Overall Rating: 2/5 Stars
The 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console was released in 1985, along with 18 launch titles. Some of these original games, like Excitebike, Kung Fu, and Super Mario Bros., are commonly regarded as timeless classics that paved the way for significant gameplay innovations; on the other hand, selections such as Donkey Kong Jr. Math and 10-Yard Fight are considered to be sub-par cartridges on the whole.
One of the middle-of-the-road titles was Gyromite, which itself was one of two NES games, the other being Stack-Up, that was developed for use with the R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy) accessory. Nintendo cleverly used the little plastic robot as a gimmick: Parents who were unaccustomed to video games, or had a negative view of them in light of the still-recent industry crash at the time, could at least justify a purchase of the NES because the R.O.B. bundle came with what may look like a robot toy. The infamous R.O.B. itself was actually not very useful or enjoyable as a gaming accessory, being far too slow and unreliable to truly be able to enhance the gameplay experience. Its games persist nonetheless, and thankfully can be played even without the robotic sidekick.
The opening title screen is very plain, and oddly labeled: The title “Robot Gyro” is used, rather than “Gyromite” as given on the cartridge, box, and other documentation. This is not the only curiosity, especially if the player is not using R.O.B.; for example, the first two options on the title screen are test modes to calibrate then become accustomed to the robot, showing how it uses its eyes to read the screen to interpret commands as given by the player. Playing without R.O.B., though, proves to be much quicker, as R.O.B. can take several seconds to manipulate discs with his claw hands that eventually drop onto a tray that presses buttons on a controller. During actual gameplay, the Start button must be pressed to change the background color to green, which then makes R.O.B. attentive to the next command given, until the background changes back and play resumes.
There are two modes of play, Game A and Game B, Game A having 40 phases and Game B having 25, which then repeat with faster gameplay speed for added difficulty. In Game A, the player must control Professor Hector or Professor Vector and find the bundles of dynamite hidden in each level. This is a side-scrolling puzzle game with platformer elements (no jumping), in which the Professor can walk back and forth across platforms, drop down from heights, and climb and descend ropes. Finding all the dynamite finishes the current stage. In Game B, Professor Hector is sleepwalking from the left side of the screen to the right, and the player must skillfully manipulate the blue and red columns in order to ensure his safe travel.
In both modes, little green monsters called Smicks roam the boards, and will kill the Professor if coming into contact. They can, however, be distracted by a turnip; in Game A, these are found on the stages and can be carried, one at a time, until dropped to the floor. Once dropped, if a Smick comes into contact with a turnip, the little green monster will temporarily be distracted by turnip-nibbling, thus allowing passage. In both game modes, there are red and blue columns, a handful across each stage, and the player must move them up and down as play progresses. They can either be blocking passage of a particular floor, open the passage for travel, or even squash a Smick with good timing, which also grants 500 points to the player.
This game is likely not the worst-looking NES video game of all time, but it is obviously a very early title, with its simplistic visuals, highlighted by the weird little green Smick things. Otherwise, the background is black, the stages are monotonous in their tile-based graphical appearance, and the use of mechanical columns and I-beam girding grants the entire affair a very roughshod, blue-collar, sterile, construction site atmosphere. At least the turnips and dynamite bundles are iconically recognizable.
Actually, the sound is not too bad, with a lighthearted soundtrack of simple-but-pleasant background music highlighted by the use of crisp, fun, old-school sound effects. The beeps and boops all find favorable reception on the spectrum of possible notes they could have chosen to use; none are annoying, unlike so many other NES games with that one memorable grating sound effect that offended players’ ears. Gyromite sounds just fine, even if not explosively spectacular.
Gyromite is a straight-up weird little game. On the one hand, it is quite inventive, especially as a launch title, for how it incorporate a robotic gameplay accessory, or at least allowed most of the game even without it. This was a launch title that adequately served to diversify the initial offering for the NES console. On the other hand, even without R.O.B., the gameplay pacing is slightly off-kilter and does not quite produce an intense gaming experience, even with the time limit in place.
Although it may not be as tightly honed or well-polished as a similar game such as Solomon’s Key, it might be better than Castlequest, and offers an intriguing, unique challenge for guiding Hector through the multi-tiered stages. Nonetheless, the potentially boring setting and repetitive nature grant this oddity two stars out of five for being a below-average title in the NES library.