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Its a fairly bleak premise: an extraterrestrial Earth colony in the 21st century has been bombarded with radiation, and then subsequently attacked by a fleet of robots. The colonists only hope is a boy in a sophisticated battle suit, who must traverse hostile terrain and wipe out the intruders. Despite the emphasis on plot, and some other nice tricks that make this game stand out, its classifiable as standard R-Type shoot-em-up fare, as the player moves through caverns, avoids laser bullets, collects power-ups and unleashes severe firepower.
Released on the Sega MegaDrive in 1988, Trecos Atomic Robo-Kid is more sophisticated than the average shoot-em-up, and far more playable as a result. Gone is the constantly scrolling screen of R-Type and Disposable Hero, as its now up to the player to confront the action ahead rather than having to withstand its inevitable approach. Theres also unique incorporation of platform game traits, as the character begins the game in a standing rather than jet-propelled floating position, and can return to this pose any time by touching down on floor level. Almost all of the game involves being airborne, but there are some great advantages to wandering around on foot that prove essential as the game progresses.
Each level is designated as an Act, and although these proceed consecutively through the game, it soon becomes clear that levels are grouped in fours. Every third stage ends in an encounter with a ridiculously enormous boss enemy, and the fourth stage consist of a more rewarding and evenly weighted face-off with another robot creature similar to the players character, and possessing the same abilities. Although incredibly brief, whichever way victory goes, these evenly weighted duels are perhaps the most instantly rewarding parts of the whole game.
Terrain for the regular stages varies, beginning in a customary industrial cyberpunk setting and proceeding to levels with varying degrees of strangeness, such as the inside of a body and a more pleasant rocky desert wasteland. The enemy designs are fairly consistent throughout, and are nothing extraordinary for anyone whos played this type of shoot-em-up before. Theres an attempt to give Robo-Kid some personality at the end of every fourth stage, as he engages in a brief, typed dialogue with his CPU, using words such as gnarly. Rad. This isnt a puzzle game however, and the plot details they describe such as find a merchant and make an arms deal have no bearing on your actions, which remain simple and laser-based.
There are a finite number of weapon upgrades that can be collected by the player, all of which accumulate and can be switched by pressing the joypads B button, unlike similar games such as Zero Wing which feature only one weapon at a time, until the next is picked up as replacement. The full arsenal doesnt take long to accumulate through power-ups left behind intermittently by enemies, especially as these power-ups can be spun round and round by firing at them until they indicate the desired option. A fiery pulse laser replaces the stinking mediocre thing you start gameplay with, and this can be joined by a 3-way white laser, a beam ray with wide area, and a missile that can destroy enemy bullets in flight as well as break through rocks in specific areas. The game ensures that all four are effective in different scenarios, although a lot of its down to player preference.
Despite the sarcastic advice of Robo-Kids CPU that hell do fine as long as he shoots everything, it can be more prudent at times to try to avoid more difficult enemies if theres a clear escape route. The player wont actually get damaged by encountering an enemys physical form, only their energy weapons. As such, a lot of fun can be had switching to a standing rather than flying mode, and jumping past a load of them to lower ground. When not in flight, the B button causes the character to jump rather than switch between weapons, and the A and C buttons both act as the fire button, which need to be pushed repeatedly and hastily to achieve any kind of real progress.
The original arcade game was 2-player compatible, but this feature is lacking from the home console release. An options screen allows the player to select game difficulty, which for once is automatically set to Easy, something that should hopefully offend serious shoot-em-up fans. Changing game difficulty has no effect on the gameplay, merely increasing or decreasing the number of available lives and continue credits. As such, upgrading to the more hardcore options seems pretty pointless.
For a game originally released in 1988, the graphics and sound are nothing too impressive, but are better than less professional releases. Robo-Kids movements are animated nicely, and theres a nice sense of three-dimensional playing due to the background moving at a different speed, a technique that would be perfected in Sonic the Hedgehog. Its a colourful and aesthetically pleasing game, but the colour schemes are always sensibly limited within each level to avoid clashing, and to allow players to concentrate on the action. The music is standard racy 16-bit techno fare, fairly annoying but strangely endearing all the same, and theres enough variation in sound effects to distinguish between enemy attacks and friendly fire, and the different weapons in your own arsenal. I still wouldnt recommend playing the game if youre blind though.
A middle-of-the-road arcade-at-home shoot-em-up, Atomic Robo-Kid is notable for its incorporation of (player-controlled) gravity. This is a game it would be fun to be great at, as the ground movement adds a nice extra dimension to play. The game should be equally appealing to children and adults, as the character is fairly cute despite being one step from a Dalek, and the colours prominent but restrained. My main gripe is the lack of a health or energy bar for the player, meaning that each and every shot brings on instant death. This makes the game a lot harder and more frustrating than necessary, and it really does your thumb joints in.