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Gyromite (NES) artwork

Gyromite (NES) review

"When Nintendo came about from its humble foray into arcades to raise a home console system, they felt this strange need to categorize all their games for you. You had the Sports Series, the Adventure Series, even the Programmable Series, and so on and so forth. Each of their conveniently labeled genres lived up to their silly monikers and earned Nintendo a spotless reputation. What is startling but not altogether surprising to find out now, however, is that most of these games have aged like che..."

When Nintendo came about from its humble foray into arcades to raise a home console system, they felt this strange need to categorize all their games for you. You had the Sports Series, the Adventure Series, even the Programmable Series, and so on and so forth. Each of their conveniently labeled genres lived up to their silly monikers and earned Nintendo a spotless reputation. What is startling but not altogether surprising to find out now, however, is that most of these games have aged like cheese left out in the open. The games of the past were proudly touted as having state-of-the-art graphics and offering lifelike gaming experiences (''You'll feel like you're really on the fairway!''). They have now, by necessity of the advancement of technology, been bested by processors hundreds of times faster and more powerful. Still, these games lend themselves to an inner sense that tells you that they tried their darndest, and indeed, games such as Golf, Pinball, and Super Mario Bros. were as close to the adrenaline rush of real life as you could get in 1985.

Then there was the Robot Series, which seems like a pathetic waste of funds when you find out that only two games were ever released in the set. More pointless still is the fact that Nintendo even decided to pair these games with a peculiar peripheral that would join in the action when you hooked it up to the system. Not much hullabaloo was made of the games or the robot add-on, but if you look hard enough, eBay probably carries some of these strange relics to this day.

In its time, the Robot Series batted .333. The peripheral released exclusively for these two games was christened R.O.B. the Robot. He sucked.

One of the games in the series was called Stack-Up. It sucked also.

The other game was Gyromite (Nintendo, 1984). Even today, this title readily withstands the test of time.

In Gyromite, a game in which the title came about as the result of the use of too many mind-enhancing substances and the viewing of too many reruns of Good Times, you play a balding scientist with a major problem: his laboratory contains, for some ridiculous reason, an inordinate amount of dynamite. The clock is ticking and the fuses are burning, so what must be done? We could let it all explode and gawk at a brilliant pyrotechnic display, but its graphical grandeur would be beyond the capabilities of mere 8-bit tomfoolery. No, as the scientist, we must go throughout 40 different rooms of his laboratory, picking up enough TNT to turn the Arctic Circle into a crater that could be seen from Jupiter. Here to assist you is R.O.B the Robot! Or not. Failing him, we have your friend, who I assume displays a much more unique personality and can effectively operate the second controller.

''Why two people?'' you ask. ''Is this game one of those conjunctive team efforts like the recent PlayStation release Cookie & Cream?'' I couldn't have asked it any better myself. Whereas Player 1 takes the helm as the shiny-headed scientist, Player 2 must operate the pipes that keep you from getting most of the explosives you must obtain to win. The A button raises and lowers the blue pipes while the B button does the same for the red pipes. What happens is that the term ''1-Player mode'' becomes a hilarious misnomer, because to play this game by yourself, you would have to be an octopus. But you soon realize that Gyromite is more than just a game that involves two players. It is a bonding experience.

Emotions come out in you that you might not have experienced in weeks, months, or even years. You'll express actual amazement the first time you find out you're able to squish the fuzzy green monsters between a pipe and the floor. There will be high-fives all around after the completion of a particularly exasperating level. You find yourself bewildered at the scope and thought put into some of the levels, and you might even get mad at your friend when he's futzing around with the pipes and accidentally mashes you into the ceiling. Any negative vibes are a flash in the pan, though. This first-generation masterpiece is so much fun that there's no way the storm clouds can roll in when you play it.

It still holds its own graphically eighteen years after its initial release, with some overtones of Donkey Kong Jr. evident in the movement style of many of the characters (except the scientist doesn't comically die at the slightest application of gravity). Many of the tile designs, while basic, are nicely done with hints of that easy gleam on the pipes. Everything animates as smoothly as possible with the exception of the pipes, which are jumpy and slow to respond to most stimuli. Whoever is controlling them has to be a natural or know the magic touch to make the second controller bow to his or her whim. If you see a bright lime green flash, you're probably at the Test screen, which is your indication that the color on your TV works fine. It's pretty gaudy, as are most of the color choices in this game, but it does seem to get the futuristic (as far as 1984 is concerned) look down pat. You won't have any fusses with it, especially when you place it in context with the other games of the period.

Control is a different story, as everything seems to move slow enough to be substandard but fast enough to just barely scrape by. Whether planned or not, some of the pipes have some insane delays between the time you press a button and the time the console registers your button press and performs the corresponding action. Forcing you to learn when something will happen pulls some strategy that wasn't there in the first place into play. Fortunately, you do get the opportunity to pause and look at a level even after the game scrolls through it completely before plunging you into the fray. If you get stuck in a situation that is totally inescapable, the good doctor seems to have a watch that will take him back through time and out of the level (Clockstoppers, anyone?), along with the ability to select the level you want to start on - a feature common to many of the early Nintendo titles. With a friend along to help, it's surely a better game than if you're scrambling to control the entire outfit yourself. In spite of its faults, the whole control scheme actually does to help to make it a great game, especially with a buddy in tow.

The music and sound consist of the sort of bleeps and bloops you'd expect to hear out of an old-time NES release, but a few more unique ones help to distinguish it from the pack. You get this eerie chill down your spine when a green fuzzy creature gets his crammed between two pieces of metal. The music carries traces of techno downbeats before that sort of sampling was even popular. Some of the tunes that would normally lull you into infantile slumber will keep you alert here. It's like to something turned down low to bob your head to during all the mess of puzzle solving and feeding radishes to the enemy. There's nothing much to make of it as it stays reserved for most of the game (except in 1-Player B Mode, where the game really starts to get interesting). It won't turn heads toward the game, but it won't steer them away either.

Gyromite is at heart a game for friends, one about the thrill of picking up dynamite with a partner and the two of you secretly hoping it doesn't explode in your face. The 40 phases of drowning out TNT fuses will keep you at bay for a while, but as a whole the game is not particularly difficult. You can start on any level and figure any of the stages out through trial and error even with the five lives given to you in each attempt. Test and Direct, while serving little purpose other than to make sure the right sprockets are attached to the correct widgets, provide a little bit of humorous speculation as to what other things they can be used for. (Test is the punishment for epileptics who don't bother to read the warning in the manual. Is that true? I know it is. Don't question me.) The actual two-player mode allows you and the person you're playing with to trade off between your respective roles as the scientist and the one manning the pipes. More cooperation is involved, but it kind of wears out once you find yourself better at one of the two positions.

By far the most entertaining thing included in the game is 1-Player B Mode, where the scientist is out of your grasp and is found to be walking in his sleep. Despite the nocturnal theme of the mission, you'll have to stay awake at all times, getting your hapless scientist through thick and thin, making it from one part of the level to the next without having his head chewed off by a green monster or falling to a fate of back-and-forth wandering in a pit that looks like it's only missing Daniel and a couple of lions. It starts out easy, but then turns into a guessing game that has you wondering whether you should take the high road, go for more points, and risk falling into the clutches of a green foe or play it safe along the low road. Will he climb that vine to certain doom? I can't look! The suspense is too great! As you will find out when you play this and the rest of Gyromite.

The faults you will find with this game are small, insignificant trifles at best. It might take a little bit of patience to ease into it when you see the title screen, boldly proclaiming that the game is not in fact Gyromite as it clearly states on the cartridge, but rather some imposter known as Robot Gyro. Tapping the A and B buttons repeatedly might not be such a great course of action to take, but considering the goofy control, it might be the only way. You and a friend will take to this game like sharks take to fresh meat, and while this meat may be bordering on eighteen years old, it's still as tender and juicy as it was in the mid-80's. Magnificent games like Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt saved video games from the miry pit of despair; well-made games like Gyromite fanned the flames of recovery. Have a friend spend the night and blow out the motor playing this one. Your Nintendo might feel it in the morning, but it will thank you for the experience. It will quickly worm its way into your heart, because you will recognize that it makes all the right moves in such a cool way.

And somewhere, R.O.B. the Robot is crying, wondering where he went wrong.

snowdragon's avatar
Community review by snowdragon (December 09, 2003)

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