Robotrek - Review


By: Matthew Scribner

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 6
   Interface 7
   Music/Sound 3
   Originality 8
   Plot 6
   Localization 4
   Replay Value 5
   Visuals 6
   Difficulty Unbalanced
   Time to Complete

25-30 hours



   Robotrek came out in 1994, a time when RPGs had found a comfortable niche on the Super Nintendo. It was developed by a company called Quintet, but it was published by RPG masterminds Enix. The game featured the innovative idea of building and customizing robots as party members, and boasted of having a humour-infused sci-fi storyline. What went wrong? Quite a lot, actually.

   In Robotrek, you control an inventor kid who runs around massive dungeons avoiding enemies. Scattered throughout the game are the R&D labs where the major work is done on the robots. The lab is also where additional robots are built (how many games are there where you buy party members?), and items can be combined to form, hopefully, unique items. By reading books and gaining levels, you can also make handy items from scratch. Once the inventor gains a level, (the robots do the fighting, he collects the experience) an unexplained "portable" R&D lab pops up where points can be allocated to different attributes on the robots. Often, the player has to build special items in mid-dungeon to get past an obstacle of some sort. The best example of this is when the player has to turn into a mouse, and navigate the mouse tunnels.

   Battles start with the inventor-hero throwing an early Pokéball prototype into the battlefield, and the robot emerging from it. There can be as many as three robots in the party, but only one is controlled at a time. Unless the enemy got in a surprise attack, the robot generally goes first. The robot then has a chance to move around the battlefield (viewed from the side) and position itself to make an attack. Typically, there are three kinds of attacks to use, each controlled by a different button. Different attacks take different amounts off the robot's time gauge, but not to worry. By rapidly and repeatedly pushing a button, the gauge fills up faster. Besides dispatching the enemies, the player can also try to get the little treasures found on the battlefield, although many of them are traps. Battles normally take less than a minute. I know this because that's about how long the bonus counter gives you to finish the battle, should you want to collect some bonus experience points. This says something about the level of difficulty for most battles.

Sir, you're under arrest for sucking.
"Sir, you're under arrest for sucking."  

   This is a unique battle system, and one that is fully enjoyable. However, the fun is offset by the terrible skill/weapon system. Players create their own special attacks by making up a combination of buttons (which correspond, don't forget, to weapon attacks). Original, to be sure, but this means that every single skill is available from the beginning of the game. Weapons can get upgraded, but the skills remain unchanged. If a different type of weapon is equipped, it doesn't alter the skill, it simply renders it useless. On top of that, later in the game, the only way I was able to survive was to lose my robot's gun in favour of a shield. Even though this made half my special abilities utterly useless, the only special ability I needed was "RRR" (melee-melee-melee) to get through the game. For a game that is built around customization, one would think that a better system could be arranged.

   There are only three towns in the entire game, so there is not a lot of world map to navigate. This is a good thing, because Quintet decided to use that painfully slow system of spot-to-spot movement. All the enemies are visible on screen, so there is a lot of that running around and making thin escapes. You can save almost anywhere, which is nice. Even though there is a fair amount of active item switching, like an action RPG, the interface is never noticeably cumbersome. Overall, the field controls handle well.

   I don't really think of graphics when I think of Robotrek, but they do slightly surpass the title of "functional." I'm actually a big fan of the bright kiddie colour palette, and the game featured some half-decent monster designs, with thoughtful detail. The backgrounds on the field and in battle were a bit basic and lacking, but they could have gotten away with worse during '94. It must be said, however, that the menus were atrocious. They were grey and pale blue and they looked like an old DOS program. Ugh. The music was catchy, but in a saccharine pop music kind of way. Add bad sound quality and you've got a losing combination, especially the battle theme. The boss music tracks are the only keepers. The sound effects are nothing to speak of, but the cuckoo-clock sound whenever you find an item is classic.

THE Machine. You'll spend a lot of time here.
THE Machine. You'll spend a lot of time here.  

   Plot is perhaps where I was expecting the least but it ended up being my favorite aspect of the game. It starts incredibly lamely: inventor-boy wants to emulate father, oh no! Daddy gets kidnapped by a group of Saturday morning cartoon characters called the Hackers. After the crab and the vampire, I had given up on the plot. Which is a bit of a shame, because I almost missed out on the semi-complex time travel story that was developing. It in no way even grazes you-know-what's time travel tale, but I was enjoying it by the end, although it is undeniably aimed at kids. I would have liked it even more if the game had lived up to its central promise: being funny. This, more so than any spelling or grammar mistake (and there were a few), is the failing of the localisation. What was supposed to be a steady stream of jokes ended up being boring, stilted prose.

I felt like I was doing something wrong for most of the game - either that I had accidentally executed a cheat, or was missing some device that I needed to beat this freakin' boss. If I wasn't doing anything wrong, then I'd have to say that this game is unbalanced difficulty wise. Most battles, as I indicated, are easy, but every other boss in the game required a great amount of patience to beat. It definitely took away from the pleasure at times.

Eventually, you do get to visit crazy places.
Eventually, you do get to visit crazy places.  

Robotrek has only one side-quest to speak of, and if for some reason you decide to pursue it, then you could log quite a few extra hours into the game. It requires excessive level building, but there are no real uber-enemies to dish out the experience. On the grounds of its gameplay alone, Robotrek has replay value. I liked the gameplay, so I played it through a couple of times. If you don't enjoy the concept, then there's no reason for you to keep playing after the 25-30 hours that it takes to beat the game... or even until then.

I think that a good, polished sequel (or rip-off) of Robotrek could work. Maybe this Custom Robo thing? We'll see. As for this title, it remains a valiant yet failed attempt to do something different. I give it a strong three.

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