The Many Faces of  . . .  Robotron 2084

by Alan Hewston

I’m giving up finding the rare TI cart, and will no longer delay the 20 year anniversary of “Robotron 2084” in this column.  Hopefully my fellow TI enthusiasts will understand, especially since most readers would prefer that I review this arcade hit than all 3 faces of “Super Breakout”.  This futuristic game of “everything is out to get you” (perhaps a new genre could be called “Death from Everywhere”) can easily stake a claim as the most action-filled game of all time.  This is especially true if you weigh games based upon the average number if objects on-screen versus the computing (and graphic) power available at the time – it would surely be up near the top.  Not to mention almost no break in the action.  After conceiving and programming an incredibly successful arcade game, “Defender” in ‘80, and its sequel “Stargate” in ‘81, Eugene Jarvis and his Vid Kidz team came right back with yet another blockbuster hit in “Robotron 2084” in ’82.  OK, they were off by 2 years (from being 100 years), but I think the year AD 2084 was chosen in honor of the book “1984”, by George Orwell. 

As a classic game fan you know this futuristic setting pits you, a big green-eyed dude with a laser, against a horde of robots out to destroy or mutate all humans (clones actually).  Atarisoft manuals tell that the date is June 5, 2084 when you receive your official communiqué on the Moon base.  You alone must fight off wave after wave (up to 255?) of Robotrons, and save the remaining humans, all clones of “Daddy, “Mommy”, and “Mikey”.   A simple touch of any clone & they’d be rescued (& disappear).  The Robotron’s  “species” (as Atarisoft called them) were: Mindless Grunts; Indestructible Hulks; Sinister Spheroids, which spawned Enforcers, which let loose Enforcer Sparks; Giant Brains (every 5 waves) armed with Cruise Missiles and who’s touch mutates the clones into deadly Progs; Cubic Quarks (every 7 waves), which beget Torturing Tanks, which then send Bounce Bombs in your direction. The entire screen is wide open, with no place to hide, yet cluttered with mines, galvanizing electrodes and other deadly debris to be avoided or destroyed.  After every Robotron is destroyed, ‘cept the Hulks, you move on to the next wave.  To help survive this onslaught of charging robots and their firepower coming at you from every direction, the arcade game came equipped with an innovative means of control – two (8 directional) sticks.  Left moved the protagonist & Right fired his lasers.  Wow! Controlling two sticks really puts your reflexes to the test – also taking some getting used to.  Most often this complexity caused gamers to love or hate this game - but most loved it dearly usually drawing crowds to stand and watch the non-stop carnage.   

Are these Many Faces pictures too small/blurry? 

Arcade:  Williams 1982 (Eugene Jarvis & Larry Demar et al)

Home Versions (all by Atari/Atarisoft 1983 – unless noted):  Atari 8 bit, 5200, Vic 20, Apple II, Atari 7800 (’84), Commodore 64 (83 Tom Griner) TI-99 (83 Bill Parod).  A CV & 2600 ports were at least planned. 

Categories (10 points each for) :  Gameplay, Addictiveness, Graphics, Sound & Controls

Sequels:  None, but the 1990’s game “Smash TV”, also by Williams was a revival to this theme/genre. 

Home Versions:

There are NO simultaneous 2-player classic versions out there but just imagine the possibility of using all 4 joystick ports at once on the Atari 8 bit or 5200.  The home versions are all excellent games, most including dual joystick control as the default option.  All of the home versions include: all the Robotron species; a pause; and an electrifying screen shower of color when each wave is completed.  Most versions have: a demo, 5 difficulty levels and keep track of both your current and high scores.  If you do not have a joystick coupler, have no fear, use 2 suction cup joysticks & have at it. 

Disqualified:  TI-99 (DQ)

I hate to disqualify a port, but it is too rare (or maybe unreleased) and I’ve not seen it in 5 years of searching. There may be a disk version to play, but for even serious gamers, the disk version is not practical.  Although loyal TI fans will have all the necessary H/W to play a disk game, the average collector will not have found or want to keep the huge PE box just for disk games.  If I ever get my PE box, drive card & drive all working and find the game on disk – I’ll go back and review it.  I also owe the TI fans a review of “Q*bert” (missed out on Silver medal) & “Super Demon Attack”. 

Have Nots: Vic 20 (40)

“Robotron 2084” for the Vic 20!!  Unbelievable! Quite ambitious of Atari to risk not only sales (on a near dead system), but also in making it a feasible game.  Perhaps Atari had a small standing army at the time, ready to go with experienced programmers for every console.  Atari made or attempted to make pretty much every big named title on every platform.  The Gameplay is complete (8) and impressive, albeit with too few Robotrons attacking you. Having only 1 joystick also takes away part of the game strategy and tactics.  See the C64 for commonality in Gameplay.  The Addictiveness is outstanding (9) but would have been better with 2 sticks, more Robotrons and a better size ratio of Robotrons to the screen.  The space bar is the pause.  The Graphics are very good (7) but there are some collision detection problems and again - fewer Robotrons, which finally gets penalized here.  The Sound is enjoyable (8) with a full pallet of effects.  They are somewhat cheap and odd, but not enough to detract.  The Controls are enjoyable (8) but the execution is lost with only 1 joystick.  Too bad they did not use the C64 1-stick control scheme – but still one of the top 5 Vic 20 games ever. 

Have Nots: Commodore 64 (41)

No, this is not a Gamemaker version.  Atarisoft must have felt like cheating C64 owners – with awkward colored graphics and sub-standard sound effects.  The Gameplay is compete and very nice (8), and the C64 & Vic 20 have added a seldom seen starting option - a choice of starting waves 1 - 9 is given.  This is cool as it allows a beginner to practice some game elements such as the Brain and Quark waves any time they want. But neither Commodore version has an actual demo and even more unfortunate, both are lacking the momentary delay during the wave setup - where the clones arrive first, just before the Robotrons.  This is done on all other versions correctly so that you can see where you need to go to save the clones.  The C64 does have an information screen with Robotron point values listed.   Finally, there are too few Robotrons on the C64 and even fewer on the Vic 20. 

The Addictiveness is outstanding (9) with dual stick control – but could have been better if not for the Sound, Graphics & lack of difficulty levels.  Difficulty options are more related to re-playability and usually a nice feature to add.  Neither Commodore version has these – being replaced in favor of the starting wave option.  Darn, why can’t all versions have both choices?  The space bar is the pause.  The Graphics are sharp (8), but a let down.  The Robotrons are not plentiful enough, and although colorful, and sharp images, they just look wrong.  The screen shower ending each wave is pitiful (but even worse on the Vic).  The Sound (6) is good enough, but almost without feeling.  Effects are missing and/or all wrong, it disappoints right from the start.  On a good note, the Controls are perfect (10), using a pair of suction cup joysticks.  Even with 1 stick, they are terrific as the programmer(s) use auto fire all the time and then when you press the fire button you change the direction of fire to the direction you are currently moving in.  Let go of the button and keep firing that way, regardless of which way you move - an excellent use of code and H/W.  This version is found on both cart (not in my library) and disk formats. 

Have Nots: Atari Apple 2 (41)

At first glance the Apple 2, having only one joystick port, may seem limited for games.  Fortunately, many A2 programmers were innovative such as here and provided 4 ways to play: [joystick; keyboard; paddles; and joystick and keyboard combined].  I’m a newbie and cannot get my joystick buttons 0 & 1 to work – for this game only – so out goes option 1.  The keyboard version works, but yecch – not for Robotron.  The paddles option sounds interesting (maybe like a spinner for direction), but then how would you move? Keyboard?  Finally, the last option worked, but not right away.  The demo tells which keys to use – only for the keyboard mode.  When I realized that when they say “entire keyboard” - that’s what they mean.  You use the stick to move and then literally bang almost anywhere on the entire keyboard to fire.  The edges of the keyboard corresponding to the 8 directions - fires non-stop until you hit a key in the center of the keyboard (ie stop firing).  It isn’t great, but works better than I expected.  If the joystick alone option really works, then add 1 point to the Controls (8), which are impressive.  The Gameplay is enjoyable (8), with a really cool demo that essentially provides an on screen instruction manual - introducing every member of the Robotron species.  Hit the [escape] key to go right to the final screen, containing the keyboard mapping, or during play to pause.  Bad news is that there is no choice of starting wave or difficulty.   The Addictiveness is great (9), but a second joystick and any other options would have helped.  The Graphics are outstanding (9), second only to the 7800.  The detail and color is all there, and possibly the largest % (90%) of the screen is used, with just a sliver on the right side to display your score.  This gives more up/down range, more like the arcade screens.  Sound (7) is effective, but would be the worst, if not for the C64.  There’s no sound effect for your shots fired and most other effects sound tinny, coming from inside the machine.  Disk only. 

Bronze Medal:  Atari 5200 (44)

Inside the game package was it’s own special 2 joystick coupler (also included in Space Dungeon).  I was optimistic, but the 5200 sticks still got me down while playing it, so I scored the Controls as great (9).  But you may consider it a (10) if you have no problems.  Your challenge is not only to find the coupler, but also 2 sticks that work really well.  Without them, you’ll not enjoy this version as much, but perhaps try a Wico controller, or just play it’s 8 bit cousin.  Speaking of which, all remaining scores agree with the 8 bit below. 

Silver Medal: Atari 8 bit (45)

The DP Guide mentions that a coupler was also included in the game as well, but I could not verify this (I did check the Antic archives).  My fault for not starting this article soon enough.  There was a Sega adapter included the following (or 2) year (s) for the 2600 (& maybe C64) version(s) of Spy Hunter.  [I think the Spy Hunter adapter housed the sticks with the fire buttons next to each other, one stick in front of the other with the forward direction next to the left direction (ie top stick was rotated CCW 90 deg) not side by side].  I wonder how similar the Atari one would have been, besides being side by side.  And . . . makes you wonder why Atari didn’t ever get a cart and adapter out for 2600 Robotron 2084.  Surely there were more 2600 owners at the time and the 2600 was a better machine to make Robotron on than the Vic 20.  The Gameplay is superb (9) and everything is there as expected.  The Addictiveness is excellent (10) as this game really rocks and you get 2 joysticks to hold as well.  The pause is the space bar (or pause button on 5200).  The Graphics are very nice (8), but take a hit here for poor collision detection and are just a little rugged.  They are fairly well detailed, but nothing as sharp as the C64, or as perfect as the 7800.  Fortunately a large number of Robotrons and their firepower readily fill your screen.  The Sound is enjoyable (8), but again, not quite as audible as the 7800.  Control is perfect (10) using two sticks with suction cup sticks (& should be for the coupler too) 

Gold Medal: Atari 7800 (47)
Yeah Baby! We should expect to see more kudos about this game in an upcoming article of Stardate 7800.  It ties the best score ever for this column.  But first, set aside those 7800 controllers and use the 2600 compatible suction cups or use a coupler, just like on the C64 or 8 bit.  The Controls are then perfect (10) and you’ll really need it for all the action here.  The Gameplay is complete and fantastic (9), with more Robotrons than you can count.  The Addictiveness (9) was nearly perfect, but I am still frustrated since this is yet another 7800 cart without a high score feature.  “Food Fight” and a few others do this as well.  Arcade quality control went right out the window.  Oh well.  If you finish off a great game and then accidentally start another – forget about it.  The Graphics are in a league of their own (10) and trash the competition.  The Sound is wonderful (9) with so many distinct effects that you’ll never get bored of them.Add a cool soundtrack, high score, starting wave options and a full demo like the Apple 2 and you’ve got a perfect (50).  Very Impressive!

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda done more with Controllers – like the C64 version did.

For those single joysticks with 2 distinct fire buttons like the Apple, 5200 & 7800 makes me wonder . .

why not have options like:  1 button toggles firing on (non-stop), the other to fire single shots; always fire non-stop, then have 1 button rotate the shots CCW, the other Clock-wise; 1 fire button shoots as usual, the other behind you. OK, so hind-sight is 20-20, but if we can have 112 versions of Space Invaders, why not 32+ options for how to control the movement and firing of Robotron.  Finally, if you enjoy playing MAME, then you really need to get a good controller - like the “DEVASTATOR” – IMHO it works the best for dual joystick games like “Robotron 2084” and many others with special/different controls. 

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