R.O.B. - Robotic
One of the less-known peripherals for the NES system,
ROB was part of Nintendo's effort to market the NES as a "toy" rather
than a gaming system. After the Video Game Crash in the years
more and more stores were becoming reluctant to even stock video game
systems and games anymore. So Nintendo took every effort they
could to distance the NES from earlier game systems - the system was
given a boxy "toaster"
design to differentiate itself from the common top-loading systems, and
it touted two major accessories - a light gun (named the "Zapper") and
ROB. Even the name was part of this scheme; "Nintendo
Entertainment System" doesn't create an impression of a video game
console nearly as much as, say, "Atari Video Computer System."
So what was the hype behind ROB? Well, we was just what
his name implied - a "buddy" that would help the player within games
that supported the peripheral. That was the idea, though to most
gamers the execution left something to be desired. ROB came
packaged with one game, a simple platformer title called Gyromite.
Yes, this is the correct title
Gyromite doubtlessly confused a few people who booted up the
game for the first time when the in-game title screen read "Robot
Gyro". But here's the explanation: In Japan, ROB was simply known
as the "Famicom Robot", and the Japanese version of Gyromite was called
"Robot Gyro." This isn't simply a matter of neglecting to change
the title screen, though; in order to cut costs, many of the early NES
cartridges actually have the ROM boards from the Japanese games inside
the cartridge, fitted with a simple pin connector to
make them work on an American system. Cartridges containing these
converters have become something of a collector's item, as the
converters can actually be removed from the
cartridge, allowing one to play Japanese games on an American
system without the need for a third-party device.
I'm getting off track, though. Let's discuss the game itself.
In order to play, you'd first need to assemble ROB with all the
included parts, as seen below:
ROB in the Gyromite configuration
The main menu
Alright, let's explain all of this step-by-step.
First and foremost is the Test mode, which will calibrate the ROB to
make sure he's
working properly. After hitting Select, his arms should reset to
the default position (top center) and the light atop his head should
Next is Direct mode, which lets you get a feel for how to operate
ROB. When you press Up, Down, Left or Right, ROB moves his arms
in that direction. A and B open and close his hands,
respectively. Each time you input one of these commands, the
screen flashes green briefly; this is how ROB receives the instructions.
Now for the main game itself:
The player controls Professor Hector with the goal of defusing all of
the dynamite on the board across forty levels. However, he's
impeded by red and blue pillars barring his path, as well as numerous
enemy "Smicks" that will kill him on contact.
ROB comes into play by moving the pillars for you; you must
command him to press them down by giving commands to move his arms,
pick up the Gyros and use
them to press down the two colored buttons on the stand, which in turn
push the two buttons on the controller set in the tray. Each of
commands must be preceded by the Start button, since you're also
controlling Hector in this mode.
Once ROB lifts a gyro off the button, the pillar will return to its
default position. This enables you to trap Smicks, as well as
open passageways that they would block off while in their other
The only other real defense Hector has against Smicks is turnips, which
they will be distracted by for a few seconds, allowing him to sneak
past unharmed. These can be picked up and dropped via the A
Another way to get rid of Smicks is to use the pillars to crush them,
which not only removes them from the board, but earns you extra
points. However, you'll either need to have good timing with ROB
or lay a trap with a turnip to do this.
It's also possible to crush Hector,
so do try to avoid that
From time to time, you'll also encounter an obstacle that
requires both pillars to be moved at the same time. This is where
the Gyro Spinner (seen on the far left of ROB) comes into play:
This little device literally spins the Gyro around at high speed,
enabling it to keep its balance atop the button so that ROB's hands are
free to lift the other gyro, using it to press down the other button
at the same time. Kind of like spinning plates, really.
Anyway That's the basic gist
of Game A, now let's take a look at Game B.
In this mode, Hector sleepwalks (and sleep-climbs) through twenty-five
and your goal is to get him to the end of each one safely. As
usual, this is done by manipulating pillars to clear a pathway and keep
him away from dead ends (which usually contain Smicks). Since you
have no direct control over Hector in this mode, you don't have to
preface each command to ROB with the Start button; simply pressing the
button you want will do the trick. Touching
the arrow signs will also earn you bonus points.
ROB's Stack-Up configuration
Only one other game was released that
supported ROB, a simple game called Stack-Up which came with its own
set of attachments and plastic blocks. Unfortunately, being
marketed towards kids and made for a peripheral that not many people
owned to begin with, complete sets of this game are now extremely rare,
and have been seen selling for over $250 on eBay and similar
sites. That's just a tad beyond my budget, so instead I'll just
give a quick rundown of the game modes via a ROM.
Yeah, this one has the same title
Test is identical to Gyromite's. Direct is a bit more
elaborate this time, though.
The goal is to arrange the blocks on ROB's pedestals as shown at
the top of the screen, done by moving Hector so that he jumps on the
on-screen buttons, which in turn tell ROB to move his arms up, down,
left, right, open or closed. The game has no way to detect
whether the blocks are properly arranged, so it relies on the player to
press Start once the goal is met; once this is done, points are added
player's total based on the total time taken, and the next round begins.
Next up is Memory mode:
Program it, adjust the speed, then
watch it all play out
Memory is the same concept,
but a bit harder; here you must plan out ROB's movements in advance,
then press the Start button to run the program. If the player
successfully arranges the blocks in the indicated positions, they press
Start to continue to the next stage, or Select to return to the game
menu. Bonus points are awarded based on how long it took the
player to create the program, rather than how long it takes to execute.
Then finally, we have Bingo mode:
This is probably the trickiest one to
play. In this mode, the player attempts to create the block
configuration shown at the top of the screen by sending commands to
ROB; the tricky part of this is that one must push down a row of
buttons on the screen corresponding to the command they wish to send by
manipulating Hector to jump upon them. Jumping upon an already
pressed button will "un-press" them, and hopping off the edge of the
screen will teleport Hector to the other side. Pressing A or B
will pause the game, which pans the view back up to the top to view the
scoreboard and the block setup; pressing Start while paused will
indicate that the goal has been completed, add points to the player's
total and move on to the next stage.
While trying to arrange blocks, the player is inhibited by two
"Glitches" known as Spike and Flipper. Spike simply moves slowly
around the board, knocking the player offscreen and returning them the
starting position if he
comes into contact. Flipper is considerably more annoying; not
only will he return Hector to the starting position on contact, but he
will also press or un-press any buttons he moves across, which can send
unwanted commands to ROB. The game ends when ROB drops a block;
of course, like a lot of this game, it's up to the player to indicate
that this has happened.
There is also a two-player competitive mode in Bingo. In this
variation, a second
player controls Professor Vector, and each player competes for control
of ROB, with the goal of having more blocks on "their" side of ROB's
platforms before the time limit
expires. Colliding with Spike or the other player in this mode
will not only reset the player's position, but cause them to move
slowly for a short period of time.
While an integral part of Nintendo's early marketing strategy, ROB
never really caught on with its target audience; while an interesting
novelty, it didn't really bring a lot of innovation to the medium,
especially when all that ROB was really capable of was manipulating
blocks and acting as an elaborate Rube Goldberg device to operate a
second controller. Nintendo may have had a few more ideas in
store for ROB, but with the release (and runaway success) of Super
Mario Bros, they likely saw little reason in bothering with an
unpopular peripheral. As a result, the "Robot Series" of NES
games was quickly discontinued, and ROB faded into obscurity.
Neither Gyromite nor Stack-Up have been rereleased in any form, most
likely due to their reliance on the ROB peripheral. However,
Nintendo has at least acknowledged them in a few of their later
games. Professor Hector appears in the menu screens of Tetris DS,
and ROB appears as a hidden character in both Mario Kart DS and Super
Smash Brothers Brawl, utilizing several of his trademark accessories in
One-line Synopsis: An interesting
piece of history, but this one's for die-hard collectors only.