Friday, December 25, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Gyromite

Retro Game of the Day! Gyromite

Gyromite was one of the very first things a gamer would see when unwrapping their NES on a bright, snowy Christmas Morning back in 1985, the year the NES launched in the US. This game and Duck Hunt, a shooting game, were the pack-ins of the Deluxe NES Set.

A bit of a strange story here - The 8-Bit Nintendo Entertainment System was launching into a domestic marketplace which had very recently suffered a large crash of catastrophic proportions; Video games had been huge in the marketplace, multi-million dollar industry in the early 1980s, but like so many other things of the day (Cabbage Patch Kids, Transformers) it was considered a "fad," something which would be explosive for a short time before everyone lost interest and moved onto the next thing. As a result, lots of companies closed up, countless dollars were wasted, landfills were loaded up with unwanted discount cartridges that no one wanted. This was the world that the Nintendo was born into; and they wanted to rebuild a world where games would be here to stay in the wake of all of that, and they would be the King of the Hill.

Long story short - Nintendo needed a gimmick to get retailers to stock their product, as no one was keen on selling videogames anymore. They took their state-of-the-art brand new home console and partnered it with a fancy-shmancy looking "Robotic Operating Buddy," R.O.B., to sell as a Game and Robot combo. R.O.B. was the "Trojan Horse" desgined to get Nintendo's control deck into American kid's homes; Gyromite was the pack-in game you'd play with R.O.B.

And so, as a result we got a very strangely designed platformer, the very definition of "early Nintendo console" style. You controlled a professor in his lab, tasked with disarming dynamite from each level before the timer wound down (and everything exploded, violently killing everyone and everything you held dear!) In Professor Hector's way were deadly little critters called Smicks, whose touch would lose you a turn - though you could distract them with radishes (of course!) or kill them by squishing them with movable tubes.

As for these "movable tubes?" This is where things got interesting. You controlled the Professor's movements with your directional pad, but you could really only walk or climb - to control the movements of these red and blue tubes, making up part of the lab's structure, you'd need to send commands to R.O.B. who would then "activate" the tubes via his Rube Goldberg-ian setup - he would spin-up small tops attached to his base, and then drop the tops onto little "pedestals" also attached to his base. If a spinning top is on the pedestal, the tube goes down. If the top is off the pedestal, the tube returns to the up position. The player would need to make sure not to let the tops sit on the pedestals too long, or else the spinning momentum would wear down and the top would fall over (requiring some non-robot to replace it into its original holster). Sound confusing? It sure was!

Confusing, but not without novelty. R.O.B. was remarkable in that he was essentially wireless, receiving commands optically transmitted from the TV screen (though his output was relayed back through a wired control pad, sort of dampening the impressiveness of the feat). Most gamers tired of the whole ordeal after a few minutes, sticking R.O.B. on a shelf somewhere and handing the second controller to their buddy (or trying to do double duty with feet or something). The game was cute and its style endearing, but overall it became clear that Gyromite was just a 100% gimmick!

Still, this game is a very important footnote in gaming history, particularly in Nintendo's history. If not for these early unconventional "non-"games, there's a good chance we wouldn't have all got sucked under Mario's spell in the following years and the course of American Videogame History could have been drastically different. At the very least, R.O.B. has gone on to become an iconic reminder of those early days and what Nintendo was up against as it attempted to rewrite the script of what videogaming was supposed to mean in our culture.

Merry Christmas to the fans of Retro Game of the Day from your friends at Headcase Games! Celebrate the Season with a download Headcase Games' original release of iFist while it is still FREE for the holidays! No, there's no Robotic Operating Buddies in our game, but its still more fun to play than Gyromite (Stack-up, on the other hand, I cannot yet vouch for...!)

(iTunes Link Here)

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