With the games industry experiencing a crisis, Nintendo was worried about releasing their beloved Famicom in the overseas markets. While the NES would become a legendary console that birthed dozens of gaming icons still loved today, that amazing destiny wasn’t set in stone back in 1985. As one of several plots to avoid the stigma of being a gaming system, Nintendo sold retailers on the idea of R.O.B., the Robotic Operating Buddy.
We all know this guy from Smash Bros. nowadays, but his original purpose was about as tragic as what he would face in the Subspace Emissary storyline. R.O.B. was a blatant gimmick to make the NES seem like an entertainment device that just happened to also play games. R.O.B. only officially supported 2 games, one of which was a physical stacking game called Stack-up. The other was Gyromite.
In Gyromite you play as, potentially, the most useless platforming character ever. Professor Hector is an elderly man who can’t jump or attack anything. He can pick up and drop items and climb ropes, which I admit are still agile feats for a man his age. The goal of the game is to navigate a perilous maze of platforms, ropes, and colored pistons, in which sticks of dynamite have been placed. You must collect this dynamite within the time limit while avoiding monsters.
The game can either be played with R.O.B. or another player. The first controller only moves the professor, who can’t even navigate the first hazard in the game. By pressing start you enter a command mode where R.O.B. can be told to activate the blue, red, or both pistons, whereupon the robot will pick up its spinning gyros and put them on switches that press buttons on controller 2. Yes, you need R.O.B. and his equipment, and then also a second controller. R.O.B. is nothing more than a complicated device to press and hold A and B for you.
A second player can and should take his role instead. R.O.B. is way too slow, it takes several seconds to move him into position, pick up a gyro, and then drop it in the right place. Assuming it doesn’t fall off or otherwise mess up. And therein lies the problem: you don’t have time to wait for R.O.B. and his physical input delay. The timer on each level is generous enough, sure, but on a moment-to-moment basis you might need the red pistons to go up to act as an elevator out of danger or the blue ones to stomp down on an approaching foe.
A piston going down too late may miss the enemy and now player 1 is locked up in a small space with a foe and the only way out just closed down.
Enemies and pistons may hurt, but nothing causes more pain than realizing you got yourself stuck. If there are no ropes to climb or pistons to use as elevators, then the professor just can’t move anymore. There are a lot of drops that you can’t possibly climb back up from, meaning you have to be sure that you have gathered everything before it. Still, the levels aren’t too hard and even the trickiest ones we could solve after one or two tries. The game is intended for a younger audience, as adults may find it a tad unchallenging.
With a good partner, Gyromite is a cool puzzle game. Solving the mazes and finding the dynamite is fun, especially because both players are necessary to achieve it. Gyromite can be great fun with the right person, such as a good friend or maybe even your own kids. There is a lot of content to work through together, but the game does get kind of samey after a few stages, so do play it in small bites. Alternatively, you can ruin a good friendship by deliberately trapping player 1, or even drive yourself mad trying to play the game with the robot. Friendship is overrated anyway.