Sometimes concepts that seem so awesome in one medium don't translate well into video games. Take Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, for example. Many people have fond memories of playing with the toy when they were youngsters. One person would control the red robot, the other would control the blue robot, and both players would madly press the punch buttons on the toy until one of the robots' chins popped up. The loser would then push his robot's chin back into position, and the whole process would start over. There wasn't anything more to it than that, but people happily frittered away hours of their formative years just knocking each other's blocks off. Now, DSI Games has produced a video game rendition of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots for the Game Boy Advance that, despite a few modest changes, works just like the toy. It is perhaps the simplest and most repetitive fighting game ever produced--and easily one of the ugliest.
The game is loosely patterned after other 2D fighting games, such as Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, except that all of the characters are palette swaps of the same plastic robot, and all of the backdrops consist of the same toy boxing ring, which is superimposed over drab depictions of futuristic scenery. Each of the 10 playable robots has its own speed and strength characteristics, but they all look the same and have the same basic set of punches. The three play modes included also don't differ much. One lets you pit the red robot against the blue robot; one lets you set up a match between any two of the 10 robots; and the third lets you fight five robots in succession. Incredibly, the developers neglected to include a link mode.
Failing to include a link mode is inexcusable because the main reason people enjoyed the toy in the first place was that their friends and family were controlling the robot on the other side. Knocking the CPU's block off isn't nearly as satisfying.
The absence of a link mode is a terrible thing, but that isn't what makes Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots such a terrible game. Ironically, the game's biggest problem is that it's actually too true to the experience of playing with the toy. All of the arenas look the same, all of the robots look the same, and most of their attacks look the same. Just like with the toy, the outcome of each fight in the game is primarily dependent on how fast you can mash buttons. And, when you mash those buttons, you'll see the same choppy punches and hear the same clunky plastic sounds that you would if you were playing with the toy.
The developers kicked up the combat in the game a little by giving the robots extra actions and changing the way a knockout blow is performed, but these improvements are almost completely lost on the brainless CPU artificial intelligence. Every robot can move back and forth, punch high and low, duck, and execute power punches. Each robot also has its own unique special attack. Knockout blows aren't random as they are when playing with the toy. To knock the CPU's block off, first you need to whittle down its stamina meter by landing punches with the A and B buttons, and then you need to initiate the knockout punch by tapping the left and right shoulder buttons until another meter fills. All of these improvements seem like good ideas, but their value is completely offset by the CPU's inability to retreat or take advantage of openings. If you just mash buttons, the CPU will walk into almost every punch. In that regard, the video game rewards you for mashing buttons just as much as the toy.
Some concepts simply don't work as video games. Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots is one of them. The simplicity and repetitiveness that make it such a great toy make it a lousy video game.