Co-Op Classics: Escape from the Planet of the Robot Monsters
Today, we take a look back at a unique co-op gem from the late 1980s. Highly cinematic, with a hefty dose of cheesy humor and a dollop of sex appeal, Escape from the Planet of the Robot Monsters is, in a word, interesting.
1989 was an pivotal time in the arcades. The Golden Age of Pac-Man and Asteroids, typified by very difficult single player experiences, had long since passed. A new era of coin-munchers had arrived, moving the gameplay away from twitchy pattern memorization to something more akin to a test of endurance. Early examples of this paradigm shift included Gauntlet and Double Dragon. The side scrolling co-op brawler, soon to be the dominant genre, was in its infancy, and during this time, plenty of fresh ideas for games made it to the local arcade.
Escape from the Planet of the Robot Monsters (hereafter abbreviated EPRM) stood out from the rest of the pack. The title itself brought to mind cheesy sci-fi movies, usually operating on a shoestring budget, that were popular in the 1950s. Just take a look at the title screen, and you'll see all the tropes of the B-movie: giant reptilian monsters, boxy, malevolent robots, and a scantily-clad buxom babe, ready to be rescued. This was the stuff of the drive-in double feature, but it provided a substantial backstory for the game, adding to its uniqueness.
The protagonists of the tale are two dayglo-clad space heroes, akin to Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers. Armed with nothing more than a ray gun, Jake and Duke were sent to the synthetic Planet X, where the evil Reptilons had abducted countless hippies and bikini models, enslaving them to work in robot factories. Robotics expert Dr. Sarah Bellum (*rimshot*) had also been abducted, and was in dire need of rescuing before the Reptilons used her mental might to create a robot capable of destroying the world, bringing humankind to its knees, and all that. Typical space hero stuff, really.
EPRM used an isometric perspective, which was unusual for such a game. The three-quarters perspective could have been difficult to control, but the analog joysticks, scarce at the time, made movement much easier (and also much harder to emulate successfully today). The levels themselves were maze-like affairs, crawling with robots of all different sizes, shapes, and lethality levels. Your standard silver 'bots dropped like flies, but some required multiple hits to kill, or required you to duck and shoot at the same time. The environments of Planet X were hardly accomodating, with spike traps, electrified floor panels, and other traps waiting around every corner.