RELEASE DATE: 03/15/1991 (JP)
Head Buster is a game of little consequence. Not just because it’s a really old Game Gear game that never came out of Japan (although that doesn’t help). Rather, the game presents a cool concept – build robots and fight them – but offers no reward outside of… building and fighting more robots.
The game starts and you’re immediately thrust into the robot creation menu. Here, you can create up to five robots of varying weight. Light Units move faster and farther but take more damge, Heavy Units are beefier, but can’t move very far, and Normal Units have average strength and travel distance.
After you’ve chosen your units, you can enhance them with a wide range of equipment – for a price. Light and Heavy Unit armor can be upgraded (sorry Normal Unit). Movers enable the robot to cross different kinds of terrain. Sensors increase the long-distance or short-range aim of the robot. Computers allow the robot to dodge attacks and heal themselves while on the map. Then there are the weapons. All robot units have two hands that can equip either an unlimited short-range Grapple attack or short/mid/long-range weapons with limited firepower. The robot’s shoulders also have room for some missiles, napalm, and other weapons of mass destruction.
You’re given 600 Gold to start. At first, this seems ok. With said gold, you can buy a couple Light, Normal or Heavy Units and slap some extra firepower on them. For the first round, 600 Gold is just enough. After you win the first round and acquire those sweet, sweet earnings – for me it was 200 Gold – you’re taken to the menu again. 200 Gold was not enough money, at least for me. Remember, at the start of the second round, your winnings are all the money you have to make your robots look and kill their best. Still, no matter how I prepared them, my poor robots were destroyed. The opposing side’s robots just outnumbered and outgunned them, the brutes. Not fair? Not fun!
This turn of events seems to imply one of two things: there’s either a way to win more money in the first round so you can buy more equipment and not feel so helpless, or you just need to experiment with different robot combinations to see which one works.
Perhaps I would labor in the robot lab more if I felt Head Buster provided me incentive for doing so. The plot is Pokemon-esque in construction: two robot creators wield their devices against one another to see who emerges victorious. Tale as old as time and war and ego. Whoever wins gets a trophy, some money and then it’s back to the shop to build up better robots. Do these battles take place during the year 199X? I presume that’s a safe assumption, but why are these robot fighters doing battle in the first place? Are they aiming for the grand title of Head Buster? More importantly, why should I care about any of this?
Head Buster‘s strength lies in its simplicity – this is, after all, a portable game that’s meant to be played in short bursts. Its simplicity is also its greatest weakness. Without even the barest semblance of a story or purpose to drive me further, I felt trapped in a never ending loop of robot creation and destruction. Now, far be it from me to decry the merits of robot sim/strategy games. Lord knows I’m probably in for a slew of them, and I’m sure there’s some good/great ones out there. I just need a little extra to make the whole robot factory process worthwhile.
Many thanks to Chris Covell for Head Buster’s translation. I never want to play the game again, but I’m grateful it’s available for others to play in English.