Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
19 February 2002
Platform Shootout: Robotron X vs Robotron 64
My friend that is closest to me in terms of video game interests recently visited and left behind his Robotron 64 cartridge for me to try out. After retrieving my Nintendo 64 from yet another friend's house, I've managed to spend some time with it and form an opinion.

Why bother playing it in the first place? I'm a fan of the original from way back, that's why. And, in case you haven't ever played the original arcade game, let me say that it is, hands down, the best arcade game I've ever played. The goal is simple: guide your cyborg through a limitless number of waves saving humans (Dad, Mom, and Mikey) from robots gone mad. The controls consist of two joysticks, primarily because Eugene Jarvis devised the game and controls while he had a broken arm and couldn't thrash on buttons. In the end, the two eight-position joystick scheme, one for movement and one for firing, is absolutely brilliant. To make it complete, the game takes place at a pace that leaves you gasping for breath. As Jarvis said, you're always a couple of seconds from dying at any moment of play, and under that kind of pressure, you can't give in, ever.

So the next generation platforms of the late 1990s, the Nintendo 64 and the Sony Playstation, each got a reimagining of the original Robotron. Out of the gate first was Robotron X for the PSX, and I was relatively pleased with the result, even though it suffered from several drawbacks. I never heard much about Robotron 64, which arrived several months later, and decided it probably was about the same. However, I couldn't have been more wrong.

It is definitely the case that Robotron 64 is a far better game in several respects than Robotron X. As follows:

  • The playing field is larger with respect to the player and enemies in Robotron 64. This is more in line with the original Robotron, in my humble opinion, and makes for a much more playable game.
  • The player seems to move much more quickly in Robotron X (or this is simply a consequence of the above item), making precise movement much more difficult. Alternatively, there are definitely times when I consider the player to be moving far too slowly in Robotron 64, but I wonder if this isn't a problem with my controller.
  • The player fires faster in Robotron 64, I believe, which is closer to the original. Any clone of Robotron should include a firing rate more akin to "flood" than "trickle". Having seen Robotron 64, one can't help but notice the Robotron X trickle that substitutes for firepower.
  • The load times are painful on Robotron X, which is just a sign of poor programming. Any modern PSX game would be laughed into oblivion if it were this bad today. Since I'm playing on a PS2 (not an original PSX), I could try speeding it up with the disc speed feature, but I'm not sure how much that can change these awful times. The point is that any self-respecting, not-pushing-products-out-the-door-just-to-make-a-quick-buck-off-of-retro-loving-kids-from-the-70s developer wouldn't have foisted this kind of crap on us in the first place.
  • The graphics are smoother (i.e. not quite so pixelized) on Robotron 64, more detailed, and better designed. However, I think that Robotron X may possibly have a better framerate. There is also some annoying "jitter" to the playfield in Robotron 64 that I notice mostly after the level has finished, so I don't think this is a huge deal. Not sure how much PS2 "texture smoothing" can change the smoothness of the graphics, but it can't bring it completely up to the level of Robotron 64.
  • Robotron 64 has a better viewing angle of the board, allowing you to see much more of what's close to you and farther away. In Robotron X, you usually are dealing with things more locally, it seems. Since in the original Robotron you could see the whole board at once, any sequel should probably give the same benefit. For example, some enemies in the original shoot projectiles that can move extremely quickly, giving you almost no time to react. To have that same danger present in Robotron X would be impossible, because you would get blindsided. The view of the board is really that poor.
  • The powerup icons are much more meaningful in Robotron 64. They are tiny and abstract shapes in Robotron X. Dumb design.
So there you go. Robotron X is an ok game. Robotron 64 is much better. The only thing really obviously better about Robotron X is the controller options. With the PSX, you can use a third-party pad (like the ones from Mad Catz) and get two joysticks to act like the digital pad and diamond of buttons. This is the ideal control configuration, and I don't know if it's possible on Robotron 64 (i.e. if any N64 controllers have two sticks).

If you want the original, I recommend getting one of the first Williams emulator discs for the PSX and playing with a Mad Catz controller that treats the two analog sticks like the digital controls on the original PSX controller.


--Matt Matthews at 00:51
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