Deathbots (NES) review
"Deathbots is a lot like a stray dog. For one thing, it lacks a license. Secondly, its black, funny-shaped outer casing makes it a social pariah in a crowd of nice, clean, uniformly manufactured NES cartridges, much as a mutt with three legs, cataracts, and mange would feel out of place at the Westminster Dog Show. But most like a mongrel, Deathbots will come to your front doorstep on a day when you are expecting no company. It will beg for mercy, love, and pity, and because it has that glimmer o..."
Deathbots is a lot like a stray dog. For one thing, it lacks a license. Secondly, its black, funny-shaped outer casing makes it a social pariah in a crowd of nice, clean, uniformly manufactured NES cartridges, much as a mutt with three legs, cataracts, and mange would feel out of place at the Westminster Dog Show. But most like a mongrel, Deathbots will come to your front doorstep on a day when you are expecting no company. It will beg for mercy, love, and pity, and because it has that glimmer of uniqueness in its eye you'll give it a chance - ''just this once,'' you swear to yourself. Once soon turns into twice, thrice, four times, ten, twenty, fifty! until at last it is a permanent fixture in your life. If you can get past the negative stigma placed on unlicensed games, you may be able to get some lasting value out of Deathbots as long as you can maintain an open heart. It's not bloody likely, but it is possible.
Deathbots is hard to find and even harder to sit through in most cases. It never gives any specific background for you to refer to, but if you've ever witnessed any exhibition of modern entertainment, the premise is simple enough to deduce. No points for figuring it out. This is a game so primitive that the Seagals and van Dammes of the gaming world will leap with joy when they intuit its main points before anyone else is able to.
Your hero in this game is a markedly white bipedal cyborg, commissioned to scour an entire six-story building in search of machines different from itself to destroy. He has a variety of guns and grenades at his disposal that are assumed to get more powerful as they grow in size, and with them he'll barrel through standardly designed levels that are totally indistinguishable from each other. At the end of each, he'll face a boss that is very much not a robot; usually it more closely resembles a six-tentacled, three-eyed alien with two thoraxes and the mark of Beelzebub just above its left ear slit. Could otherworldly interlopers be behind this? Do they want to blow up Earth? Can they cook a mean quiche? Deathbots does not delve into the ramifications of such deep quandaries. It is not smart enough to. After all, as long as a game has aliens and robots, it must be cool, right?
It's not enough to assume that these things are sufficient to make a game a billion-seller. Granted, their mere presence can bolster even the most hopeless action adventure - after all, what would the Bionic Commando have been without that fantastic stretching arm? Would the Terminator have been as ruthless and effective a genocide machine that struck pandemonium into your heart with those beady little red lights for eyes if he were an alien from the planet Fribulax? Truly, cyborgs have played a large role in shaping the way we perceive the concept of action. However, as with monkeys, ninjas, and hot lesbians, AVE does not realize that the fact that there are robots in Deathbots does not ensure automatic success. An atomic bazooka the size of a baseball stadium is without a doubt an impressive idea, but what good is it if there's no way of determining how much ammunition is left in it, or even to know what it is when you get it? If an itty-bitty grenade has the same success rate and sheer power in a given situation as a triple-barrel cosmic assault rifle, what's the point in using one or the other? Why all the mass confusion? Why the chaos?
It could be argued that an action game would benefit more from an unpredictable nature, but a reasonably good game needs a healthy balance of both chaos and order, and Deathbots possesses absolutely zero percent of the latter. A given level generally plays out like so:
White cyborg winds his way through corridor after corridor, arbitrarily finding ways to open doors with no visible mechanism for doing so.
Thin corridors are occasionally contrasted with large, wide-open rooms housing enough enemies to make the entire screen slow down to a quarter of its potential framerate and flicker worse than a defective Roman candle.
Confused, you slam your thumb rapidly on the button that fires your gun - how the heck should you know which button it is, the game is confusing enough as is - hoping to hit all the targets currently engulfing you. In a way it's like Smash TV, but without the consolation prize at the end of the long hard road.
After fighting some vague alien bosses and making it through a few levels, you die. It was kind of nice that the game allowed you to continue right from the spot where you got game over, and there were fun moments of chaos that were enough to elicit laughs, but at the end of the day there's just no denying it: this game sucks.
And so it goes. Eventually the mass entropy of the game turns it into something that is no more aptly described than as not worth playing. Its randomness can be entertaining in short bursts (i.e. about the amount of time to eat a Hershey bar), but on the whole the game suffers greatly from it as a result. So bad is the lack of organization that you can sometimes not tell when you've beaten a level, because the next one starts off with the same enemy assault and takes place in the same ugly pastel-themed quasi-futuristic hallways that seem to have no end and possess doors that are themselves possessed, sometimes opening with capricious free will and at other times staying obstinately closed like the mouth of a mule that isn't hungry.
If you saw Deathbots in a local game store or in a pawn shop, I might say it's worth it for the novelty aspect, but only then and only if it went pretty cheap. It's an unlicensed game, which are always interesting to study and consider why they never got that elusive license. Did companies that made games this laughably bad feel that Nintendo would not have granted the seal of approval otherwise, and hence took a course of action to avoid the lock-out trap and have their games see the light of day anyway? But at the same time, how can resist a game that looks up at you with that ugly black jagged casing and those puppy dog eyes? Those beady infrared laser-of-death puppy dog eyes? Just this once, you swear to yourself. Just this once.
Hopefully, one time is all it will take for you to see that taking this flea-bitten scoundrel into your home wasn't what you bargained for. It has death and it has robots for certain, but two legs aren't enough to hold up a whole card table.
Community review by snowdragon (March 14, 2004)
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