One of the more baffling aspects of fan behavior is the tendency to suspend qualitative judgement when it comes to fan’s objects of affection. Past experience, empirical evidence, and ominous portents get shoved to the margins when certain Pavlovian buttons are pushed. There will be plenty of post-situ moaning and whining about getting burned, but there is little hesitation about leaping into the fire in the first place.
So it was with Teen Andrew and TransBot. As I mentioned a few days ago, I used to be a pretty fervent fan of anime, especially the giant/real robo stuff. The popularity of the Transformers and Robotech franchises meant the toy and hobby stores of the mid-1980’s were well-stocked with all manner of shady (and shoddy) bootleg mecha-merchandise intended to siphon off a sweet slice of the market share.
The phenomenon wasn’t limited to just toys and models. Videogames also cashed in on the trend, though this was wasn’t so much cynical marketing as the simple realities of the gaming industry at the time. American game developers were either still struggling from the industry-wide crash of a few years prior or had moved into the realm of computer gaming. Arcade and console fare was dominated by Japanese imports reflecting Japanese popcult trends. That robo-jockey stuff was big in America at the time didn’t hurt, either.
That’s not to say that cynical manipulation didn’t factor into the equation, as the name “TransBot” suggests a deliberate attempt to piggy-back on the name recognition of a couple of hot properties:
In practice, the formula comes closer to this:
While the official screenshots and gameplay footage suggested epic battles against faux-Zentraedi battle pods…
…the game is actually a very dumbed-down rip-off of Konami’s Gradius. The player must blast through waves of uninspired enemies — spiked balls, tumbling cube ships, and hamburgesian flying saucers — across a horizontally-scrolling generically “sci-fi” landscape. Shooting the transport trucks that occasionally roll across the bottom of the screen gives the player access to power ups, which improve weapon strength or transform the player’s ship into an unmissable target a rather goofy-looking robot.
In order to compensate for the utter shallowness of the gameplay, the developers decided to spice things up a little by tossing in the much loved gimmick of arbitrary and artificial difficulty. Unlike Gradius (or even Action Fighter), where sequenced power ups add a strategic element to play, TransBot uses a roulette-based system of determining upgrades. Nabbing a power up sphere causes an icon to rapidly cycle through an alphabetical sequence of potential rewards, leaving it up to the player’s reflexes and blind chance to determine the end result.
If this wasn’t irritating in itself, the fact that the power ups have only a limited number of uses and the boss level can only be reached by use of a specific upgrade in a specific location makes the game a nigh-unbearable exercise in frustration.
That didn’t stop me from wasting a few score hours of my life playing and attempting to beat the game.
Why? Because it had giant robots in it!