Sunday, 7 August 2016

Revisited: Robot Wars Extreme Destruction (Gameboy Advance)

With my interest in BBC's Robot Wars recently revived thanks to the show returning to our screens, I had the itch to revisit one of my favourite games for the humble Gameboy Advance which also just happens to be one of the few Robot Wars videogame adaptations that doesn't deserve to be dumped down the pit. There aren't a lot of positive comments for Robot Wars games (unless you count the entirely unrelated Super Robot Wars RPG's...which I'm not of course) and that's a shame when the concept was so difficult to bugger up. I briefly had a go on Robot Wars: Advanced Destruction (the GBA's first licensed 'Wars title) and it was properly naff with a weird isometric viewpoint, limited movement and just general crapness. I did not like. Thankfully the follow up was this: Robot Wars Extreme Destruction and what a different game it was!

The thing that immediately impressed me as a young lad were the full 3D visuals viewed from an overhead perspective. You could drive your chosen robot around the arena freely with none of this fake 3D bullshit. You know the games: the ones that claim to be 3D but usually just employed 3D models locked to eight-way movement or came with limited animation frames that fooled nobody. My first GBA game for example was Spyro: Season of Ice and while I absolutely adored it (still do), the '3D' played out from an isometric viewpoint and Spyro only really had eight way movement - it's a classic trick to sell 3D on hardware that can't actually pull it off and I suppose you can't totally blame developers for that. Somebody clearly forgot to tell the developers of Extreme Destruction however because this is still a convincing 3D game in 2016. The trade off (because there has to be one) is a low level of detail on the robots but there's still plenty enough and the fact that the arenas don't need too much detail anyway probably helps.

That said, the iconic studio arena is still completely authentic and packing enough detail to satisfy any fan of the show. The pit, floor flipper, spinner and flame jets are all present as are the wall-mounted saws and spikes. The deadly House Robots patrol the Corner Patrol Zones as you'd expect.

Dominator 2 has a crack at 101.

This game having the word 'Extreme' in it's title does however mean that some less realistic alternative arenas sit alongside the standard Studio arena. An icy arena features a lack of traction while a sandstorm afflicted desert arena throws problematic gusts into the mix. There's the 'Melting Pot' stage complete with a large pit of lava in the centre that equals insta-kill for any robot pushed/flipped into it. An industrial variant titled 'Acid Bath' is much the same save for the molten steel being replaced by bright green dissolving acid. By far the most entertaining however is the Mars-inspired arena with its low gravity. Highly entertaining when flipping opponents and watching them take off (sometimes so high they disappear from the screen!) then float back to the ground with a damaging crash.

The combat that takes place in these arenas of mayhem is actually pretty fun. Flipper-based robots tend to be top of the pile (as in the TV show) but the roster is nicely diverse and includes 'bots with flywheels, circular saws, axes and spikes. One negative aspect that always annoyed me was the lack of impact with weapons and an absence of visible damage. Reduce the opponent's health enough and they will start to smoke then spark before kicking the bucket but there is no visible way to tell how much damage you've done to another robot, usually a bigger problem for machines that use saw blades since there is very little impact (just a sawing sound effect). The likes of Hypnodisc produce a satisfying "bang" when connecting and flipper robots (Chaos 2, Firestorm, Bigger Brother etc.) obviously cause clear damage when sending opponents tumbling through the air. The most disappointing is perhaps the legendary Razer: there's a sound effect for the beak coming down but nothing at all for the impact or crush/puncture damage. I didn't really notice these things too much back in the day but I did when revisiting Extreme Destruction. Still, it's difficult to complain when most of the cartridge must be dedicated to running the 3D engine.

On a more positive note, the combat is detailed enough to pull off classic manouevres such as burying an axe into their armour then using the hold to drag the opponent towards the pit or a House Robot. There are also various special abilities mapped to each shoulder button such as temporarily having improved steering or launching a high-speed straightline charge.

The flipper, spinner, drop-zone or pit? So many choices...

The standard battling is entertaining enough but the developer also managed to cram much more onto the tiny lil' GBA cartridge than you might think. The robotic deathmatches come in multiple forms: Quick Match (pretty self explanatory), Tournament (1v1 elimination matches), Mayhem (four way battle) and Bash 'N Dash (a four way battle but with all the other 'bots ganged up against you!). Beyond these, there is also a 'Gauntlet' mode comprising of various challenges reminiscent of the first couple of TV series' such as Sumo Basho, Skittles and the Long Jump. My favourite is probably 'Dump' which tasks the player with shoving a load of old washing machines, TV's and so on into the pit within a time limit.

The variety doesn't end there though for the developers also included a 'Workshop' mode where the player can build their own robots using parts unlocked by beating the various matches and Gauntlet challenges. Furthermore, you can also create custom arenas for use with any of the battle modes. I had great fun with both and revisiting my old GBA cart reveals that I'd built a high-speed flipper based machine called 'Killer X' and a Hypnodisc-alike called 'Slizer'. Such creative names that I came up with!

Overall I would have to say that Extreme Destruction is still quite an impressive game for the GBA and a bit of a technical showcase of what the hardware could do. Sadly, this was lost a lot of gamers because licensed titles (especially TV ones) never really set the world on fire and Robot Wars would likely have only sold to existing fans of the show anyway. It certainly isn't without its faults (poor sound effects, a lack of punch to the weapons and CPU opponents sometimes driving themselves slowly into the pit) but the good outweighs the bad for sure. Likely to cost no more than a few pounds for a loose cartridge today too so if you see it, give it a shot - you might be pleasantly surprised.

No comments:

Post a Comment