Genre: Shmup Developer: UPL Co. Ltd. Publisher: Treco Players: 1 Released: 1990
Before you begin to read this review, I want you to take a look at the box art to the left. See that little fella there? That’s you. Yep, you’re a flying, fire-breathing trash can that is unfortunately the only hope for the survival of the colonists on Terra-12. Doesn’t look too menacing does he? Well he shouldn’t, because he’s about as tough as a Barbie Doll and only half as resilient.
I usually try to emphasize a game’s strengths when I write, and for that some people might think that I’m a little soft-going. That may well be true, for even as I click away at my keyboard, I’m trying to find something — anything, that can keep my opinion of Atomic Robo-Kid positive. Try as I might though, it’s something that just isn’t happening. For every one good thing I consider, a flood of bad ones outnumber and gang-bang it. It’s a terrible, terrible thing when a game’s negatives outnumber its qualities, and this right here is a travesty of frustrating and game-breaking flaws that suck out all your joy with brutal deliberation.
Where oh where to begin? I don’t know which was more frustrating, the cheap deaths or the useless power ups. It was bad enough that literally anything that touched Robo-Kid caused immediate death, but the fact that he was so darn slow was simply unbearable. Shmup fans know the deal: your ship begins as a galactic cow barely able to move, and only through the acquisition of several speed ups does it actually become manageable. Atomic Robo-Kid decided to be a bit stingy in this regard and only offered a single speed augment. It was nowhere near enough, and losing a life meant you were back to square one.
So you were screaming through each level at an ungodly two miles per hour, trying to avoid the ever-so-annoying and totally unnecessary “One Hit Death Syndrome,” all the while searching for the one power up that would give you some decent speed. As bad as this sounds, it was compounded by the fact that enemies tended to reappear when you left a section of the screen and returned. Let’s say, for example, that you took out some gun turrets, and you moved ahead to the next group. Suddenly, you were overwhelmed and needed to fall back. Guess what? Those turrets you destroyed returned, and you were now trapped between two sets of them! This was most annoying when moving vertically. Things could get maddening when there were turrets above you, and you only had a single beam of horizontal fire with which to defend yourself. Again, this would have been bearable if Robo-Kid weren’t so damn slow.
The frustration didn’t end with the lack of speed and respawning enemies, either. Oh no, Treco went the extra mile! While I’m thankful that they removed the annoying time limit the arcade original had, they unfortunately did nothing to improve the horrible boss (or “governors” as they were called here) battles. Let me be clear about this, as I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I loved the big, detailed bosses. They were well-animated and menacing, which is very nice. The problem was that they were too large for the room in which they resided. There was barely any space to maneuver, and you could get pinched in a corner all too easily. Know what the biggest factor here was? If you guessed “no speed” then go to the kitchen and get yourself a cookie! In fact, have two!
Unfortunately this didn’t just happen during boss battles. After losing a life, you respawned without any power ups, and all the enemies you previously dispatched are back in place. Falling in the midst of a group of foes can make you want to toss your controller at the wall, as you’re consistently caught with nowhere to go and little means with which to fight back. This is most prevalent in the later stages, where things could get downright nasty.
To be fair, Atomic Robo-Kid did offer up a decent variety of weaponry, which could really make a difference, if you actually lasted long enough to use them. There was nothing really original about them (three-way shot, rapid fire, etc.) but having the right one during a battle with one of the governors could yield devastating results. If you could somehow manage to get to a governor fully armed and with decent speed, you could really give him a licking. On the other hand, get killed, and you were essentially screwed. But wait! You always had the option to purchase items from a mysterious merchant who was conveniently located behind enemy lines. For the cost of a life, he’d hook you up with whatever you needed. Of course, getting hit afterwards meant you were out both the new equipment and the valuable life it cost you.
In the end, Atomic Robo-Kid didn’t live up to its own ambitious aspirations. The lethal mixture of slow and frustrating gameplay, combined with the poor level design made the game more agonizing than it should have been. I guess having a trash can on the cover proved more than slightly prophetic.
SCORE: 3 out of 10