Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Shades of Resonance: Fond Reminiscence - Memory Log #15


I saw the commercials. I saw him displayed on shelves at every toy store in town. I even saw the little fellow (or what remained of him) laying about the play-room floors of friends and cousins alike. But somehow, I never really got to know R.O.B. the robot. Maybe it's because I was late to the party, or because the NES had since found success without further need of its original marketing gimmick, but I never got to see R.O.B. in action, so I just assumed that he was nothing more than a robotic My Buddy whose only purpose was to slowly cabbage-patch his arms from side to side as if a senior citizen cheering on the courtroom antics of Matlock.

It's weird because one of the first games my friend Dominick introduced me to was Gyromite, which was one of two games programmed to work with R.O.B. (the other was the inexplicable Stack-Up, which was as much a "game" as hitting random numbers on your touch tone phone). Oh, Dominick did indeed own a R.O.B. unit, but it wasn't in any condition to properly function because he and his brothers often used it, along with many other household objects, to beat each other over the head.

I had some strange friends. And this is coming from a guy who would take quarters and use them to scratch the clothes off of his rubber wrestling figures.

So it looked as though we weren't going get the chance to play this "Gyromite," whose cartridge told the harrowing tale of a stout doctor rushing to defuse lit dynamite as guarded by a moving blue pillar and Marvin the Martian's hydrated alien friend. At least, I thought we'd be skipping Gyromite (or "Robot Gyro," apparently) until Dominick revealed that we could play it without the participation of R.O.B.! We could instead play it cooperatively, with one of us controlling the protagonist (Dr. Hector) and the other using the second controller to assist his efforts by raising and lowering the red and blue pillars spread across each stage. Also, we could play an alternating two-player mode (calling into action the under-credited Dr. Vector), with the roles reversing after each death.

It all sounded a bit space-age to me, but it wasn't nearly as complicated as I originally thought; all you had to do to advance was collect the sticks of dynamite scattered across each stage while deftly avoiding the meddlesome green critters that stalkingly skittered about. You could otherwise temporarily distract the critters by feeding them or leading them to turnips, which they'd munch down, consequently ignoring your presence. But the true key to victory was teamwork and particularly the second player's timely lowering and raising of pillars, which could remove barriers or elevate Hector to previously inaccessible platforms; in addition, an alert second player could use retracted pillars to squash any green critter that tried walking over or beneath one.

This was all in theory. In reality, we were the Bad News Bears of Gyromite. If we weren't inadvertently blocking off each other's access, likely ushering our doctor friends into inescapable corners, then we were freaking out and accidentally crushing each other with a red pillar when we really meant to activate the blue one. You'd think it would was easy to keep track of only two buttons, but it was apparently rocket science to us. That was usually how it went: We'd clear the first few stages without any problems, but then our ineptitude would quickly surface and limit our progress to only a few additional stages. Once either of us decided to get mischievous and purposely crush the other, or to continue to threaten as much, things would devolve into a spiteful revenge game; it was funny for a while, but we'd soon get bored and move on to something else.

Still, I thought Gyromite's was a fun concept, and though the time we spent with it was it was relatively short, we managed to wring a whole lot more entertainment value from it than you'd think possible from such a simple game. Though, one thing continued bugging me: I couldn't imagine what it was that R.O.B. was meant to do. Hitting the Start button would turn the screen blue and prompt to the doctor to face forward as if requesting assistance, but how at all did that relay a command to R.O.B.? Dominick tried explaining it to me (he said something about "infrared" and mentioned the picking up and dropping of "gyros"), but I was probably too busy trying to figure out the difference between the blue and green mailboxes to really care. I just accepted R.O.B. as another one of those curiously experimental products Nintendo was known for.

In modern times, Gyromite is often lumped together with the likes of Ice Climber, Balloon Fight, Clu Clu Land and Pinball, labeled as "mediocre" and dismissed just as quickly. Though, if you look at it objectively, it's fair to say that Gyromite is probably a higher class of game; it's held back by its one major roadblock, the required input of a second party, and unfortunately doomed to obscurity and associated unfavorable opinion when it's probably worthy of more recognition. It certainly deserves more attention than the inexplicably omnipresent Urban Champion, which Nintendo recycles as if it were an all-time classic.

Nintendo should at least revisit the concept in an age where wireless connectivity and Internet play make it more practical. Surely, people teaming up to help each other achieve a common goal would make the gaming world a better place. And, for that matter, so would the return of R.O.B., whose presence will serve to provide future generations of brothers and sisters the much-desired means for cracking each other over the skull.

Do it for the children, Nintendo. Do it for love.

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