|Source // Wikipedia|
It's not space but it is the distant future; 102 years further into time than the arcade home of Robotron 2084. Man versus Machine makes for a bit of variety across the arcade cabinets, but it still appears to be a simple game of shoot these, avoid that. Can't go wrong with that, so where does it improve over its competition?
Dum dee dum, cybernetic revolt, blah blah blah, waves of robots, dooby doo, twin stick shooter.
What. Twin stick shooter? Available on the Internet Archive? Oh hell yes, count me in.
Oh wow. 15 seconds before a game over eh? That sounds about right. Robotron 2084 means business, dumping you into wave 1 with the bare minimum of helpful tutorial time. There are text introductions accompanied with little animations to explain what enemy will do what, but even these messages straight up tell you that this will be a struggle for you.
My first struggle isn't the games fault however, but the emulation. Do you know how hard wired WASD is in my head, even after a brief period of PC gaming? It's stuck in there. So naturally, the movement is assigned to ESDF.
Once you figure that out, you've got to find your keys for shooting. Now it's a twin stick shooter, so I know I'm looking for a familiar set up somewhere on the other side of the keyboard. I eventually find it on IJKL, after a few game overs. Thankfully credits are free in an emulator...
So we're ready, more or less, for the first wave of robots intent on hunting me down and/or killing my family. That's right - it's not enough to just shoot the enemy before they one-shot you, you've got to save members of your family from their clutches too.
If I've remembered right, you can dispose of all the enemies and whatever family members left over will be fine, but you won't get those precious extra points for navigating over to them and picking them up yourself.
I'm sure there's even more to this game than all of that, but with some 20-odd threats on screen at once, most some kind of moving enemy, you'll have to forgive me for not quite having the brainspace available to play and memorise things.
But that's not to say it isn't fun. It's frantic, though frantic might be an understatement. Is frenetic a more frantic word than frantic? Whatever, my point is that if you're not moving, you're not surviving, because everything else is moving, and they're moving with a purpose.
Twin stick shooters appeal to me for this kind of hectic gameplay. Hectic, but controlled. You'd hope. To identify and assess threats that are moving in relation to you, to decide when to run and when to stand and fight, to simply keep your bearings and stay on your toes (or fingers), all of it makes for an immense feeling of success when it goes right.
It won't go right in Robotron 2084. Not for a while. It may be worth watching someone show you how it's done for a bit beforehand. Actually, just watch it regardless, because hard to capture screenshots just don't do the game justice.
Addictive games have something going for them, otherwise they're not addictive. Robotron 2084 would essentially steal your money and kill you quicker than you could grab the sticks. Sounds frustrating, and yet it stuck around. It wasn't hard or unfair so much as it was the next challenge to conquer.
Staying alive longer than your friends, saving more family members than them, even just matching and then bettering your personal best time, there was something that meant more and more money going into the cabinet, more and more time spent surviving, practising, honing your skills on the twin sticks.
Today, via emulation, it's doesn't cost to fail. Fail you will and fail you should. Robotron 2084 requires your attention, if only for 15 seconds.
If certain conditions are met, the entire game could reset on you, no matter how good you were at avoiding the money-munching cabinet. The flaw (shooting a specific enemy in the corner of the screen) was eventually found in the game code after 5 years.
Robotron 2084, developed by Vid Kidz, first published in 1982.
Version played: Arcade, 1982, via emulation.