Thursday 24 June 2010



Robbo (or "The Adventures of Robbo") for DOS is nothing short of painful. Built in Poland by the group xLand Games (who also did Electro Man and Heartlight), Robbo is a puzzle game that exists solely to taunt anyone who feels like playing it. I have this boxed and had it bought for me in the mid-1990s when DOS games were still cool. Considering I still struggle with it now, it's not really a game aimed at kids. This is Boulder Dash: to the max™

Robbo's history is a bit patchy but from the sounds of things it originally started life out as an Atari 8-bit family title, progressed to the Atari ST and was eventually spiced up and brought to DOS by publisher Epic MegaGames. It also saw a freeware release in 2006 which can only be a good thing.

Robbo represents a forgotten section of video game enthusiasts - the puzzlers. The people who would spend hour after hour trying to solve complex mazes for kicks. It's inspired by games such as Boulder Dash or Repton, in that you can move up, down, left and right and push blocks. The goal is to "COLLECT ALL BOLTS" and "FIND YOUR WAY OUT", and to do so you have to navigate your way around a maze making sure you don't get stuck, killed or stop yourself from being able to access important items.

By using batteries Robo can fire a projectile, which can be used to clear the way and activate bombs. There are also teleporters and keys and various other things to prevent you reaching your goal. There are many, many improvements over older games following a similar pattern, so there's nothing to really fault, gameplay wise.

The level design in Robbo is such that you are punished for making the wrong move. This means every thought has to be planned and executed with care, as you're likely to make mistakes if you rush around like an idiot. If you do get stuck, the level will need to be restarted from scratch, and as the levels can get quite long it's not a good idea to tempt fate. Eventually you'll be provided with passwords, but don't expect one for each level of the game.

A combination of the above means Robbo is immensely challenging. Even the first levels will put up a fight and despite owning the game for a decade and a half, I've never got very far in it. I would expect only super-humans would reach the end. There are numerous re-releases of the Atari 8-bit version, suggesting there are potentially hundreds of levels out there to complete.

Robbo is narrated by... some guy... who will point out every object you have collected and explain what needs to be done (assuming of course you're using the right sound card option). This was very new at the time, but for one reason or another means the game does not have a musical score (outside of its title screen). He'll even start talking to you if you don't move anywhere.

Graphics wise, it makes use of the 256 colour VGA standard which DOS games were a fan of at the time. It still looks nice, but it could be considered a bit boring by today's standards. The Atari versions are noticably worse so there's definately been some improvements, even if Robbo himself is a bit... basic. A 1994 release meant that the genre was starting to be phased out in the PC market and replaced with more "modern" types of game, i.e. first person shooters and real time strategies, so Robbo could be considered one of the better looking puzzle games of its kind.

But that doesn't save it from being too hard. It's still certainly recommendable, but only for those who like a bit of challenge with their cereal in the morning. This game sat on my shelf most of the time because I could never really get into it, but it's bound to please someone.

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