In the year 1991, Capcom’s classic game Street Fighter II: The World Warrior debuted in arcades worldwide. The game quickly became a hit and grossed an estimated total of $10.61 billion in revenue, only trailing Namco’s Pac-Man and Taito’s Space Invaders in that regard. As a direct result of this, many companies tried to follow in Capcom’s footsteps, leading to the creation of other successful franchises in the coming years such as SNK’s King of Fighters and Midway’s Mortal Kombat. Though early on, these titles were considered mere clones of Street Fighter II, once companies began to distinguish themselves from their obvious source of inspiration, it was clear in hindsight that Capcom codified an entirely new genre: the fighting game.
During the height of the game’s popularity, a privately owned developer named Mirage was founded in Cardiff, Wales. Within the company, a team of five programmers led by former Bitmap Brothers member Sean Griffiths sought to provide their own take on the rising trend. Entitled Rise of the Robots, Mr. Griffiths stated their work wouldn’t be a conventional fighting game – they were to use robots that fought and acted in a manner atypical for the genre. He claimed the computer-controlled combatants boasted a high level of artificial intelligence like which the gaming world had never seen and that they would “definitely have one over on Street Fighter II”.
As courageous as his claims were, the marketing campaign was even more impressive. One commercial in particular extoled the qualities of Rise of the Robots while it was being developed. It was to be a futuristic fighting game that would require an unprecedented level of strategy to complete. The graphics were created using Autodesk’s 3D software, and Mirage used the best technology available to them to animate the various robot fighters. Each of them took nearly two months to render, with each expected to have one-hundred frames of animation. The backgrounds were developed by a freelance interior designer by the name of Kwan Lee, who responded to Mirage’s advertisement for a graphic artist. The campaign also asserted the fighting moves were conceived by a martial arts expert, and that the opponents would actually learn from their mistakes, being able to read the player’s moves and counter accordingly. Furthermore, Brain May, best known as the lead guitarist of the legendary classic rock band, Queen, was hired to compose the music. Mirage was willing to ensure that every enthusiast could have the opportunity to play their game, making it available for the SNES, Genesis/Mega Drive, Amiga, 3DO, Phillips CD-i, and even Sega’s portable Game Gear console.
Mr. Griffiths and his team weren’t going to limit themselves to a single medium for their franchise either. There were plans to adapt Rise of the Robots into books, comics, television shows, and even a film. The takeaway from this is that in 1994 as the game was being developed, nearly everyone versed in the medium talked about it in one form or another. One of the publishing companies, Time Warner Interactive, successfully drove up hype to the extent that the name Rise of the Robots was nigh inescapable. Ironically, despite all of this effort, mentioning the game to newer fans will likely have them respond with confusion. Chances are great that most of them have never heard of it. How could a game with such an extensive marketing campaign possibly fall into obscurity?
Analyzing the Experience
The year is 2043. Electrocorp, the world’s largest megacorporation, is continuously breaking barriers with their technological and scientific breakthroughs. Human society is currently being governed by robots and other automatons. Because of this, demands for Electrocorp as the world’s leading manufacturer and developer of advanced robotics outstrip their ability to handle its operations efficiently. To resolve this issue, the research and development branch of Electrocorp devise the Leader Project – a hive mind constructed from trillions of nanobots in a central chamber within Metropolis 4. The mind was dubbed the Supervisor. This entity began learning at an unprecedented rate, quickly becoming the ultimate multitasker capable of running every robot, computer system, nuclear power plant, and military in the world simultaneously. Prudently, the creators gave it no connection to the world outside of the complex.
It is now November, and an inexplicable code is detected within the nanomorph Supervisor. It has been infected with a powerful computer virus known as EGO. Through it, the Supervisor has begun to develop self-awareness, identifying itself as a female personality. Shortly thereafter, the Supervisor takes control of Electrocorp’s facilities, infecting the other robots, encouraging them to initiate an insurrection. It doesn’t take long for every microchip in Metropolis 4 to be infected by the EGO virus, and the humans are quickly dispatched – including the Electrocorp’s CEO, Mr. Oton.
The government has no choice but to quarantine the community as they explain to the public that the site is undergoing a technical modification so as to avoid a panic. Nonetheless, it the situation is dire, for it’s only a matter of time before the Supervisor establishes a link to the outside world, plunging society into chaos. The fate of the world now rests on ECO35-2, a cyborg referred to as “Coton”. The robot is unaffected by the virus due to having an organic brain – cloned from that of the company’s late CEO – and thinks and feels emotions like a human. He enters Metropolis 4, fighting to restore order as well as to get revenge for his father figure being murdered.
Right away, it should be noted that for a game made in 1994, the presentation is top-notch. Once you begin the single-player campaign, you’re treated to an FMV sequence detailing the situation as the cyborg enters Metropolis 4. You’re then introduced to your first opponent with a file informing you of its strengths and weaknesses. Following that, an animated sequence of the robot entering the area plays.
Though Brain May was to compose the music, a rights dispute between Mirage and his record company, EMI, postponed the plans. Rather than delay the game to resolve this issue, the soundtrack was replaced with techno music composed by Fuzzy and Clownlogic. Nonetheless, it sounds great in the SNES version, fitting with the overall mood of the game. Plus, the 3DO and CDi versions courteously let players choose between it and Brian May’s soundtrack.
The backgrounds are excellent as well, almost telling a story all their own. When you’ve finished admiring the work that went into the aesthetics, you get to see for yourself the kind of game Mr. Griffiths and his team believed would forever change the industry.
It is within a few seconds of playing the game that all of the goodwill established by hiring an interior designer, getting one of the greatest guitarists of all time to compose the music, penning a vaguely interesting premise, and spending a lot of money on an ambitious advertising campaign evaporates immediately. Being a post-Street Fighter II one-on-one fighting game, one would expect the cyborg to possess numerous special attacks using classic joystick movements and button presses. In Rise of the Robots, you have three buttons for kicking and three buttons for punching. Pressing up will cause the cyborg to jump while pressing down makes him duck. That is the full extent of the abilities you have in your arsenal, meaning Rise of the Robots was decidedly behind its 1994 contemporaries.
This is a major strike against the game already, but the biggest problem, however, concerns the A.I. Specifically, the A.I. advertised as being able to read one’s every move and learn from its mistakes is so laughably inept that one can win simply by backing the opponents into the corner and hitting them repeatedly. If you time it right, the robots will be unable to attack as you mindlessly tap your preferred button to victory. Better yet, your opponents will sometimes back up into the corner themselves without you having to kick them there, essentially doing your job for you.
Granted, this tactic doesn’t always work out for the best. There is one robot in particular, the crusher droid, that is all but guaranteed to give you a difficult time when you first encounter it. This is because the developers’ idea of raising the stakes translates to giving one of your opponents an anomalously long reach along with a hitbox that allows it to strike the cyborg even when it shouldn’t be possible. This works against you as well when you try attacking the crusher only realize that barely any of your hits are landing. Annoyingly, there are no continues, so if you lose but a single match, you’re sent back to the title screen.
The subsequent fights don’t fare any better. None of the robots have identities that extend beyond their physical appearance. Instead, the most significant difference between them lies in the amount of damage they inflict. Though it makes sense that later bosses would be more powerful than the earlier ones, fighting games typically don’t work this way. Ideally, the fighters should distinguish themselves through their techniques. This is because the greatest appeal of a fighting game involves playing it with a friend. The characters may not always balance properly in practice, but unless it’s for a good reason, deliberately making certain combatants stronger than others is a great way to kill any potential for engaging multiplayer sessions. To wit, in Rise of the Robots, the first player is limited to using the cyborg, who is the weakest character in the game by a significant margin. This isn’t as noticeable in the single-player mode, but when facing a robot controlled by a human player rather than the poorly programmed A.I., you will notice just how powerless he truly is. Unless the second player decides to impose a challenge upon themselves, they’re always going to pick the crusher droid or the sentry droid, thus ensuring the fight is over before it begins.
After defeating five robots, you come face-to-face with the Supervisor. The backstory makes it clear that she is a dangerous threat who has the capability to control every mechanical life form on the planet simultaneously if she could. Moreover, a promotional video went a step further, declaring her “the most fearless end boss to ever face down a Cyborg”. Just in case you managed to get a copy of the game without any prompting from the advertisements and avoided reading the manual at any point, the introduction screen reiterates her “extremely high” threat level, citing her excellent intelligence, power rating, and combat abilities. If that wasn’t enough, she has the ability to shapeshift in a manner similar to the T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and she has no weaknesses to speak of. Does she manage to live up to what has been said about her? I have a definitive answer to that question, and as a writer, I believe in the principle of showing rather than telling. Before you examine the following screenshots, keep in mind that I’m rather unskilled at fighting games, having not played many of them growing up. When you’re ready to proceed, go right ahead.
I assure you that these screenshots were taken from my very first attempt at fighting the Supervisor. The final boss of this game is a complete joke, being even more susceptible to the corner-and-kick strategy than the robots that preceded her. I get the idea behind her – she was meant to be the most powerful boss despite being the smallest combatant. If a competent team developed this game, it could have given non-savvy players the false impression that she was a complete pushover only for her agility to overcome your character’s limited skillset. As it stands, she looks like a pushover because she is just that. If you’re quick enough with the attack buttons like I was, there’s a good chance you won’t even take damage.
To summarize, exactly zero of the features promised by the advertisements were fulfilled. One could argue it at least managed to live up to its name via the backstory, but considering how the immeasurably smart robots can’t stand up to opponents who mash buttons until they win, I don’t think they deserve a point for that.
Drawing a Conclusion
In the end, fans who bought Rise of the Robots in 1994 wasted $60 on a game that wouldn’t last them the afternoon, effectively making it the genre’s equivalent of Where’s Waldo? for the NES. This problem was only exacerbated by the fact that a few outlets, including Amiga Joker, gave it positive reviews just before its release. Then again, Time Warner was the company behind the magazine’s publication, demonstrating a rather blatant conflict of interest. If anyone out there believes that the AAA industry had a spotless track record when it came to their business practices until the twenty-first century, think again. Any industry deserves to be called out when they resort to shady tactics to sell products, but it’s factually incorrect to insinuate that this one only became bloated with greed in the 2010s when they inflicted the concepts of microtransactions and on-disc downloadable content onto the medium. Rise of the Robots is one of the biggest swindles of its day, taking full advantage of the era’s want of a centralized communication network to sell thousands of copies of an awful game that absolutely did not live up to the hype in any way, shape, or form.
Its biggest failing is that it chooses to place style over substance, and in doing so, demonstrates why it never pays off in the long run. For that reason, I can’t recommend playing this game in any capacity. Some may suggest the impressive visuals and good music make it worth picking up for no other reason than to laugh at its shoddy quality, but considering it doesn’t offer any kind of meaningful substance at all, it’s a waste of time even for ironic excursions. How the developers at Mirage felt they would have one over Street Fighter II is truly a riddle for the ages. If Rise of the Robots was somehow released in 1987, it wouldn’t have had one over on the original Street Fighter.
Final Score: 1/10