If it's not the most frantic game ever created, Robotron: 2084 is definitely in the top five of all time. The 1982 arcade game was one of the many classic games from that era to bear the Williams Electronics name. That name now belongs to Midway, a company that has been resurfacing the gems hidden in its back catalog via various retrospective compilations for the past several years. Robotron is one of the games that have fared pretty well in these collections, but with the scoreboards and online competition that the Xbox 360 version of the game provides, this Xbox Live Arcade download is at least as good as the original arcade hit.
Like most arcade games, Robotron has a bit of backstory to it that hardly matters. You play as a supercharged human up against waves and waves of robots. You must blast all of these robots while collecting members of the last human family before they're pulverized by indestructible, human-stomping hulks. What this translates to is a wave-based system. Each wave is packed full of robots, and you must shoot them all to proceed to the next wave. Collecting humans gives you bonus points, which eventually earn you extra lives. The original arcade game was played with two joysticks, one for movement in all eight directions and one for shooting in those eight directions. This meant you could move in one direction while shooting in another. Since you start every single wave in the center of the screen, surrounded on all sides, being able to shoot all over the place in absolutely key. You can use the Xbox 360's dual analog joysticks to handle the game, but this method is rather sloppy, since you can only be moving or shooting in eight directions. Using the D pad to move and the four face buttons as a second D pad for firing is the more comfortable and more responsive method of control.
It's easy to understand how to control Robotron, but mere understanding doesn't prepare you for the onscreen action, especially in the later waves. This game gets very hard very quickly and practically requires ice-cold nerves if you want to excel. The waves also vary a bit. Most of your enemies will be the standard grunts, which go down with one shot. But some waves also contain enemy generators, like sphereoids (yes, the game still spells spheroids incorrectly) and quarks, which generate enforcers and tanks, respectively. Since both of these enemies can shoot back at you, they're some of the most dangerous enemies you'll face. Also, every fifth wave is a brain wave, where large walking brain robotrons stalk humans and reprogram them into missiles that attempt to take you out. There isn't a ton of enemy variety, but it's a great mix that forces you to constantly make adjustments to your tactics from wave to wave. Of course, by the time you hit the 10th wave or so, the difficulty ramps up to a point that will probably push away some players. This was, of course, an addictive arcade game designed to free you of any quarters that may have been on your person. The addictive nature of the game is something that carries over to many of the other Robotron-like games on Xbox Live Arcade. The frantic pacing and difficulty of the game, however, are unlike any of the other similar games available on Microsoft's download service. Put another way, the first 15 waves of Robotron make the first 750,000 points of Geometry Wars feel like lying out under an umbrella and being fed peeled grapes like some sort of fancy lad.
In addition to offering the traditional one- or two-player alternating way that was allowed in the arcade, Robotron has a co-operative mode that puts one player in charge of moving and one in charge of shooting. The tasks switch off after every wave. It's an interesting twist that requires a bit of communication to be done properly. You can also play this mode over Xbox Live. The other Xbox Live mode is a versus match where the highest-scoring player wins. But there's a catch that puts a damper on this mode. The versus game ends when one player runs out of lives, and the player in the lead at that time gets the win. This turns the strategy from trying to do well at the game to watching both scores, trying to get out in front by 20 to 30 thousand points, and then losing all of your lives as quickly as possible before the other player can catch up.
Much like Joust and Gauntlet before it, Robotron has been redrawn on the Xbox 360. The game still keeps the same basic look as the original arcade game, but a floor surface has been added, so the game isn't just presented on a black background. The redrawn artwork looks OK, though the original graphics are also available as a menu option if you don't like the update. The sound is spot-on with the arcade version of the game.
Robotron: 2084 is one of the greatest games of all time. While it has been released in an arcade-perfect form in some of Midway's older arcade collections, the addition of scoreboards and the co-op mode are neat, new features that help to make this game a worthwhile purchase.