Release Date: March 11, 2008
One of the most interesting things about the PlayStation 2 is the wide variety of peripherals that have been released for it: the Eyetoy, Dance Dance Revolution mats, Guitar Hero guitar, steering wheels, light guns …. The list goes on and on. Peripherals aren't exactly uncommon for video game systems, from the days of the Power Glove and the Nintendo Zapper onward, but one thing that makes the PlayStation 2 stand out is that Sony continues to support these devices. The most recent, and potentially most obscure, of the bunch is the Buzz! Buzzer, a set of four controllers, each one featuring a giant red "buzzer" and four multicolored buttons. It plugs directly into your PS2's USB slot, turning your console into an impromptu game show, with up to four players competing to earn virtual money and prizes. While most of the Buzz! games are trivia titles for all ages, Sony has released a few Buzz! Jr . titles for the younger set, which features Mario Party-style minigames. Buzz! Jr. RoboJam is the newest addition to this franchise, and although it starts off well enough, it ultimately doesn't live up to its potential.
The basic concept of RoboJam is that one to four players take on the role of a group of repair-and-defense robots in a robot training camp. You play through a series of minigames using the buzzers, and whoever wins the most minigames is crowned the champion. Some of the minigames only use the giant red button on the buzzer and involve timing your button presses precisely. In these minigames, players do things such as stop a rotating cannon to shoot asteroids, leap off a high dive, or play an impromptu game of robot-eye basketball. These minigames are fun, but fairly simplistic. Most of them involve simply stopping an automated crosshair in the correct place to earn optimal points, and despite the different graphics involved, almost all of the minigames feel very similar. There isn't really much variation, a problem that plagues the rest of RoboJam's minigames.
The second set of games involves using the colored buttons on the buzzer to play whack-a-mole. Although there are a number of different colored-button games, they all basically degenerate into whack-a-mole. Press the correctly colored button before your rivals and score some points; press the wrong button, and you get nothing. It's the same problem as the red button-only minigames in that every single game feels identical to the last one. Even younger children will find it apparent that these minigames are just slightly different-looking variations on the exact same theme, and that gets boring mighty quickly.
The final set of games is a combination of the two, allowing players to use every button in the buzzer. Of all the games in RoboJam, these tend to be the most fun. Some simply use the button as an additional button for the whack-a-mole shenanigans that the colored-button minigames have, but others allow you to do things such as shooting at your four opponents while blocking their attacks with a shield. They're not fantastic minigames, but they require more thought and effort than their counterparts, so they end up being some of the most enjoyable parts of the title.
RoboJam suffers a bit as a party game because some of the minigames are awkwardly balanced in ways that allow relatively unfair come-from-behind victories. For example, in the High Jump minigame, where your plucky robots plummet from a tremendous height down to platforms hovering above an electrified floor. There are generally three platforms for four robots, and each robot can only land on one. In the first round, the platforms are worth around 50 points, but by the fifth round, each one is worth between 750 and 1,000 points. Winning two late rounds can completely nullify the victory of someone who won four out of five rounds, and that's pretty unsatisfying.
The other issue comes from the minigames that involve taking turns. While a majority of RoboJam's minigames are competitions where all four players participate at the same time, there are a few where players are forced to take turns. These rounds slow down the levels to a crawl. Completing one of the four-person minigame rounds often takes longer than three or four of the other minigames combined, and three of the four players are left twiddling their thumbs until their turn comes up again. It's not particularly fun, especially considering the fast-paced design of the other levels, and younger gamers will find these extra-slow stages aggravating.
RoboJam's biggest problem is that it won't keep anyone interested for long. The fairly small number of minigames, and the fact that there isn't a particularly big difference between them, means that after a handful of rounds, you'll have seen everything RoboJam has to offer, and none of it is particularly satisfying to replay. Adults will grow tired of the simplistic and unbalanced gameplay right off the bat. RoboJam is a game designed for kids, but unfortunately, it doesn't seem like RoboJam holds much appeal for the young ones either. I tossed RoboJam to a group of younger children for an afternoon; most of them lost interest in the games after a few short rounds, and they gave up on the game completely once the minigames started to repeat. For the period during which the game held their attention, they were enjoying themselves quite a bit, but RoboJam just wasn't able to keep them busy for long. All in all, RoboJam is about as effective as a board game at keeping younger children entertained, and for a retail price of $39.99, is significantly more expensive.
Buzz! Jr. RoboJam isn't a bad choice for kids. The simplistic graphics, uncomplicated games, and overall friendly nature make it easy to pick up and play for all ages. The only real problem with it, at least for the age group it is intended, is that it can't hold their attention for very long. If you're a parent and looking for a good game for a multi-child household, RoboJam isn't a bad choice, although it probably won't last your child as long as some of the cheaper titles. Adults, or those who are looking for a title their child can play alone, will want to pass on this because there just isn't enough content or challenge to justify even the fairly cheap $40 price tag.