The Game: Robots descend from the mountains with one mission in mind: they’d like to fry you. In fact, they’re pretty adamant on that point. You’re armed with a weapon that can fling anti-robot grenades at them, but you have to account for a trajectory that can be affected by your own movement; mountainous outcroppings give you shelter, but not for long, since they also give the robots target practice. If you score a direct hit and blast a robot apart, you’re left with a narrow window of opportunity in which to land another grenade and permanently dismantle the remaining robot parts…if you can’t accomplish that, the robot will gather up its parts and reassemble itself to have another go at you. (Activision, 1983 – never released)
Memories: One of the strangest marketing policies to emerge from the golden age of video games was Activision‘s absurd – and eventually abandoned – strategy of trying to make its early Intellivision titles look and sound exactly like their Atari 2600 counterparts. While Activision was doing this, possibly to save the marketing department from having to prepare two different sets of artwork per game, Imagic vaulted ahead of them and became the definitive third-party software provider for the Intellivision. One only needs to look at the 2600 and Intellivision versions of Demon Attack or Atlantis to formulate the question “Why on Earth would Activision hobble their own developers like that?”
Robot Rubble, sadly, is an unreleased Activision gem that was representative of the company’s revised approach to the Intellivision: not only were they no longer content to try to force the more powerful Intellivision to ape 2600 graphics, but they were now developing completely new games that wouldn’t appear on the 2600 at all. River Raid and Beamrider would appear on the Intellivision with new coats of paint, while titles such as Happy Trails and Robot Rubble would appear only on Intellivision.
At its heart, Robot Rubble is a simple slide-and-shoot game, and with the player’s exposed soldier and his ever-dwindling shelter, it resembles nothing so much as those horrifying moments in the Odyssey2 game Alien Invaders – Plus! where the player, having just lost his cannon, is left to run helplessly to try to reach a new one without being blasted. It’s possible that more work remained to be done on Robot Rubble because it’s easy to find a “pattern” that works well against the robots – at least while they’re advancing one at a time. Once there are two robots on the screen, kiss it goodbye – the robots will rule.
In between those two extremes, however, is a seemingly Galaga-inspired “challenging stage,” but with a major difference: unlike Galaga‘s harmless shooting gallery bonus waves, it’s possible to lose lives, and even forfeit the entire game, while trying to get the bonus (which nets lucky players an extra life) in Robot Rubble. It’s a bizarre notion: reach the goal and win an extra life…or end the game on this “bonus” screen. It’s a bonus stage that holds a loaded gun to your head.
It’s tough to judge a game like Robot Rubble which smacks of a work-in-progress that just needed some minor tweaks before going to market; as it was, the game was in development at just the wrong time, and was buried when the market crash soured retailers and forced game companies into a hasty retreat. Robot Rubble was never released, but it had loads of potential.