Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Robotrek (SNES)

Robotrek title screen
Developer:Quintet/ANCIENT|Release Date:1994|Systems:Super Nintendo

Today on Super Adventures I'm still celebrating Star Trek's 50th anniversary by playing games with some tiny tiny link to the franchise. In this case it's just one word and I think you know which.

Well, half a word to be precise. There's just enough of a gap in the middle of that logo for doubt but I assure you that it's called Robotrek, and it's another JRPG! So this is going to take me a little longer to write about than Ice Trek a few days back, but I'm willing to make this sacrifice for you. In fact the game was requested a while back, but I never write down the dates so I don't know when. I've narrowed it down to some time between last week and 2011 though.

Of course the only way to fairly judge an RPG is to play it all the way through, learn how combat evolves and see if the story progresses through to a satisfying ending. So it's lucky for me I don't fairly judge games, because I've got other things to do this week! But I'll give it until the end of the first proper boss at least, to get a good idea about how it plays and show it off.



Slapstick title screen
Slapstick (Super Famicom)
But first here's a piece of trivia for you: the game was originally known as Slapstick in Japan and they even wrote the title out in English to make it easier on the translators (the katakana underneath says 'Slapstick' if you're curious). But I guess if you're releasing a game about robots in the West you need to put 'robo', 'mech' or 'gear' in the title to make damn sure people know about it.

There's a bit of a difference in logos there as well, and the music's making me think that the original cartoony Japanese text is going to be a better match for the game's tone (because it sounds like a bloody circus). I wish I could show you the European logo as well, but the game was never released here, so we don't get one.

I left the title screen on for a bit and this intro came on, with the camera panning across space to a world called Quintenix. In a parallel universe the game was developed by Square instead of Quintet and parallel universe me probably finds planet Squareenix hilarious. He's probably got better music to listen to as well, the goatee-wearing bastard.

Anyway somewhere in space there's a planet with a town on it and that town was full of happy people living in peace.

Until the Pumpkin King turned up with his rogue band of pirates, the Hackers! The don't really call him that, but his goons are definitely the Hackers and they're spreading evil all over the town of Rococo...

Wow, stomping on a sand castle, that's top-tier petty villainy. Parking a car right in front of a tidal wave is also crappy behaviour.

Wait, there's cars in this game? I mean I knew it had to be a high-tech world because of the robots, but it's so rare to see cars in a 2D JRPG. I've got it in my head that this is going to be a Final Fantasy XV-style road trip now, with four robots driving across the world map in a convertible, and anything less than that is going to be a crushing disappointment to me.

The Hackers weren't yet satisfied with their limited reign of terror though, as they went and created androids as well! Fortunately for the folk of Rococo the protagonist is the son of an inventor, and the two of them are moving to town.

Well the dad's actually been doing the moving while my hero slept fully clothed in his standard walk-in JRPG bed. Though 16 pixel wide sheets on a 32 pixel wide bed definitely isn't normal. Maybe I can buy a proper sized mattress later when I get to a shop.

The good news is that the music's finally changed, the bad news is that it's just as... cheerful. I like the graphics though, even if I can't figure out what's casting those shadows (there's no windows up there for light to shine through). Oh, speaking of Windows I'm going to check out what's installed on his weird keyboard-less PC.

Actraiser 2 Ilusion of Gaia Popular new releases! Robotrek advert
Wow, all I got out of the machine was shameless advertising for "Actraiser 2" and "Illusion of Gaia". Hey I remember playing that second one a couple of years back (though it was the European release so it was called Illusion of Time).

I went searching around the rest of the house and found a cat, 500 GP in the wardrobe, and a whole lot of books that are too complicated for my hero to read. I also found a woman called Nagisa who has a quest for me.

Well it was either going to be the Mayor, the King or the Village Elder I suppose. She's even nice enough to tell me where he is so I don't have to search the whole town for him. Though I tried checking in the side room just to be safe, and she told me off.

I'm getting a bit tired of this beepy message box typing noise now. I can speed up the text in the options screen but I can't get rid of it. I also swapped the B & A buttons around and switched to stereo while I was there, so now the music sounds a lot better nicer more bearable clearer.

Hey it's autumn!

The intro described Rococo as being "a small town with a thriving culture. A livable town," before the Hackers started their reign of terror, but it seems pretty livable now as well. The doors are so small that people likely have to crawl into their houses but other than that it's nice.

Nagisa actually told me to head straight up to the Mayor and not get distracted talking to people on the way, but that's such cunning reverse psychology that I couldn't help but fall for it. Turns out that everyone that lives here is an NPC though so we couldn't chat for long.

Well the visit to the Mayor was entirely pointless. He wants me to grow up to be like Dr. Einst, and Dr. Einst wants me to fuck off. I was expecting to get some sort of quest to do.

I'd love to stick around and cycle through their dialogue a few more times, but the lighting in this room is weirding me out so I'm going back home.

So I went back home, via the scenic route. On the way I met a creepy old skull-face man, a stray dog that followed me around for a bit, and a shop desperate for attention. You know what I didn't see though? Cars. There's not a single car in this entire town.

The shop keeper's not letting me buy anything, but I can browse the books at least. Shame my hero can't understand any of them. I'm getting a horrible feeling that I'm supposed to remember where all these are and come back to read them when I'm at the right level.

Right, I'm going home then.

Huh, my inventor dad's going back to his old house in the suburbs? So... this is my house? Well, mine and Nagisa's I suppose, as she's apparently not going anywhere.

Fortunately inventor dad left 2000 GP in that book on the table to keep me going for a while. It's a book about robotics, with important information like "Robots can be trusted," and "Robots will help you like friends do sometimes". Now Nagisa's satisfied that I understand robots and she's finally letting me inside the mysterious side room!

Uh... so was all this here before I moved in? Or did we bring our own elves, weird floating screws and oversized SNES controller? The buttons are in the original Super Famicom colours by the way, so they didn't localise the art.

I'm supposed to be using the hardware to construct my own Robot, so I'll go do that. It's always Robot with a capital R in this by the way.

This thing sure has a lot of blank pages. So do I have to buy the Robot parts first, or... what?

I struggled with the machine for a while but eventually I figured out that I don't actually need any items. I just pay my 2000 GP to Wiz 'n' Liz here and a Robot comes out.

Dude, don't smack my expensive Robot components with a hammer! I know you just want to help, but that's kinda the opposite of helpful.

It came out pretty cool though. In fact it looks like a transformer; I'm fighting the urge to pixel what it could look like if it turned into a car, because I apparently have cars on the brain right now.

Well I was fighting the urge.

Note: this car was made up by me and does not appear in this game. In fact I'm not convinced that any cars appear in this game and that makes me sad.

Alright now that I've got a Robot I get to name it, change its body colour and set its stats. There's no limits here, I can put all 40 points into ENERGY (which I'm guessing is health) and have no attack or defence. Or I could put my SPEED up to full and hope everything misses me. I don't know what I'm doing though so I'm going to keep them all pretty even.

Right, now Nagisa wants me to go show off my new Robot to my dad. She forgot to tell me where he lives though, so I guess I'll head out of town and look for a sign that says 'suburbs'.

Robotrek overworld map
Hey it's got a Super Mario World overworld, complete with flashing orange ovals marking destinations! I can only travel on the roads, of which there is currently one, so that house down there is the only other place I can visit right now.

The countryside sure is looking a lot greener from up here. Either all the trees I'm seeing here are evergreens, or Rococo really does have problems. Alright, let's go check out the suburbs then.

Oh no, inventor dad is being recruited by the Hackers! Well the guy's trying at least, until inventor dad scares him away with a trumpet.

Turns out that dad's got his own Robot machine and bookcases full of 'Inventor's Friend', but they're different issues. So I managed to find the level 1 magazine and learn how to make... 'Boots 1'. Well I guess I had to start somewhere. There's nothing else for me to do here though as I'm still 2500 GP short of making Robot #2 and inventor dad hasn't got a quest for me.

So I suppose I'm meant to go off in search of adventure then.

What the shit, dad? Where did that come from? No I'm not doing that, I'm going back home to look for the plot.

This isn't exactly the suburbs is it? It's more like a cabin in the woods.

Also that Hacker was hanging around outside to grab me as a hostage to use against the Doctor! So... is that Doctor Who he's after or the guy from 'Star Trek: Voyager'? Or is inventor dad a doctor too? It doesn't much matter to me either way really as I brought a battle Robot with me!

Bender, I choose you! Yeah I just totally summoned my Robot with an actual Poké Ball two years before the first Pokémon game came out. Oh, I should've made him yellow and called him Pikachu!

Alright this may look a bit Final Fantasy, but I get a chance to reposition the Robot to anywhere within the highlighted area first before I select an action. And I think I should be quick about it as I've got like 8 seconds to finish the fight.

0.2 MB of data, woo!

Seems that I've got three attacks available to me, each with a different range, different damage, and a different amount of fuel used up. The battles are turn based, but I don't get to take my next turn until that fuel bar recharges, so I need to use light attacks if I want to attack again any time soon.

It doesn't seem like the units can turn around, so I need to line my Robot up horizontally with the enemy I want to target, and maybe run up to them if I feel like using the sword. Well not here, because my Robot just hit the Hacker so hard he exploded, but if I ever see another one I'll have to do that.

Back at Rococo I overheard these folks saying that a group of kids have gone missing by the river. That means I've got a job to do! (And hopefully a new location to visit on the world map.)

I dropped by home first though and found that Nagisa is offering a save game and hint service now. It's going to get old if I have to hike back home every time I want to save, but it's better than not being able to save at all I suppose.

Turns out that I can't go directly to the river, I have to get through this forest first, which means I finally get a change of music! Trouble is that the forest music's even worse somehow. This is kids music made by a composer who wants kids to suffer.

The forest is a dangerous place full of roaming Robots and deadly mushrooms, but at least they're all visible so it's my choice whether I fight them or not. They don't seem to care much what I do, they're just minding their own business really.

That Poké Ball down there is an chest by the way, which is good because these enemies aren't dropping much of anything when I kill them. Especially not money.

The things also appear in battles as well, but I'm not sure what that's about. All I know is that when the timer hits zero they explode. I'm too busy to waste time on them anyway, as a turn spent smacking mysterious balls just leaves me open to be attacked by the monsters, and my health is precious.

Healing the Robot requires cure potions, cure potions cost money, enemies don't seem to be dropping money; this concerns me.


SOME FIGHTS LATER.


I got a level up!

This means I get a rare opportunity to use the Robot machine out in the field and tweak my Robot's stats. I don't just mean adding my extra points, I mean taking them away as well. It lets me respec the thing entirely.

It also seemed like a good opportunity to make those 'Boots 1' I learned how to craft earlier. The process cost me some of my precious cure potion money, but I could do with an upgrade. But it turns out that my Robot is already wearing Boots 1, so I am basically an idiot. I could recycle them and get some cash back, but I'm hoping I can collect something along the way that I can combine with them to make Boots 2.

Robotrek shop screen
I really am buying Robot cure potions by the way, I wasn't joking. And I have to buy them one at a time because that's how the shop works. Also, you know what I miss? Item names, in a list, so I can see what things are without selecting them first. I've never been any good at remembering what icons mean.

Turns out I didn't have to panic about money after all though, as I'm finding some around now. But if I keep blowing it all on cure I'll never be able to afford Robot 2! I want to see two Robots stomping around the battlefield before I turn this game off.

Whoa, did you see that slime just appear out of nowhere? That ain't right man, that's practically a random encounter!

Oh, if you're wondering why the character seems to suddenly go into fast forward, that's because I remembered that I have a sprint button. In a commendable display of common sense the developers have given him a reasonable walking speed, so I don't actually feel the need to hold the button constantly.

Wow, this guy's got ranged attacks and a resistance to my Robot's bullets. What a dick.

Alright, new strategy: I need to get over to him over the next two turns and slice him from the adjacent square.

Or... I could just use 'Bomb' to shoot a missile at him like a sensible person. It costs a ton of fuel, leaving my Robot utterly defenceless for ages, but that's not exactly a problem if it one-shot kills the only enemy on screen.


SOON.


Well, fuck.

I took a chance that I could beat a tiny little bird with just 3 HP left in the tank and that turned out to be a really stupid move. He ain't called a rushbird because he likes to chill out and wait for me to take my turn! I'm stingy with the health potions but I would've healed up here if he'd given me a chance.

In some JRPGs when you lose you respawn in town with half your money gone, but not in this one. All I can do now is load my last save.


LATER.


Well I've reached the missing children, but Einstein here has utterly failed to open up a path to get to them so I've got limited opportunities for heroism here. There's six crates of bombs next to me so I'd give his plan a shot myself, but my hero refuses to take any of them. Probably because he doesn't want to trap himself here forever.

I'll head back outside the cave and see if the path goes any further.

Aha, there's my entrance to the caves, but it seems kind of one-way. I'm not sure I want to make that sort of commitment seeing as I'm still getting my ass handed to me by birds out here.

I know what I'll do, I'll grind for a few levels until I'm not terrible any more! Enemies respawn when I return to an area on the map, so I've got unlimited punching bags to train with.


30 MINUTES OF GRINDING LATER.


I like how he holds up a magnifying glass when I press the action key to search something. It's a nice touch.

But it doesn't take a detective to tell that all the tunnels on the inside of this cave are blocked by fallen rocks as well! I'm going to have to jump in the water and see where the current takes me as I've got no other options here. I hope my Robot's waterproof.

Oops, I came across a way to get further into the cave system, but I overshot and was flushed outside instead. Well at least I know I can get back out now. Turns out I was worried about nothing.

Alright, I'm heading back up the hill to throw myself into a hole again.


FURTHER INSIDE THE CAVES.


The caves are infested with six-legged spiders! Those are the worst kind!

These guys are taking more hits to kill than I'm comfortable, and it doesn't help that enemies are able to teleport to each other's positions. Just when I'm making progress with one spider, they swap in a fresh one from the back row. It's a damn good thing I got my health up to 30 or else I could be in trouble here. I need those extra hit points to survive their onslaught long enough to use a cure potion every other turn or so.


SOON.


I used inventor dad's trumpet to make a noise and the kids heard it, so they must be close by! Now I just have to... I've no idea. I'm running into dead ends.

I've got a Rusty Drill, but it can't be used here, or on any of the other caved-in passageways either. Possibly because it's rusty, possibly because it's not a cave tunnelling drill, I don't know. So I'm stuck.

Well I was hoping to play up to a boss fight at least, but I don't mind quitting here. Especially as I've figured out that I can equip a radio to call Nagisa and save the game from inside a dungeon, or basically anywhere. So I don't actually have to keep walking all the way home every time.

WAIT, I've got an idea! But first I'll need to walk all the way home.

I used the Robot machine to combine the Rusty Drill with a potion used to remove the 'rust' status effect in battles! Now I've got a regular Drill, good for mining!

C'mon kids, I'll get you out of here.

Apparently they only came down here because they were looking for a secret Hacker base, because they're idiots. I mean this is a JRPG so I've no doubt four children could take on the entire gang, but they forgot that this game's about Robots and they didn't bring one.

Alright I'll run back home to see if I can get a reward for my heroic rescue, then come back to look for a Hacker boss to fight so I can turn this off already.


SOON, BACK AT THE MAYOR'S OFFICE.


Well this is awkward.

You know, I'm starting to think that the kid I met outside was lying to me when he said that the mayor likes stray dogs. Whatever, I got my 1000 GP reward so it's all good. That means I finally have the 3000 GP I need to build my second Robot and get a proper party going.

I hope the next one looks like R2D2... no wait, ED-209. I'll be happy with anything though really as long as it doesn't look like Johnny 5 from 'Short Circuit'...

... or the exact same as the Robot I already have! I can see now why this game never blew up like Pokémon did: no one wants to catch the same Robot over and over.

I also managed to combine some scrap with my gun to make Shot 2 L2. That's the second level of the second level gun!

It took a bit of messing around though, as I can apparently only combine weapons that are sitting in my inventory, and I can't unequip something without replacing it with something else, so I had to spend cash to make a new Shot 1 L1 to stick in the Robot's weapon slot while I combined his original Shot 1 L2 with the correct piece of scrap required to upgrade it. Then I made another Shot 1 L1 and combined that with the upgraded Shot 2 L1 to make a Shot 2 L2! Did you get all that?


LATER, BACK IN THE CAVES.


Well I did some stuff, and went through a Hacker base and I'm ready for a proper CRAB BATTLE.

Though actually it's a Meta Crab, so it's basically just a Hacker with crab hat on. It's the very first boss fight so I guess they're going easy on me.

Oh shit, that's not what he looked like in the dungeon! 

I only did 3 damage with my super-upgraded gun, so unless I figure something out this is going to take a while. I feel like there must be a weak point I can hit for critical damage, but all I can do is line myself up and use my best attack over and over.

You might have noticed that I've only been able to bring one Robot out into the fight, so that's something else this has in common with Pokémon. To be fair they'd only get in each other's way anyway against this guy.


4 MINUTES LATER.


Crap, I wasn't expecting him to deal so much damage to Bender before my next turn or else I would've healed.

Fortunately I've got Servo in reserve as an extra life! My new robot is a lot like the old robot, they both share my hero's level, except he's got the crap Shot 1 gun so now I'm doing far less damage. The good news is that I brought a repair item, so I can send Bender back out!

The bad news is he went and got blown up again so now I'm back to Servo, dealing out 1 damage on every turn. Well, the turns I don't waste by using a cure potion anyway.


14 MINUTES LATER.


Holy shit, what? I WON?

I was just seeing the fight through, doing my 1 damage per turn until the cure potions ran out, but he dropped before I did! 18 minutes that boss fight took in the end. 18 minutes I could've spent playing Stardew Valley some more instead.

Well it's over with now and I got 21.2 Megs of data for my trouble. That's two level ups! Though now I have to go running around town and inventor dad's house looking for Inventor's Friend issues 7 and 8. Or I could just radio Nagisa, save, and walk away.


CONCLUSION

Robotrek is definitely a JRPG. I'd recognise them anywhere, with their pixel art graphics, towns full of NPCs, world maps, complicated menus and separate battle screens. Another thing they have in common is that they take a while to get a handle on, so after a couple of hours I'm still not sure what I think about the game. I'm not even sure what the story's about yet as the game's been taken its sweet time getting to the plot. But it definitely has a charm to it, and my appreciation of that only increased when I put it on mute and shut off the music.

It's clearly a comedy game made for children though and I think some of the humour must have leaked out during translation as it's not all that funny. But the 'walk around in towns and dungeons' bit is painless enough, without pages of tedious dialogue to skip through, and NPCs were often considerate enough to let me know where I needed to go next. Though I was caught out by the fact that I was expected to equip items to get past specific problems (like using inventor dad's horn to lure out a guard so I could sneak behind him).

The 'get things done using the menu' part on the other hand is more awkward than it needs to be, especially as everything's displayed with icons and certain items are stashed away on hidden pages. Plus it seems like you're expected to try every item with every kind of scrap you pick up to find out which ones can combine together.

And then there's the 'Robot fight' side of the game, which is... alright. It's very simple on a tactical level, you just line up with the enemy you want to hit, move to the range you want to strike from, and pick one of your limited attacks, but it gives you room to make mistakes. You're encouraged to beat enemies quickly and the fights are often short, but they're also kind of dull. It doesn't seem like you'll be casting elemental magic or summoning Shiva any time soon in this one. Though you can program the Robots with combo attacks! Maybe that's what I should've tried against crab boss... though then he'd have wrecked me before the gauge had recovered. If the other boss fights are anything like that guy, then good luck if you ever decide to play through this yourself.

I'm not going to outright recommend Robotrek, but there's only a finite number of RPGs on the SNES, so if you've already played all the classics and you're craving more, you may want to keep in mind that it exists.


Thanks for running your eyes across my words and images, I know your time is precious. But if you've got a couple more minutes to spare maybe you can think about leaving some of your own opinions on Robotrek or my site. I mean it can't hurt... OR CAN IT?

4 comments:

  1. This game seems to be ahead of its time, I had no idea it existed.

    When you finish your compendium of unknown non related to star trek games, how about some analysis of one of the best games I've ever played .. 999 ?

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    1. I hate outright saying no, but that one would be real awkward. Maybe if it gets a PC release... and it ends up in a bundle for cheap.

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  2. Great review. I love your beautiful gifs as they do this game a lot of archival justice! While I didn't enjoy it, Robotrek left an impression on me when i gave it a whirl a year ago (I mistakenly thought it was based on ROBOTECH, which it most definitely wasn't) the writing is decent enough and amusing but it's still very slow, and for me this combat system was atrocious. it might have some of the worst fathomable audio effects in a snes game. Still, the game reaches for a lofty place in the sense of being able to customize your robots to the depth you can its unheard of in a SNES game of any sorts. Again, thank you for the review.

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    Replies
    1. <--- (AKA as DDay)Guess we are not counting Front Mission?

      I liked the game I never beat it to completion but I had fun with it and the games throws some curve balls every now an then to keep it interesting.

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