There are times when I look back and think that maybe the 1990s were the pinnacle of video game design. Maybe it’s just because that’s when I was heavily into gaming, but it seems to me that today’s games are more derivative of the games that came out in the 1990s than anything new or creative. The first person shooter really came into its own in the 1990s. Real-time strategy games finally began living up to their hype. MMOs made me miss more than one class in college. Rise of the Robots isn’t any of those. It’s better…and worse.
Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter ruled the fighting game genre in the 1990s. Mirage Studios and Time Warner Interactive wanted to get in on the action, and take video gaming to a new level. Rather than the pixel art or digitized sprites of similar games, Rise of the Robots was to have fully rendered CGI sprites. The plot and characters were all heavily influenced by cyberpunk movies like Bladerunner, The Terminator, and RoboCop. Full motion video for the opening sequence, character introductions, and fight outcomes was promised. To top it all off, Brian May was contracted to write and perform the soundtrack. To say consumers and critics were excited is, quite possibly, an understatement.
Then the game hit shelves.
The fancy CGI graphics overwhelmed many gaming systems and made game play difficult and irritating. The full motion videos were omitted altogether on cartridge-based systems. Sega Genasis and Amiga CD32 versions had static screenshots for destruction sequences. In fact, the only version to get all of the full motion video was the 3DO. That meant that approximately 3 people actually saw the groundbreaking, full motion CGI graphics.
A short intro from The Dark was the only Brian May contribution to the soundtrack, with Mirage inserting their own music. Well, if your version had a soundtrack. If you were playing on a 3DO or Amiga CD32 version, you had no music during fight sequences. If you were playing the PC version you had no in-game music at all.
To top it all off, unlike Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II, which had seemingly endless combinations of controls for moves, Rise of the Robots had a very limited set of moves. Many players found they could beat their opponents quite quickly with repeated use of a flying kick. It became apparent the studio put all their effort into groundbreaking graphics and forgot that people buy video games to play them. Well, that and the fact that many of the video game platforms at the time couldn’t handle both fancy graphics and multitudes of game play options.
In the end, Rise of the Robots was an utter failure both popularly and critically. However, it did set a new bar in video game graphics. One that may have been about 10 years too early.