Format: Coin-op Manufacturer: Williams Developer: In-house Released: 1982

Thereís something fundamentally intimidating about Robotron. Thatís a bit of a common theme for the golden age of Eugene Jarvis; Defender and Stargate were just as likely to frighten off the average player with the brilliant combination of lots of controls that needed to be mastered and a mechanic that involved more than just shooting stuff. What was he thinking? And then he and Larry DeMar come along with Robotron, which at least doesnít scare you with a mixing deskís worth of buttons, but which nonetheless takes a whole lot of nerve to approach. Itís a dark, hulking beast of a machine that you canít help suspect is merely biding its time until it decides to crush you with a single, casual slap.
Your suspicions, of course, are correct. Itís a monstrously difficult game that instantly wrong-foots your arcade instincts with its pair of joysticks; one for moving, one for shooting. Eight directions of fire are yours for the taking and you need all eight of them, often within the space of about a second. Itís a brilliant idea and yet thereís something inherently counter-intuitive, something Ė yes Ė intimidating about it. Games traditionally assign the complex business of movement to the left hand and the more straightforward task of firing to the right hand. In Robotron the right hand ends up performing a task of equal complexity to the left and itís almost too much to take in at first. Ask a neurologist about it and youíll probably be told that itís something to do with the way that the left and right hemispheres of your brain communicate with each other, perhaps with the phrase Ďenforced non-cross-dominanceí thrown in for good measure. In other words, itís messing with your head, man. It demands a degree of synaptic reprogramming before you stand a chance of surviving for more than a couple of minutes, and it reinforces that demand with the old carrot-and-stick technique: points and progression if you succeed, repeated electric death if you donít. Harsh but fair.
The rewards of scaling Robotronís near-vertical learning curve make it well worth the effort, though. Accept and assimilate the non-cross-dominance and you discover that although Robotron is a cruel and uncompromising master, if you learn its lessons well youíll emerge a formidable warrior, unfazed by the spectacle of 60 grunts rezzing into the gameís too-small play area at the beginning of level nine. Rather than panic, you blast a path through to the edge of the screen and start to work your way around, taking pains along the way to vaporise as many Sphereoids as possible before they release their cargo of death-spitting Enforcers, and using the gruntsí homing instincts against them you circle around and work them into a big gaggle of sitting ducks, ready for the plucking. Wipe out most of them, collect any lagging members of the perennially unfortunate Last Human Family, mop up the last of the grunts and Bobís your uncle.
This isnít just a matter of defeating an invading swarm: civilians must also be rounded up before theyíre vaped.

In your dreams. After the first couple of easy-peasy introductory levels, every level of Robotronís capable of taking a life or two off the most seasoned player, and even the hardcore elite can have a lapse of? concentration that leaves them committing the ultimate faux pas of blundering into a Hulk. Its randomness forms an enormous part of its appeal; itís not a game you can hope to learn by rote and itís never, ever going to be a walk in the park. But while youíre in the zone, outnumbered and outgunned and yet still getting away with it by the skin of your teeth, it offers up moments of true exhilaration. Before smacking you back down to earth again.
Itís also, at best, an immensely physical gaming experience, which probably goes some way to explaining why itís always been something of a cult and critical classic, but has successfully avoided mass appeal. Even today, when weíre all used to having joypads adorned with twin sticks, itís not being taken up en masse. Granted, it has looks that only a mother could love Ė thereís also the small matter of its eight-directional controls not sitting particularly well on analogue sticks.
Really, though, itís not a game suited to chilled-out play on the sofa. Robotronís best experienced on a full-size arcade cabinet with a pair of proper microswitch joysticks, with your face close to the screen so that you donít miss a trick. Itís best played with clenched teeth as you wrestle the joysticks and risk toppling the machine and killing yourself. If youíre not breaking a sweat, youíre not playing a proper game of Robotron. A proper Robotron session should leave you exhilarated, exhausted and soaked. And they say gamingís a sedentary pastimeÖ
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