Genre: Fighting Developer: Sega Enterprises Publisher: Sega Enterprises Players: 1-2 Released: 1991
Originally available only via Sega of Japan’s Toshokan Mega Modem service, Robot Battler gave Mega Drive owners the opportunity to send armed death robots into battle against the computer or a friend. Think of it as a very early version of Real Steel, but with less-impressive visuals and no Hugh Jackman. In fact, don’t make that comparison at all since you’re bound to be disappointed. Robot Battler has none of the flair or excitement one would expect from robotic death matches, and it doesn’t have the personality and humor of Hugh Jackman. See, I’m already sad, and I’ve only just begun this review.
My sadness is very much justified, I think. Robot Battler doesn’t really shine in the areas that are supposed to be its selling points: customizable play and robot death matches. If I had to go to the lengths necessary to download and play these games back in the day, I would look for titles that would give me the most for my efforts. Sonic Eraser and TEL-TEL Stadium are better games, and their single-player modes are much more fun. As for robots fighting to the death, there are a few other games of this type on the Genesis that are better, even if only marginally (like Cyborg Justice and even Death Duel).
Let me be clear that I want to give Robot Battler a fair shake, I really do. Considering when it was released, it was actually somewhat revolutionary. The prospect of engaging someone in combat with a customized machine must have been exciting, and Robot Battler does try to keep things interesting through its (limited) customization. Each victory earns points that can be allocated to any of several attributes, like speed and armor. Gold is also awarded which is used to purchase new weapons. Which weapons one actually buys is a matter of trial and error, since everything is written in Japanese and there are no images to use as references. In truth, missiles are really all one needs to win a fight, and with enough armor, it’s even possible to win by simply bumping into the opponent.
As a downloadable title, Robot Battler isn’t big on the visuals, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. This is a tiny game, and there is little room for frills. The arenas themselves are simple rectangles with a few squares that serve as cover. Only the floors change, from things like concrete to sand and ice. They look nice, but they do little to influence the battles Later on, obstacles appear that make movement around the arenas a bit more challenging, but it’s easy enough to hide behind one of the obstacles and poke out every so often to shoot. There are also mines that must be avoided. With some clever coaxing, one can even lure an opponent to step on them, which does a decent amount of damage compared to the standard weapon.
The game’s audio is about as bland as its visuals. The music is forgettable, and the sound effects are minimal. They remind me a great deal of those used in Cyber Ball, and I wonder if the two shared audio assets. Hey, there’s another example of a better game with exploding robots. And that one has online play as well. Sorry Robot Battler; that one kind of slipped in by chance.
Aside from the simplistic presentation, the biggest problem with Robot Battler is that it never gives players a chance to really play with the customization. By the time one’s robot becomes a serious threat, the game is over. There are only eight enemies to fight, so it’s not worth the time to really explore the weaponry. Adding points to energy and armor and sticking to missiles is enough to win most of the fights, since enemies hardly cross over to the left side of the screen. Instead, they prefer to move up and down and shoot almost randomly until they’ve used up all their ammunition. Only in the later battles do they ever attempt to pursue players and actively engage them. It can be a bit monotonous, to say the least.
I don’t know if it’s worth recommending Robot Battler. It may have been a novel concept back in 1991, but there’s little meat on the bone today, making it little more than a neat footnote in Sega history. Still, it may be worth a look to the curious. Sadly, no translation patch has been released, so it’s a bit difficult to understand the customization menu, and it’s impossible to know what the story is about. Those wanting to sate their curiosity may find something neat for a few minutes, but that’s about the extent of Robot Battler’s appeal.
SCORE: 4 out of 10