Ok, I guess he’s a little cute here…
This unflattering glamour shot kept many a discriminating youth away.
DEVELOPER: UPL (port by Treco)
RELEASE DATE: 10/90 – (US), 12/14/90 – (JP)
The pitch for the character, Atomic Robo-Kid: “Shooters are dynamite with the kids these days, but using a ship is so 1984. What if players control a cute robot instead? He can do everything a ship can do, but he’s cute and also a robot. He’s small, maybe a child, with sweet animal-like features and adorable eyes. He’s got big feet, because big feet are precious. He’s saccharine, but edgy. He has tons of firepower, but girls say ‘Awww!’ whenever they see him. He’s the cuddliest, most destructive robot you’ve ever seen, and he’s gonna be the hottest mascot since Mario!”*
The epic struggle between Trashcan and Fan.
And lo, Atomic Robo-Kid, with his goofy clown feet, phallic elephant nose, red piercing eyes, and trashcan body, was born, gifted with his very own horizontal shoot-em-up. Does his unique shape and abilities elevate the genre to new peaks of excellence, or is his clanking stocky frame out of place among the standard ships, heady nights, and neon dreams of the go-go shoot-em-up scene?
Built to be a coward.
With the exception of his stumbling gait, the Robo-Kid’s abilities are those of a standard ship. He can fly around the level in any direction, hold up to four weapons (Flame Laser, 3-Way Spread, Missile, and 5-Way Shower), and only take one hit before he’s destroyed. One would think that his larger body would help him withstand multiple attacks, but no! He’s a child, he’s vulnerable, etc.
The game’s difficulty stems not from the enemies, but from the size of both the protagonist and the stages. Most, if not all, of the nineteen stages are comprised of narrow spaces, filled with confined corridors that often have numerous enemies shooting projectiles within them. If you were a ship, skinny and sleek, this would not be a great challenge. Because you are a bulky sprite who struggles to fit within these spaces, you must take care.
“Tonight, Atomic Robo-Kid, with special guest stage, Sandopolis Zone!”
Not all stages are so difficult. In fact, many of them can be completed in thirty seconds or less if you jam the fire button down and proceed with caution. Most enemies attack in clusters and are taken out with one hit, so you’re never overwhelmed unless you’re in a really cramped area. That said, stages either feel too short and easy or ridiculously hard. There’s no consistent middle ground.
“I’ll destroy every last one of these Grecian columns if it kills me!”
When the stages are tough, you’re focused on surviving. When they’re easy, you have time to ponder and recognize how slight the stage design is. Each area is comprised of generic backgrounds – some alien imagery here, some glowing robot bits there – mixed with the same handful of enemy types in narrow enclosures, some more confined than others. There are no extravagant set-pieces, no “holy crap!” moments. There is… the Robo-Kid, for better and for worse.
Programmed with only the finest 90s slang.
In addition to the stages, the Kid must also take on “governor” boss battles. Governors are oversized flying mutants, all of which have a weak point or two. I beat the first two governors with relative ease, but lost repeatedly to the third. He used both quick homing attacks and a scorpion tail that took up half the screen to decimate me. Since my large, slow robot couldn’t avoid these attacks and shoot the governor at the same time, my time with Robo-Kid ended here.
I’m just not cut out for that Robo-Kid life.
The duels with the evil Robo-Kids are my favorite part of the game, despite their difficulty. Each Robo-Kid stands on opposite ends of the screen, while two columns of green, destructible orbs move between you both. The orbs don’t hurt you if you touch them, but they do get in your way and they eventually regenerate once shot. Your goal is to shoot through them and hit the other Robo-Kid once. Sounds easy enough, but along with regenerating orbs, the evil Robo-Kids read your moves well. Only a sharp aim will take them down, particularly as the orbs keep coming to shield you both from potential harm.
Not all Robo-Kids are created equal, apparently.
At first, Atomic Robo-Kid seems like a welcome deviation from the basic horizontal shmups that have littered the Genesis over the past year. Don’t be fooled. The Kid is a poorly designed protagonist for such a claustrophobic shoot-em-up. Rather than construct stages around his considerable frame – stages that would make him a character you want to control – the developers were content to shove the oversized Kid into small areas in order to raise the game’s challenge. Save for the awesome Robo-Kid V. Robo-Kid battles, there’s nothing here that warrants his creation; replace the Kid with a ship and the limited stage design becomes all too apparent. Like so many character-driven games that would come after him, Atomic Robo-Kid hides behind its boardroom-created character for meaning and worth. No would-be mascot should have to bear such a burden.
*This is completely fictional, for those who were in doubt.