

JN says...JN saysFor N64 (the mag, obv).

There are a number of problems with Robotron 64. One of them is that just a single camera view lets you see the whole arena at once, which is incontrovertibly the most important part of playing Robotron, but the view-changing buttons are the shoulder ones and I keep grasping them automatically in the excitement of play. Another is that I reached level 106 on my first ever go, and the frankly unbelievable takey-turny two-player mode is a third.

All this is a shame, because Robotron 64 veers close to fantastic. It’s clearly an update of Robotron 2084, in fact the third after Smash TV and Total Carnage (Blaster naturally doesn’t count, as it was a genuine sequel. And those Clangers, eh? — Ed) and it’s been deftly assembled. The idea’s unmangled — shoot robots, save people if you can — and the designers display a cleverness.

The famous monsters have vastly tougher brethren (for example, the ingenious Brains, who possess the power to reprogram humans into sinister Progs, also come in Super- and ridiculously gigantic Over- form), there are power-ups and taunting level names, every tenth wave awards huge bonuses for accuracy, big numbers spin out of the screen whenever you rescue someone, Robotron’s programmers appear in the high-score table and you’re generally left in no doubt whatever that the people behind Robotron 64 love the original and its follow-ups and have always wanted to give something back. (Except they’ve forgotten Blaster. — Ed.)

But it’s infuriatingly almost-but-not-quite. At its peak, it’s implosively intense, with hundreds of monsters on-screen, more teleporting in or dropping from the sky so you’ve no idea how long the level’s going to last, Super-Hulks ambling menacingly towards your ungraspably stupid humans with rotating smashers, everything speeding up the longer you’re alive without finishing, spheroids dodging behind things to build those horrible, horrible homing drones that fire 600000 rounds a second and three-way guns temptingly close to the landmined centre, but it takes a good 50 waves to really get going. (Lord knows how many there are. Level 100 is a gripping final confrontation, but Level 101 announces “The War Continues.”) Having to view everything so pulled-back is exasperating, as you (occasionally) (but enough to irk) get caught by monsters diving or teleporting on you that you couldn’t quite see the signals they were coming. And it’s all really a slightly awkward halfway-house between Robotron and Smash TV when, to be honest, I’d rather they’d done a proper Smash TV 64 instead.

A couple of curious things. There are three difficulty levels, of course (the highest is appealingly called Insane), but at any point in the game you may significantly alter the speed. Supporting both saves and passwords might seem overly cautious, but the typing system is truly awful. And the music was instantly switched off, but you knew that.

I recommend Robotron 64 as an ace blast game, but you must understand something. It’s endlessly, enviably playable and even manages a few surprises (an entirely new type of monster appears on Level 90, for example) but it’s not “there.” Its potential is unrealised.

N64 VERDICT

ACCESSIBILITY
Enter DGTTPBCBSJ to “be” J Nash on Level 106. Clever “accessibility” gag, I know.

VISUALS 5
Clear and do the job.

SOUNDS 3
Noisy but strangely unexciting. Should have, um, “remixed” the original’s, perhaps.

MASTERY 6
Stomps the other versions with no slowdown ever. Good use of the pad. Except the camera buttons. Grrr.

LIFESPAN 8
Magnificently playable. Passwords every level for your favourite bit.

VERDICT
It’s good. It’s extremely good. But it could, I feel, have been so much better.
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