As a long-time fan of giant robot stuff like the Robotech anime series and the Zoids toy line, I'm frequently drawn like a bee to honey to giant robot video games. By "giant robot video games", I'm not talking about any of the Transformers games (where sentient robots fight other sentient robots) or games such as the Super Robot Wars series (where the robots are just pieces that players move around on the board as part of a strategy game). No, I'm talking about games that allow you to control robots that are piloted by people, something along the lines of a Japanese "real robot" anime series. For games of this variety, some of the best were made for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) back in the 1990s. Click below for a list of four SNES games that allowed players to assume control of a big 'bot and lay waste to various digital landscapes and pummel the bejesus out of other robots.
Release Date: 1993
Even though the American title of this game sounds like some kind of low-budget, straight-to-video Terminator rip-off, Cybernator is actually a game that closely adheres to the logic of real robot anime series such as Mobile Suit Gundam and Armored Trooper Votoms. The original Japanese title is Assault Suits Valken and it is the second in a series of Assault Suits games that were released on a number of different game consoles, from the Sega Genesis and the SNES to the PlayStation 2, although only two of the games were released in the US.
An Assault Suits Valken model kit.
Cybernator is a combination of a 2D platformer and a "shoot 'em up" game. Players assume control of a "Federation Assault Suit", a humanoid robot that is armed with various weapons and has jets that allow for limited flight capabilities. The missions in the game take place in both space and land environments, and the mission objectives vary from level to level. Even though most of the enemy's forces consist of robots like yours, you will also encounter tiny human soldiers that shoot at you--soldiers that you can vaporize with your robot's weapons.
Title: Mazinger Z
Release Date: 1993
As the title explicitly indicates, Mazinger Z is a video game tie-in to the popular Mazinger Z anime series. This is also the only title on this list that falls into the "super robot" genre of anime, and the only title on this list that was exclusively released in Japan. The game is very faithful to the anime series, with cut scenes featuring the anime's characters and levels populated by enemy robots pulled from many of the anime's episodes.
Mazinger Z is a side-scrolling "beat 'em up" game, much like other licensed tie-in video games from that era. What makes Mazinger Z worthy of inclusion on this list is that it gives players access to many of the titular robot's weapons, including its signature "Rocket Punches". If you're a child of the 70s who waxes nostalgic for the Shogun Warriors toy line, Mazinger Z is the video game for you. Also be sure to check out the Mazinger Z arcade game, which offers a hefty additional helping of super robot mayhem.
Title: MechWarrior 3050
Release Date: 1995
MechWarrior 3050 is based on BattleTech, a popular sci-fi role-playing game that revolves around giant robot wars. Two licensed BattleTech games were made for SNES: MechWarrior in 1993 and later MechWarrior 3050. The first MechWarrior game approached giant robot combat from a first-person perspective, but the technological limitations of the SNES, no matter how innovative they were at the time, made the game feel like a tank simulator with a few extra features. It also didn't help that the depiction of giant robot combat in BattleTech games is very clunky and ponderous, as opposed to the sleek, fast-paced action seen in most giant robot animes--never mind the fact that a few of BattleTech's robot designs are pulled directly from various anime series.
MechWarrior 3050 switched the game play into an isometric, third person format, and it's much better off for it. Sure, the robots are still rigid and clunky, but they're easier to control and you can watch them blast enemy bases and robots to smithereens. Bliss!
Title: Metal Warriors
Release Date: 1995
Metal Warriors is very similar to Cybernator in terms of game play, but there are a few significant differences that make Metal Warriors the better game. During the many of the missions, players have to leave their robot armor to access control panels that open key doors or deactivate security measures. (When outside of their robots, the pilots somewhat resemble the tiny pilot figures that came with the Zoids robot kits and the early pre-Transformers Diaclone toys.) Metal Warriors also includes up to six different kinds of robots--each with their own strengths and weaknesses--for players to control, some of which players can switch to during the course of a mission. Leaving the controls of your robot also opens the opportunity for an enemy soldier to steal your robot and use it against you, another challenge that I haven't seen before in other giant robot games.
Metal Warriors' inventory of combat robots.
Of course, Metal Warriors has a lot more going for it than just a selection of playable robot types and robot-less mission challenges. The environments include destructible floors, ceilings and walls that allow you to make your own entrances and exits; the missions vary widely in terms of complexity and objective; and the animated cut scenes will give fans flashbacks to their favorite robot anime series. Indeed, even though it is a 2D platform game, Metal Warriors features the kinds of missions that should have appeared in the Robotech: Battlecry game but unfortunately did not.
The SNES titles listed here can still be found for sale on eBay, for purchase as virtual console games for one of the current home gaming systems, or for download as SNES emulator ROM files.