(Gyromite, October 1985, Nintendo)
What has two eyes, two arms, an sword sharpener, NES dreidels, one player/two control games, barely functions yet saved an entire industry for it? Once again, we are back to give some love to everyone's favorite Robotic Operating Buddy!
Because that's precisely the name of the game we bought!
Seeing as in the previous review, I went over how R.O.B. in a roundabout way saved gaming by being practically unplayable, this time we'll gloss over some of the more technical aspects. As many of today's collectors who may not have had one as kid have no doubt found out the hard way, R.O.B. is only compatible with the older style CRT (cathode ray tube) television sets. Try to hook this outdated bad boy into a plasma TV and he just does his own thing, including, but not limited to turning around to stare at you like "what the fuck bro?" His movements are the basic four directions and to open and close his hands, making for a grand total of 6 possible things he was capable of. Both games come with a "direct" mode where you could practice just making R.O.B. do whatever you asked of him for the illusion that it was a competent piece of hardware. Optical flashes from the tv screen to his eyes are what communicated the NES's commands. He stood a little over a foot tall and took 4 AA batteries. What noone talks about is that the lifespan of the batteries is somewhere between 2 and 4 hours, so it was by no means cheap to try and master even if you were into that sort of self-inflicting punishment.
The 10NES chip, bane of many that wanted their imported copy of Popeye no Eigo Asobi working and couldn't wait 6 months for the port.
Now then, onto the second and final installment of the R.O.B. series, Gyromite or Robot Gyro in Japan. I previously expained the 10NES lock-out chip and how these carts were pillaged for their converters which explains how even though Gyromite was a pack-in title, it still isn't the easiest game to find. Before any kind of online shopping medium existed, I imagine it was nearly impossible to find a converter on your own, so Gyromite was bought up in the off-chance it was one of the copies containing one.
As I warned you in the last review, Gyromite's set-up is Rube Goldergesque in its nature.
Gyromite's set-up is out of control. You get two trays attaching to buttons, one red and one blue. When the red button is pressed, the red gates in the game are opened, same for blue. It comes with gyros, a sort of spinning top that are a shit-ton heavier than they look due to metal tips on the bottom. Lastly, a spinner is required, which the gyros are placed on top of when not in use. It takes a D battery and when I say this thing spins, I am not fucking around. This contraption sounds like a sander and if you have anything in the house like a kitchen knife or an axe that needs to be sharpened, you're in luck. The reason for the violent spinning is so the gates R.O.B. opens for you don't always stay accessible. When the gyro is all out of spin, it thuds to the ground and the gate reopens. Sound confusing? You have no idea until you've seen this sad little creation in action.
"I'm on the box so why the hell didn't I get the WAY cooler name of Vector?"
Two modes are given and present alot more variety than Stack-Up. You play as Professor Hector again (Vector if there are two players) and the object is to grab all the dynamite loose in his lab while avoiding these cute dinosaur-like creatures named Smicks. The Smicks were fairy well done and in another game with playable controls might have become alot more popular than they did. You move the professor near a gate and press start causing the screen to flash, thus activating R.O.B. After the robot moves to get the gyros and you read a few chapters of your favorite novel, he eventually drops it onto the button that opens the required gate. The problem is by the time he actually performs the task he was programmed for, the Smicks are standing right by the gate ready to take a chomp out of your ass. Without a jump button or any defense, it is an exercise in futility to make it past the first level. Thankfully, thr music here gets extremely high marks and turns out to be one of my favorites of the early NES tunes. That or I spent so much time humming along to it waiting for R.O.B.'s slow ass to do anything that it became one of those songs you'd never know existed unless you heard it a thousand times against your will.
One rope away from hearing someone sleeping magically scream!
The second mode is more R.O.B.'s speed. In other words, if there is a TV series you're behind on, feel free to get Netflix going in the background while he does his thing because, trust me, you'll have time to spare. Professor Hector is sleepwalking from one house to another, presumably to scare the pants off of some poor unsuspecting soul waking up to an old creepy guy entering their domicile. The object is to drop the gates using the same premise as the main Gyromite game, allowing the professor to make it across safely. The music for this mode was even catchier but as time consuming as this mode is, even it gets old quick. The Smicks are still present but seem like the uneducated, thrice as dumb versions, as they mostly trap themselves into holes where they have no chance to get to the player. Not a horrible game if you could speed it up around 5 times the speed it truly goes, but you can't so to hell with it.
The only mode where R.O.B. does what you ask him to. Sort of.
THE FINAL VERDICT
3/10 As we say goodbye to R.O.B., the reasoning why he never caught on is clear. The games were complete crap, the device moves slow enough that you could probably play a round of chess mid game, and it takes no less than 15 minutes just to set-up. No kid was going to play this more than once and even as an adult, I could barely make it through without wanting to say "Uh, let's just do Pinball instead" for two days. Of the two, Gyromite is the far superior game but works less when R.O.B. is your second player. If you plug in a second controller to move the gates, it becomes alot more coherent of a game and would be at least a 6, but alas, even then you feel like a dumbass with two controllers in your hand to play one game. The higher marks for Gyromite are due to the music being some of the best for the system and the game itself being a tad more fun to play, just not with R.O.B. All in all, more of a nostaligic device that has made cameos in about 8x as many games as Donkey Kong Jr has shockingly. Star Fox, F-Zero, Kirby, and one of the great underappreciated games, Star Tropics, have R.O.B. appearances and judging by his inclusion in Super Smash Bros Brawl recently, he shows no signs of slowing down. Now if those people who say things like "R.O.B. rules!" only got the experience of playing Gyromite or Stack-Up with this cumbersome bastard, their song would change indeed.
All your base are belong to R.O.B.!
Special thanks to Phil Bond for information helping with this review and to TheBenj@VintageGaming for the information containing the lock-out chip, though I didn't want to be the one to e-mail him explaining the reason his Famicom games worked with his top-loading NES wasn't the converter at all, he took it in stride. Top-loaders never were installed with the 10NES, so if you really want that copy of Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti to work, go top-loader!
"Bad time to strike a pose. BURN MOTHERFUCKER!!!"