Concept: 5 out of 5
Execution: 3 out of 5
Yeah, but: Mario, schmario.
The Long Version: I don't usually review things that I haven't used for almost twenty years, but one of the lingering injustices of electronic gaming is that the 1991 Mac/PC/Amiga classic RoboSport has never been reissued for a modern platform.
I started to play Robosport on a friend's Mac SE, long before I had a computer of my own. It and Spaceward Ho! were our favourite two-payer games, because they're both turn-based and would calculate the outcomes of everyone's actions without needing to be played on two computers or a fast network. The premise of RoboSport was a near-future televised sporting event that had teams of combat robots competing in special arenas. Not too shabby an idea, especially considering that this predated the radio-controlled cars of BattleBots or reality TV.
A team could be as many as eight robots, and each one could be armed with a rifle, machine gun, heavy machine gun, or missile launcher. The rifle robot had the best armour and long-range accuracy, the heavy machine gun had the most close-in firepower but the least armour, and the missileer had much better accuracy than the grenades that anyone could throw. While the game arenas had a top-down view, it wasn't necessarily omniscient – robots had distinct fields of view, cones of fire, and can't see past walls or obstructions. There were different maps, some laid out as ruins, others as suburbs, and some as computer circuitry. I mostly played capture the flag, hostage rescue, and last robot standing, but other modes included treasure hunt, where the robots need to hunt coins as well as each other, and "baseball" where they have to run bases by reaching certain waypoints.
So far it's just a basic-but-quirky squad-infantry game, but the fun comes from needing to pre-program each robot's moves. Stand here, look there; wait fifteen seconds and then throw a grenade before rushing into the next room; call shots on specific targets or just wait for targets to appear: it became a complicated dance with everyone reacting to what happened in the last round. Sometimes it worked out the way I'd expect, but usually the results were amusing and unintended. Opponents rushing past each other in doorways to take up defensive positions in the room that the other just left, a complicated outlay of firepower aimed at nothing while a lone rifleman plinks away from an unexpected direction, obliterating your own team with some badly thrown grenades – there's nothing to do but watch the results and choose your actions to program for the next round.
Computer games don't need great graphics, just good ideas. The computer that once ran Robosport had less power than a pre-WebOS Palmpilot, and my current phone has a higher-resolution screen. If some modern advances could be brought to the same game concept – better AI, network multiplayer, colour, not crashing all the time – I would buy it in a heartbeat. What's more, if it ran on a platform that I don't own, I would buy one just to play Robosport with. The irony of having it on an Android tablet would capture some of the inherent sense of humour of the game, so that would be just about perfect. Fingers crossed.
postscript: as often happens, in writing this review I've found something else. Looking for background on Robosport led me to the contemporary game Frozen Synapse, and playing it has been enough to keep me from Twitter for almost two days. There may be a review of it in the future, but for now I can say that no matter how good it is, it's still not Robosport.
last updated 19 nov 2011