When a journalists asks a game developer about their favorite games of all time, it’s kind of poor form to just name your own games. Nevertheless, that is exactly what Jeff Minter did. A prolific designer in the 80s and 90s, best remembered for creating arcade legends like Tempest 2000. Minter stated in an interview that Llamatron, again made by himself, was the best game of all time. His reasoning being that Robotron was the best game of all time, so he just stole Robotron and made the enemies funnier. That’s just what games development was like sometimes back in those days.
So yes, by proxy this is also a review of Robotron.
Both games are quite simple at heart. You play as a cool creature, in this case a Llama, who is placed in the middle of an arena. Each round consists of an army of enemies being spawned all around you, who will beeline it for you the moment the game starts. You have to maneuver around what little space you have while strategically taking them all out. Optionally picking up other critters (llamas, goats, and more) for bonus points and power-ups.
Your llama autofires in the direction you last moved in or you can also press a button to maintain an angle while you keep moving around. The aforementioned power-ups offer some variation, but that’s about it really. Simple, to the point, and very cathartic.
Blasting your way through hordes of enemies is just so undeniably fun, no matter how basic the formula. It really feels like you’re turning the tide on a battle. You start off surrounded and severely outnumbered, you whittle down the horde, and eventually seize complete control of the battlefield. Then it’s off to the next stage with even steeper odds to beat.
The controls are as good as you’d expect for a game with this streamlined of a focus. You move around easily enough and with a good amount of speed. Hitboxes make enough sense too, so any live lost feels fair. In fact, the game is incredibly generous when it comes to progress. Any time you die, the level reloads but remembers which enemies you already defeated. Even if you lose all your lives, you can just continue without any penalty whatsoever. This means you could potentially brute force your way through the game, but pulling a victory off in one try feels a whole lot better.
As you move through the stages, new enemies and gimmicks are gradually introduced. Enemies that fire off projectiles or explode into more enemies. Cartoon weights that chases you and drops down from the sky whenever you pass under them. I have to give Minter credit: he really did improve Robotron by just taking the concept and making it more goofy. It’s hard to call Llamatron a clone when it’s just so much more memorable than the “original”.
With the game being abandonware these days, I encourage people to seek it out. The simple, appealing gameplay is rather addicting and these days it’s easier to play than ever before. Even for those lucky people who never had to learn how to use DOS.