Being a product of the early nineties, RoboCod is of course a 2D platformer. Often involving a throwaway character based on a seemingly random animal, many, many entries in the genre were thrust on the public, most failed to even make their mark. As series creator Chris Sorrell confesses, “It was the era of cutesy gaming mascots and I wanted to make my own. Nobody had done a fish and I figured I could make a fun character and he’d have an interesting world to play in.”
|A stage familiar to long term fans|
The first in the series sold moderately well, but it was RoboCod later that same year which became one of the best games on the Amiga and the first real console-like experience on the home computer. “In the early months of working on RoboCod I had just discovered 16bit consoles.” Sorrell notes. “I instantly fell in love with Mario [World], and, yes, I wanted to try and capture some console goodness on the Amiga.
|There are obvious inspirations|
The adventure is set in Father Christmas’ Workshop, a hub world featuring doors that lead
|Ignore this arrow and head left... trust me!|
RoboCod is of course best remembered for its main game mechanic, a main character with a modified robotic body that extends upwards to great lengths. This quirky (and never since repeated) ability allows him to stretch vertically to grapple any platform above. Pond can then navigate around the maze like levels, bypass spike pits and accessing new areas and expose hidden secrets.
Annoyingly though it’s never clear which ledges are grapple-able and which are not, meaning there also a fair amount of traditional platform jumping to be done. The ‘extendo-suit’ was at the time quirky and original, but even now makes playing RoboCod a unique experience. It’s a strange gimmick and yet it completely makes sense within the madness of a 16-bit platformer. “Obviously, this was back in the days of ‘anything goes’, when games were almost expected to be brash, bold and abstract” clarifies Sorrell. “I wanted to capture the vibrancy of the console games I was starting to see, I hit upon the toy factory concept as a way of loosely justifying a really diverse range of themes – basically anything I could think of that had strong identity and potential for fun.”
These stages see RoboCod tackle possessed toys; playing cards that fly around, angry ginger bread men and toy Red London buses that fire miniature grannies. It’s all products of Sorrell’s oddball mind; a deliberate attempt “to come up with the craziest stuff [I] could; I think the fat ballerina was one of the most notable.” The locations too ooze imagination, such as a level that takes place on a sheet of music and one that requires a climb up a mince pie tower. Level aesthetics are consistently creative, with platforms lined with soft fur, Christmas cake and bubbly chocolate, and often with a colourful occasionally blinding psychedelic background. There is never a danger of the stages blurring into one.
The aim is to explore each level collecting as many objects as you can. These vary from fruits to random objects such as taps globes or tennis rackets. To pass a level you need to touch the flashing ‘north pole.’ However, it will only flash if you have collected all of the hidden penguins in the level. This need for exploration highlights the major problem with the game; its level design. Initially, it's not an issue, a generic left-to-right affair with some vertical scrolling.
|A train level I don't dispise|
Indeed this play through was actually the first time I ever saw the Father Christmas ending. After all the madness of the game, seeing Jolly Old Saint Nick crush a Bond style arch villain with a bag of toys while a cybernetic fish jumped perpetually seemed perfectly normal. Its best not to worry about what Santa may deliver, considering he left his sack on the body of a foe back at the toy factory.
Compared to the Amiga version I remember so fondly, this Snes conversion still plays well, but there's a huge amount of frame rate concerns. Some levels (such as those under water and those with flying sections) are pretty much constantly plagued with fairly serious slowdown. Likewise when RoboCod is extended too much the game grinds almost to a halt. Another quirk of the Snes version is the strange fact that all the upside-down stages have now been flipped so that they're now the right way up. I distinctly remember trying all sorts of methods to play these levels as a youngster, standing on my head, holding the joystick upside down, but now they are curiously normal stages. It’s no doubt for the best as standing on my head really isn’t practical now I’m twenty years older and playing on my ‘commuter computer’, but still it’s a shame as I remember them being rather enjoyable in their original form.
I have to applaud a game eager to keep inventing bizarre twists on traditional themes, mixing them together with little regard for the platform genre rule book. There’s plenty of secrets tucked away on each of the sometimes too enormous levels.
(Cheap deaths aside) there’s much fun to be had exploring the majority of the game, especially when you never know what kind of ridiculous enemy might come at you next.
It’s a shame that modern audiences care not for this world of fish puns and bizarre psychedelic stages.
An over ambitious KickStarter campaign to reboot the franchise got pulled after receiving just over a tenth of its funding goal; proof if it were needed that as a character James Pond has faded into obscurity over the years. But in its day it’s almost comical how entranced reviewers seem to be by RoboCod. “It is bloody brilliant” enthuses Amiga Computing, “It is one of those games that just spurts playability and general loveliness out of the monitor and all over your lap.” The game in its original form had almost unanimous 90% scores in Amiga games magazines. I don’t know if this was due to a lack of quality when it came to platform games on the computer, but it certainly is nowhere near the greats on the Snes. That’s not to say I didn’t find it very enjoyable to play now. Maybe it was the late, great, Richard Joseph’s catchy Christmasy music, and the level tunes that’ll be perpetually etched on my heart. Perhaps it was the eccentricity or colourfulness but playing RoboCod gave me a warm feeling inside, the likes of which you only get from childhood nostalgia or from warm mince pies on cold evenings.