The Game: In the year 2084, all hell has broken loose on Earth. Robotic servants, created to perform dangerous tasks and defend their human creators, have decided they can do without their masters. The robots have evolved into new and terrifying varieties – the ever-multiplying Ground Roving UNit Terminators (GRUNTs), indestructible Hulks, self-replicating Quarks and Tanks, and most horrfying of all, the Brain robots, which capture humans and reprogram them into super-fast killing machines. And the only thing protecting the last remaining survivors of homo sapiens is your strength, endurance and cunning. (Atari, 1984 [released in 1987])
Memories: Robotron, like Zaxxon, was one of those holy grails of the early home video game industry, a game that seemed almost impossible to translate to a home console properly, and yet would reward anyone who succeeded in that endeavour with a legion of satisfied consumers.
Atari had already given the game one shot, with a 5200 edition that came with an ingenious brace to hold both joysticks together, offering one of the very few attempts to replicate the arcade game’s double-joystick control scheme. But the 5200 version of Robotron also included a heaping helping of surprisingly clunky graphics, with every character on the screen suddenly seeming to gain weight. And while Atarisoft’s version of Robotron for the Apple II solved the problem of porky pixels, it diminshed the game in an even more critical way by limiting players to firing only in the direction that they were facing. It may work for a few levels in Berzerk, but the one-joystick method won’t keep you alive for more than a few seconds in Robotron. (To set the record straight, it is possible to have multidirectional firepower in the Apple II version, but it requires mastering the MAME-esque use of two confusing sets of keys on the Apple keyboard.)
But that’s the limitation that they decided to endure with the 7800 edition, which once again left you firing only in the direction you were facing. A double-joystick option is available – but it’s all but useless without a double-joystick brace.
On the upside, however, the 7800 Robotron boasts some almost arcade-perfect sound, as well as smoother controls than the home computer version. The real star of the show, though, is its demo/attract mode, which shows the computer playing an absolutely kick-ass game, firing in directions the character isn’t facing, and cimbing all the way up to the Tank levels without losing so much as a single life. Bollocks, I say! Don’t demo the game like that unless you can actually play it like that. I know that attract-modes-that-make-it-look-easy are a permanent staple of video games, both home and at the arcade, old and new, but this one, for all intents and purposes, cheats.
Still, until emulation came along on the PC and Playstation, this was the closest anyone was going to get to playing Robotron at home.