To understand why Rise of the Robots is worse than countless other fighting game knock-offs of the mid-90s, you need the history. Back in 1995, the world was enjoying the slow, painful death of Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat was about to reach 3, stop motion was considered valid for fighting games, Virtua Fighter happened, and Nintendo released Donkey Kong Country.
While one of those seems out of place, Donkey Kong Country was the supposed “revolution” that led to the creation of Rise of the Robots. Nintendo’s heavy advertising about the miracle of SGI workstations and their benefit to the Super Nintendo (when in reality they did very little) undoubtedly led some exec at Activision to produce their “3-D graphics” extravaganza that was this awful fighting title.
With musical artist Brian May’s name slapped on the front of the box, and a particularly evil-looking blue cyborg next to it, Rise was an instant sell. Magazines loved it at the time, as they seemed to push anything that used polygons or rendered sprites. Hype does not cover the push magazines offered to Rise of the Robots.
To its (minimal) credit, Rise did have some impressive tech behind it. Even on the lowly Game Gear (Rise was ported to everything after all), the rendered cinematics were retained in some form. Seeing video on the Genesis or Super Nintendo in 1995 was a stunning revelation, and before each fight, the player was treated to a short clip.
Once into the game itself, jaws dropped, mostly due to the realization that the consumer had been duped by the journalists they relied on pre-internet. Rise is one of those fighting games that is borderline unplayable, lacking any of the fighting game credentials the genre had made standard. Each hit on an opponent pushed the fighter back, eliminating any chance for combos and making the player question whether or not the hit landed.
As a six-button title, Rise should have offered depth. Instead, each attack was the same recycled animation, only delivered slower. In fact, upon first glance, believing the game only offered two attacks would be an easy error. It is even easier when you consider the poor sap holding the first player controller can only use Cyborg Eco35-2 as a character. Even in multiplayer, someone was forced to use the same fighter at all times, likely a limitation due to available colors or processing power. Having two of the larger robots on screen would have put any console into a seizure.
Rise of the Robots is also a reminder of the mid and early-90s obsession with numbers. Nintendo and Sega loved pushing their 16-bit hardware, while Atari thought 64-bit was an instant sell. Street Fighter II set the standard with a 16-MEG cartridge, the first of its kind. Rise is held on a 32-MEG cartridge, double that of the first Street Fighter II release, and all of it obviously going towards those muddy pre-rendered visuals that did not contain half the charm of the Capcom great.
A year later, Acclaim released Rise 2: Ressurrection, mercifully the only sequel, and a game that could be considered worse if only because the extra time led to another clunker on the PlayStation and Saturn. Acclaim, of course, is no longer with us.