Robo Army (NeoGeo) review
"The future seems to be quite a bleak place in SNK’s Robo Army, a 1991 arcade/Neo-Geo beat-em-up in the vein of Final Fight, Streets of Rage and virtually every other side-scrolling two-dimensional game of the sort. As you may expect in a futuristic game, some sort of evil dictator has taken over and created a robotic army to do his bidding — which seems to completely revolve around preventing you from stopping him from fulfilling a plan that may involve taking human brains to make his army bigge..."
The future seems to be quite a bleak place in SNK’s Robo Army, a 1991 arcade/Neo-Geo beat-em-up in the vein of Final Fight, Streets of Rage and virtually every other side-scrolling two-dimensional game of the sort. As you may expect in a futuristic game, some sort of evil dictator has taken over and created a robotic army to do his bidding -- which seems to completely revolve around preventing you from stopping him from fulfilling a plan that may involve taking human brains to make his army bigger (we’re not talking Shakespearian tragedy here, folks).
Fortunately for you, Dictator Jeed (a name more suited for one of the locals from Deliverance than an all-powerful tyrant) has a pretty small empire that only encompasses one city and the jungle bordering it. Go through six stages, none of which are that lengthy, and you’ll be face to face with the disembodied head that seeks to rule the world.
Now, the average “Joe Six-Pack” -- with his flabby body and surly temperament -- would be no match for an army of metallic robots. His knuckles would shatter on their hard exterior just before their stainless steel arms tore him limb from limb. No, you need to control a REAL hero for this job. So, you get the excitement of controlling a robot with a human head to beat up robots with robotic heads!
Maybe I missed a vital piece of information that could have been gleaned from a pre-game cutscene if I hadn’t rushed through the necessary motions to start playing, but I really had no clue as to how a human head was able to be moved to a robotic body to create a heroic super-robot able to combat Jeed’s army -- but that was a good thing! You see, while playing Robo Army, I let my imagination run free and create all sorts of wild and outlandish stories involving my hero’s past life -- just the sort of thing to take my mind off some of the most unexciting fighting I’ve ever experienced in a beat-em-up.
For me, the appeal of these games has always been centered around the opposition. While Final Fight may not have been the perfect video game, I loved how each punk had his (or her) own name and mannerisms. In Robo Army, the majority of your foes are generic robots. While these foes come in different colors and have a few different attacks, they all come from the same design. And you’ll be fighting them constantly on every screen in every level. Hell, one of the mini-boss encounters in this game actually involves you taking on four super-charged versions of this base enemy. I wasn’t even halfway through this game before I was frustrated enough with the repetitive, generic enemies to wonder if SNK’s motive for releasing their Neo-Geo system was solely so there would be a place for crappy games like this that no respectable arcade would EVER display (at least not without some sort of warning sign).
But don’t let me give you the idea that ALL you do in Robo Army is fight the same boring robots over and over. There is a little bit of variety in what your metal fists will be pummeling. After wading through four or so waves of regular robots, you may run into a couple of annoying robotic dogs.....or some robotic birds.....or one of about two or three other boring enemies.
Or, you might get real lucky and happen upon a boss or mini-boss encounter. As far as actual gameplay goes, these fights are the low point of the game, as many of these fights are very cheap (something you may expect from a quarter-muncher) -- but as far as innovation in this game goes, it gets no better than a select few of these battles.
Take a look at the super-cool boss of the second level (Highway) -- a bizarre cross of automobile and dinosaur that essentially is a green car with legs. Getting too close to it sometimes results in a neat (but painful) animation of your hero getting scooped into its “mouth” (under the hood) and munched on for a few seconds. Giant spiders and a metallic ape also provide some opponents that at least look good, even if the actual battle may be a bit lacking in entertainment.
Unfortunately, only a select few of these encounters are interesting. As I mentioned above, one mini-boss encounter is nothing more than four powerful versions of the basic robot foe. As you finish the police station (fourth level), an impressive robotic policeman enters the screen -- impressive until you realize it fights just like Final Fight’s Edi E., only without the personality exhibited by that crooked, gum-spitting cop.
Most of the other gameplay elements are nothing to get excited about either. Destroying some robots gives you an arm or steel pipe to swing as a weapon. Destroying others drops fuel (or oil) containers that restore life. Maybe the packages are different, but the goods inside are the same things you get in roughly every beat-em-up -- except in those other games, there’s a pretty fair chance that all these elements were pulled off with a bit more skill.
And as I realized this, only one thing kept me playing Robo Army -- the wise words of Jeed. No, he doesn’t butcher the English language as wonderfully as that evil dude in Magician Lord did, but I still loved his between-level cutscenes. There simply is something eerily beautiful about seeing an army of robots hypnotically marching towards an unseen destination while a gigantic head is superimposed above them, screaming out orders that tend to revolve around causing your death.
But as much as I cherished each new visit from Jeed in much the same way I awaited the arrival of Santa as a child, I cannot recommend a game solely on the power of a bunch of cutscenes involving a head barking orders at robots. And when those scenes are far more engaging than the actual game, I really have to wonder if the “masterminds” at SNK were as insane as Jeed. After all, they apparently not only thought that people would be lining up to play this piece of garbage in an arcade, but also would spend an obscene amount of money to “enjoy” Robo Army at home on the Neo-Geo. When you ponder on that demented reasoning for a few minutes, the antics of Jeed seem downright normal by comparison.
Community review by overdrive (October 13, 2004)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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