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Clash of the Classics – Robotron: 2084 VS. Congo Bongo

The end of the summer brings with it many difficult realities: Returning to school, saying farewell to sunny weather, and, most importantly: Choosing between two classic arcade games to remain on the floor at Ground Kontrol! This month, Clash of the Classics pits two very different titles against each other: The multi-directional mayhem of Robotron: 2084 is challenged by the pseudo-3D platforming of Congo Bongo!

Released in 1982 by Williams, Robotron: 2084 has an extremely strong pedigree. Designed and programmed by Eugene Jarvis and Larry DeMar, Robotron hit arcades years before “twin stick shooter” was a common descriptor for a style of video game. While the style of game play may have first been seen in Taito’s Gun Fight (1975), Robotron was the first arcade game to really make an impact with the unique control scheme – one joystick controlled player movement, the other your attack’s direction. Moving in any direction and shooting in any direction was as easy as rotating each joystick whichever way you needed to escape enemies closing in, or launch an attack. Playing the titular Robotron, your mission is to “save the last human family” from robotic apocalypse. You fire and move in eight directions, and the on-screen guidance is minimal, leaving you to focus on the battle at hand. Destroy everything in sight, but don’t forget to rescue the wandering humans, especially before they’re brainwashed into hopeless “Progs”. Lauded as one of the best arcade games ever created as well as one of the most difficult, Robotron fits the classic mold of “easy to pick up, tough to master”, as the learning curve is essentially non-existent, while the difficulty ramps up just as quickly as your superhuman hero materializes on-screen.

Sega’s 1983 arcade platformer Congo Bongo was introduced to Ground Kontrol as a “Raiders of the Lost Arcade” title, and it’s the perfect example of one – a great game that’s hard to find, and nearly criminally under-appreciated. While on the surface, it seems like a Donkey Kong rip-off, Congo Bongo actually blends the game play and level design of a few landmark arcade titles to create a new experience. You’re the nameless Hunter, and the game starts with a brief scene in which you’re rudely awakened by a hot foot delivered by the game’s titular aggressive ape. From there, your mission is simple: Find him, and take revenge! This isn’t a hyper-violent vengeance story, though – you really just need to avoid his animal allies and catch him snoozing, so you can return the favor. The psuedo-3D isometric angle makes this game stand out, and the graphics are genuinely impressive for the year – take a look at this game, and compare it to Nintendo’s notable 1983 titles, Mario Bros. and Punch-Out!! – Congo Bongo just looks better! Elements of Frogger and Donkey Kong in particular make this game feel familiar. As a platformer, it’s not the tightest, but once you get the hang of it, it’s hard to not drop “just one more” quarter to perfect your next play-through or beat your high score.

So, your September challenge is this: Decide whether you’d rather retain the non-stop intensity of Robotron, or the charming and careful platforming of Congo Bongo. How do you make a choice? Well, by dropping a quarter in one or both games and inviting your friends and fellow arcade fans to do the same! From Thursday 9/3 through Wednesday 9/9, we’ll monitor each game’s earnings. At the end of the challenge, a winner will be decided – and the loser will be temporarily retired. It’s the Clash of the Classics, and it starts… Now!