A few weeks back, we took a look at Burning Fight ($3.99), one of SNK’s many early attempts at striking beat-em-up gold on its fledgling NEOGEO platform. It almost shamelessly cribbed from Capcom’s Final Fight, and it was perhaps that lack of thematic individuality that hurt it in the end. Well, no one can accuse Robo Army ($3.99) of not having its own identity. Robot warriors that can beat down their robot enemies with their own arms, and sometimes turn into cars for a while? Yes, I think SNK got to that particular well first.
It’s a tale as old as time, as far as the game industry goes. A mad scientist creates an army of robots and tries to take over the world, and I guess Mega Man is busy or something because two robot warriors have been dispatched to take care of him and rescue the civilians he’s captured. They’ll have to battle their way through the mad scientist’s robo army (title drop!) which consists of a variety of mechanical creations. There are six stages in total, taking you through various grim and gritty locales. Unlike many other games in the beat-em-up genre, you don’t have a choice of characters. Player One is always Red Guy With A Human Face, and Player Two is always Blue Guy With A Robot Face.
Robo Army was developed by many of the same people behind the Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury games, but it doesn’t have anywhere near their ambition. Scratch past the theme and you’ll find Robo Army is about as plain a brawler as you could find. You have some basic attack combos, a back attack, a jump, and a special move button whose effect varies based on how full your special gauge is. You can grapple enemies and deal extra damage to them, too. Enemies will sometimes leave behind their arms or pipes when you defeat them, and you can use those as weapons. You’ll also find life pick-ups, energy pick-ups, and a special item that will make you temporarily transform into an invincible car that can run over enemies.
That’s pretty much the extent of things. For a 1991 NEOGEO game, Robo Army is surprisingly free of gimmicky displays of the hardware’s power. You’ll get the occasional scaling sprite when things come in from the background, but most of the NEOGEO’s muscle is being used to keep things moving smoothly with multiple, sometimes large, characters on-screen. The visuals look decent enough, and you get some fun clang-and-crash sound effects as you scrape your metal fists against the enemies’ metal jaws. It’s not an exceptionally lush game for its era or anything, but it’s good enough. The sense of impact of your strikes is a bit better than in Burning Fight, and seeing the enemies break apart certainly helps to sell your hits. There are also a few amusing animations, like when a car-robot decides to chew on you a bit with its hood.
Robot Army is a totally serviceable beat-em-up, and if the theme does something for you, then you’ll find it an enjoyable enough romp to fire up here and there. But it never really goes beyond that, and smacking a robot about the head with its buddy’s arm will eventually lose its charm after a while. A very long while, mind you. I mean, that’s absolutely hilarious. I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire game was greenlit on that specific part of the pitch. But eventually that thrill will fade, and all you’ll be left with is a Jaleco-tier brawler with more pans-banging-together sound effects. Something good enough to toss a few quarters into while you’re waiting for your clothes to dry, but not good enough to remember after you’re done folding them.
The nice thing about Hamster is that the company has room in its heart for games like that in addition to the big hits, though. I’ve done many of these reviews by now, but I’ve never really stopped to mention how nice it is to see SNK and Hamster walking outside the lines of the usual hits that get mobile ports. The SNK of the past would have done the Metal Slugs, King of Fighters, Samurai Shodowns, and a few other odds and ends and called it a day. In fact, that is exactly what they did. We’re now in a reality where we are getting high quality releases of some really obscure games that relatively few people care about, and from both a presentation and variety standpoint, I think that’s great.
By now, the features of the wrapper for these games are known quantities. Controller support? Yes, and through that, support for local multiplayer. Save states, check. A variety of options for adjusting video, audio, difficulty, and controls. Online leaderboards and the usual Caravan and Score Attack modes. Japanese and Overseas versions of the game. If you don’t have an external controller, this is one of those games that plays just fine using the touch controls. I’ll go ahead and insert my usual gripes about not being able to play multiplayer online, but that’s really all I’ve got to complain about with regards to Hamster’s handling of things.
If you’re looking for another average beat-em-up to add to your pile, have very specific happy memories of Nick Arcade, or just gotta catch ’em all with the ACA NEOGEO series, you won’t have a bad time with Robo Army. It has a fun theme that it executes well, and that goes a long way to hiding the actual bread-and-butter game that it is. It plays well enough on mobile, and I cannot stress enough that you get to pick up robot arms and beat other robots with them. If that isn’t worth four bucks, what is?