Sure, now it’s easy to see video games as the 18-billion-dollar behemoth that the industry has become, but back in the mid-1980s home console video games were as dead as disco in the United States thanks to Atari’s E.T. game and the Crash of 1983.
At the same time, Nintendo wanted to bring Famicom to the other side of the Pacific. In one of the biggest ironies in video game history, Atari was offered sole distribution rights in the U.S. and turned it down. Atari met a slow and painful death while Nintendo, left to their own devices, decided to try it without help, but they did need a gimmick.
They found R.O.B.
The Robotic Operating Buddy (or Family Robot in Japan), was the most prominent thing on the deluxe Nintendo set, marketing the console not as a video game, but as a toy robot. It was the 80’s. Robots were hot in the 80’s. Ask Rocky.
From the start, R.O.B. wasn’t much of a peripheral. He moved slowly and sometimes inconstantly, only two games were ever compatible with him. The first is moderately fun if you don’t mind repetitive gameplay with half-minute pauses between moves, and the second impossible to find. With no further games in the “Robot Series” and few uses (other than a cool bookend), R.O.B. was seen as a commercial failure. You’ll never see his games on the Virtual Console.
It could easily be argued that the Nintendo would have found its own niche without R.O.B.’s help as it was leagues beyond any home video game Americans had seen before, but the point is moot. R.O.B. was there from the start. He was the first icon Nintendo of America pushed, although Mario certainly had the star power to keep the brand growing. Nintendo quickly became a household name and the rest, as they say, was history.
R.O.B. was not forgotten by fans or creators. Over the years the quirky, clunky robot has shown up in numerous games. He was a submarine pilot in StarTropics, a villain in StarFox 64 (and his namesake was given to member of Fox’s team), an industrial loading device in F-Zero GX, a mini-game in WarioWare Inc. … the list goes on.
Thanks to new games like Mario Kart DS and Super Smash Bros. Brawl, R.O.B. is now playable for a new generation of gamers – and the tradition will continue if R.O.B. has anything to say about it.