Sundry Sunday: From AGDQ, A Dog Replaces R.O.B. in Gyromite

Sundry Sunday is our weekly feature of fun gaming culture finds and videos, from across the years and even decades.

This week’s fun video isn’t decades old, in fact it’s from just a few days ago, from AGDQ.

The NES title Gyromite, a.k.a. Robot Gyro, is a very interesting game from a design standpoint, possibly more interesting than it is to actually play (although I think its music is very catchy). It’s never been rereleased by Nintendo, for the probable reason that it relies on the accessory R.O.B. to play.

R.O.B: It’s not just that funky Smash Bros. character! (Image from Wikipedia, taken by Evan-Amos.)

R.O.B. was a motorized accessory that activated servos in its arms depending on light signals sent to it from the screen. No cords went from R.O.B. to the NES. It used photoreceptors in its “eyes” to detect the screen signals, which were ultimately caused by player input on the controller. A fairly roundabout means of control, honestly.

Only two official R.O.B. games were made, and Gyromite (Going by its Japanese name “Robot Gyro” according to the title screen) used the “gyro” accessory for play. A platform is placed in front of R.O.B., on which you place the controller for Player 2.

On the controller is a device that spins the “gyros,” colored weighted tops. By manipulating the arms with action on Player 1’s controller, making them swing around and opening and closing the claws at the right time, you can cause R.O.B. to lift the spinning gyros from their platform, then set them down on the NES controller’s buttons. In the game, this caused colored pillars to rise or fall according to the control signals.

R.O.B. with gyro setup. Image from the blog Nerdly Pleasures.

While manipulating all of this, you also have to watch out for the action of the game itself. Gyromite is a simple platformer, but one without a jump button. The difficulty comes from having to essentially play two games at once, the platforming on screen and manipulating R.O.B. to position pillars in the right places in space and time.

R.O.B.’s motions are not simple to command either. It takes time for the arms to pivot between their destinations, time that must be accounted for in the on-screen action, and while the tops spin for quite a while they will eventually have to be collected and set back on their pedestals so they can be spun back up to full speed, or else they’ll topple over on the button. This doesn’t produce a failure state in the game. It’s just left to you to pick the top up yourself and put it back on its stand to be spun again. R.O.B. isn’t capable of such feats of dexterity.

There’s a lot more to say about R.O.B., and how it was mostly distributed as part of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s “Deluxe Set” in the U.S., the more expensive version that didn’t come with Super Mario Bros. Instead of that, let’s talk about how, due to the fact that R.O.B. is just a fancy-shmancy way to press controller buttons, that you can replace it entirely with some other mechanism, or indeed, even animal.

That’s what happened Wednesday at AGDQ, where Peanut Butter the Dog, with coaching from JSR_, left R.O.B. gathering dust in the closet as they played through Gyromite Game B.

They didn’t make it all the way without running out of lives, but they picked back up and kept going. And that doesn’t detract at all from Peanut Butter’s skills, or amazing doggy focus. They are intent on reading those hand signals and getting those tasty treats. So while they didn’t earn a world record, for “Dog playing Gyromite Game B,” their accomplishment is of definite note.

There are around four minutes of introductions at the start of the video, so if you want to jump right in to the run, begin here.

Gyromite by Peanut Butter the Dog & JSR_ in 26:24 – Awesome Games Done Quick 2024 (Youtube, 33 minutes)

Romhack Thursday: Gyromite No-Robot Hack

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

People who got the expensive Deluxe Set in the early days of the NES received two so-so games instead of Super Mario Bros, both designed around the peripherals included in the set. Their compensation for not being able to bop around the Mushroom Kingdom, and paying a premium besides, was Duck Hunt, which was okay, and Gyromite, which was absurd.

As a bonus, the title screen has been changed from “Robot Gyro” too.

Gyromite, or “Robot Gyro” according to its title screen (it didn’t get localized from Japan at all!) puts you in the shoes of Professor Hector, who has to collect all the bombs in his lab. Sadly, he’s left all these monsters wandering around. Fortunately, there are these red and blue pillars that block the monsters, but they also block Hector.

The pillars can be moved, but not directly by Hector. Instead, you use the A and B buttons on the controller. But, not the first player controller: the second player controller is used. And the player isn’t supposed to manipulate them themself. They were supposed to put the controller into a contraption involving levers, spinning weights, and the “R.O.B.,” or Robotic Operating Buddy, another peripheral included in the Deluxe Set.

The intended process was:

  1. The player uses their own controller to give commands.
  2. The screen flashes in response to those commands.
  3. Photoresistors in R.O.B.’s eyes read these flashes.
  4. Depending on the flash, R.O.B. moves opens or closes its claws, lifts them up or down, or rotates.
  5. Through these means, the player is supposed to manipulate R.O.B. to pick up the spinning, top-like gyro weights and place it in a motorized holder, which begins rapidly spinning it.
  6. The player sends more signals, to cause R.O.B. to transfer it, still spinning, onto a platform.
  7. The platform serves as a lever, so the weight presses down on the platform, which causes it to press the button on Player 2’s controller.

The signals control R.O.B.’s motions, not the controller’s. They result in it lifting or lowering his claws, or opening or closing them, or rotating. What if a weight runs out of spin and falls over? Well, it’s up to the player then to manually pick the weight up and put it back into its holder, during the game, as R.O.B. has not the facility to do that itself.

Above, Youtube user zoclates demonstrates this process in an advanced level of Gyromite. Here is a direct link, it’s about six minutes long. Surely, kids who got the Deluxe Set enjoyed this far more than they would playing Super Mario Bros.

These days R.O.B. has retired to serve as one of the weirder characters in the Smash Bros. series. But there’s actually a kind of fun game there in Gyromite, beneath the involute process intended to control it. You can play it without R.O.B. at all, just by directly pressing the buttons on the second controller yourself, but this is both a bit unwieldy, and makes the game too easy.

The Gyromite No-Robot patch localizes these functions on one controller. Since the unmodified game’s timer for each level is extremely long to allow for the time it takes for R.O.B.’s mechanics to function and for the tops to spin up, it also shortens the time limit to preserve some element of challenge. It turns a game that requires expensive and rare hardware to play it as intended, or at least remapping the Player 2 controller in an emulator, and making it much more enjoyable.

Gyromite Special Edition []