|R.O.B. with all Gyromite Accessories (missing Cartridge)|
The first game for it, released alongside the Robot itself, was called Robot Block and retailed for 4,800 Yen. This game came with five different Colored Blocks (white, red, yellow, green and blue), five Block Trays for the Blocks to be stacked onto and a pair of Block Hands for the Robot with rubber ends. Robot Block directs the Robot to move and stack the Colored Blocks onto the various stands while the player usually hops around. It relies on the honor system. Interestingly, it is one of the few Nintendo games from the pre-Disk System and "black box" eras that reproduces something like recognizable human speech.
|Robot Block Box|
|Robot Gyro Box|
R.O.B. was available for purchase separately, as was Gyromite with a large box that came with its accessories. Both are rare to find today. Gyromite was the same exact game as Robot Gyro. Stack-Up was the same exact game as Robot Block and was available to purchase at the initial launch. In fact, Nintendo did not even bother to change the title screens for these games, because the Gyromite and Stack-Up cartridges boot up as Robot Gyro and Robot Block, respectively. Also, some Gyromite and all Stack-Up cartridges use Famicom PCBs and a converter that converts the 60 pins of a Famicom connector to the 72 pins of a NES connector. This extra converter board also adds the lockout chip for the NES. While not the only games that have these converters, they are often sought after for them.
Stack-Up was never bundled with a console and could only be purchased separately. On account of this, it is far rarer than Robot Block. More Japanese consumers bought Robot Block because it was cheaper than Robot Gyro. Of course, Nintendo bundled R.O.B. with Gyromite with each Deluxe Set sold, and the Deluxe Set probably sold at least a million units, so Gyromite and its parts are far more common than Robot Gyro or anything else.
Physically and functionally, the parts for Robot Block and Stack-Up are identical. Cosmetically, the Block Hands for Robot Block are red and the Block Hands for Stack-Up are dark gray. The Block Trays are off-white for Robot Block and light gray for Stack-Up. Many times on auctions for Stack-Up you will see white Block Trays and red Block Hands, and they came from Robot Block.
R.O.B. works similarly to a Zapper light gun in that it receives information from the TV screen. The TV screen will strobe green light when it wants to issue a command to R.O.B. The photo-receptors inside R.O.B.'s head will receive the light stream and send it to a microcontroller for processing. R.O.B. can accept six commands : Move Torso Up, Move Torso Down, Rotate Shaft Left, Rotate Shaft Right, Open Arms and Close Arms. The microcontroller sends electricity to motors in R.O.B's Torso and Base which control the movement via gears and grooved tracks.
R.O.B. moves his Torso Up and Down in a shorter distance for Stack-Up than Gyromite because of the way the blocks stack. Stack-Up allows you to stack blocks up to five blocks high, so R.O.B. will move five times up or down the shaft from his head to his base. Gyromite will only allow you to move three times up or down the shaft, and you really only need to move him up or down one position. He has five positions to move left or right and his arms either are fully open or fully closed. He has five numbered slots to insert the accessories for each game which correspond to the positions he can move.
|Family Computer Robot box, hands not included|
R.O.B. takes 4 x AA batteries. The LED on top of its head lights up to tell the user that it is functioning. It is not on all the time. It will turn on when you use the Test mode correctly in either game. It also turns on when R.O.B. is moving. R.O.B. should be situated as directly in front of a TV screen as possible. The manual indicates that he should be no further than 45 degrees from the center of the screen and works best within 3 feet of the screen. More than 6 feet is not recommended.
The gyro spinner additionally takes 1 x D battery. The spinner is not active until a gyro or other object depresses the black piece. When you turn on R.O.B., you should notice one thing immediately, he is loud. The next thing you will notice is that he is slow. Playing either game as intended is a real challenge because you have to think several moves ahead so R.O.B. can catch up with you. Once the novelty wore off, and it usually did pretty quickly, then R.O.B. typically got put back in the box or on the shelf. Children would often ask their parents why they did not get them Super Mario Bros. instead.
The bundling of R.O.B. signaled a shift in Nintendo's strategy. Nintendo's first attempt at bringing the Famicom to western markets, the Advanced Video System, failed to excite buyers when it was previewed at the 1984 Consumer Electronics Shows. The AVS included the hardware of the Famicom with a built in keyboard, essentially the Family Computer Keyboard merged with the Famicom. It also came with a westernized version of Family BASIC built in or bundled with it. It also had a resdesigned version of the Family Computer Data Recorder and wireless gamepads, zapper and joystick.
Considering the video game crash taking place, Nintendo initially had a good thought to "computerize" its console. However, the market for cheap home computers was dominated by the $300 Commodore 64. Retailers were not impressed, perhaps because the Nintendo AVS had a few too many features in common with other failed home computers like the Coleco Adam and TI/99 4A. (Cassette-based storage was seen as cheap in 1984). Fortunately, the video game crash had eviscerated the home console market in North America, leading to opportunity in the lower end of the market. Nintendo took a dual approach. It went to lengths to distinguish its system from other systems by designing it to look like a Hi-Fi "Entertainment System." However, it also marketed its product as a toy to toy stores. Of course, it had to include a toy to make the pitch plausible, so R.O.B. was the "face" of Nintendo at first.
Ultimately, while video game histories may point to Nintendo's marketing of the NES as a toy rather than a video game console, I doubt any consumer was fooled into thinking that the NES was substantially different than the Atari and other systems. The system used cartridges and hand-held controllers like its predecessors. The Famicom looked more like a toy than the NES, the NES looked like a electronic entertainment device. Nintendo avoided using previous terms like console and cartridge and joystick, using Control Deck and Game Pak and Controller respectively. Ultimately, it was the overall quality of the games that sold kids and their parents on the system, it was too expensive for a novelty toy.
Does R.O.B. have character? Nintendo thought so, because it included him as a playable character in Super Smash Bros. for the 3DS and Wii U and gave him many cameo appearances before then. Both color variations now have Amibos. R.O.B. was released a year before a robot with a similar design appeared in in the film Short Circuit and twenty-three years before another similar robot was introduced in WALL-E. These design successors demonstrate that R.O.B. does have character in and of himself. He represents a 1980s version of an electronic toy, sleek lines and minimalist function. Unlike earlier toys, he relies on micro computing technology instead of pure electro-mechanical functioning. However, despite his empty, soulless eyes. he has a humanoid shape and makes natural noises. Moreover, he does not suffer from the uncanny valley effect like another 1980s popular toy, Teddy Ruxpin. So yes, I would conclude that R.O.B. has a good deal of character and deserved more games than he got. If nothing else, he is always a conversation piece.