Robot Wars: Gaming Retrospective

Do you remember Robot Wars? It was an immensely popular British TV show about weaponised RC robots usually made from piles of scrap that had a variety of video game adaptations ranging from bad to... Well, memorable. Lets look back and have a retrospective on the numerous titles released from 2000-2002.

Robot Wars: Gaming RetrospectiveIf you’re from the UK, born before the mid 2000’s you will likely get a huge shot of nostalgia at the name ‘Robot Wars‘. It took the country by storm and produced all sorts of merchandise, from pullback toys and skateboards to a board game and lunchboxes. What everyone seemed to universally have experienced alongside the show though, was one of the five officially produced video games. All published by the now defunct BBC Multimedia, a software division of BBC Worldwide, but developed by various studios.

You’ll often see comments even today on forums and threads quoting something along the lines of ‘that game was amazing!’. ‘I spent my childhood on that!’. However, after recently going through and replaying them all, I’m a little ashamed at my younger self for what we settled for.

So lets take a retrospective blast to the past and see what was on offer for such a briefly popular, but niche video game genre.

Robot Wars: Metal Mayhem

Game Boy Colour, 2000
Developed by: Tiertex Design Studios

The very first Robot Wars game, and possibly the first ever ‘proper’ robot combat video game ever? Based on Series 3 of the show, it has (not) popular competitors such as ‘Purple Predator‘ and ‘Dundee‘ as playable robots, limited ear grinding (but admittedly cool) chiptune tracks and effects, unresponsive and hard to use controls and a basic bot builder. It’s easy to see why this game wasn’t very well loved even upon it’s release. I myself didn’t know it existed until a few years ago.

Robot Wars has never looked this blue!

Robot Wars has never looked this blue!

Presented in a weird top down format, with some faked perspective baked into the sprites, the first major problem becomes apparent. Robot combat is a very three dimensional sport. Ground clearance, weapon height, robot shape and more are all important factors. These are extremely hard to perceive in a 2D styled game. Almost all robots feel the same, a box with a waggling stick you can turn and move (but not at the same time, oh goodness no). Sprites overlap horribly and there is no strategy involved with gameplay at all. If you’re lucky, your dumb CPU controlled opponent will drive into a house robot corner and get destroyed all by itself.

It does boast a few positive elements. Some of the pixel art in the robot selection is cool, there are multiple modes to play, including gauntlet style challenges as well as 1v1 battles. But in general, it served as a low bar to beat for any sequels. I would only recommend an invested fan track this game down out of curiosity, rather than looking for anything actually enjoyable.

Robot Wars: Advanced Destruction

Game Boy Advance, 2001
Developed by: Crawfish Media

Just because you go up a console generation doesn’t mean you get a better game. Advanced Destruction is unfortunately more of the same as it’s predecessor. Again, upon start-up you are greeted with a cool bass-filled chiptune rendition of the Robot Wars theme. Once again, the same gameplay options for battling, robot workshop and a multiplayer mode are presented.

Razers hydraulic claw feels akin to pinching your fingers.

Razers hydraulic claw feels akin to pinching your fingers.

The graphics retain the same pre-rendered pixel sprites on a 2D plane, but are admittedly of higher fidelity. Effects such as sparks and impacts, play properly when interacting with the arena hazards, and the higher quality sprites make the awkward 2D viewpoint a little more bearable. Incredibly, you can actually even flip your opponent over in this game! Don’t expect the AI to be any smarter though, and you can easily halt the fight entirely by sitting beside them and flipping them back over time and time again.

Menu design and graphics are more faithful to the show.

Menu design and graphics are more faithful to the show.

At least the cast of competitor robots is a little more all star this time. Based on Series 4 of the show, robots such as Dominator 2, Pussycat and Razer had become fan favourites. But unfortunately this entry was still lacking in that true robot combat feel.

Robot Wars: Arenas of Destruction

Playstation 2, PC, 2001
Developed by: Climax Group

Now we’re talking. Our first fully 3D entry into the series, and the one of the two games that everyone remembers playing. Arenas of Destruction was a massive step up towards being able to recreate the show the way you wanted, with you controlling your own robot, that you built.

With voice clips from our beloved Jonathan Pearce, a proper Havok powered physics engine, a proper robot workshop and the best looking recreations of the studio arena and competitor robots yet. This was THE Robot Wars game to play back in the day.

Pushing your opponent into the CPZ is the fastest way to see chaos break loose.

Pushing your opponent into the CPZ is the fastest way to see chaos break loose.

The robot workshop greets you with the adorable ‘My First Bot’ to ease you into the slightly more complex robot building. As cute as it is, it’s likely you’ll sell it to build your own vision. This game let you customise seemingly everything, the chassis shape, the amount of wheels it had, what type of wheels you had, how about tracks? Armour plating, weapon placement, decorations and colours, it had everything you needed to imagine up your scrapyard champion. You could even buy components cheaper that came slightly damaged off the bat from a ‘Scrapyard’ menu giving bot building some non-combat based strategy.

House Robots never play by the rules!

House Robots never play by the rules!

You’ve built your bot, entered the first competition and…. Okay, well it’s not great at all by today’s standards. The physics are terrible, robots either feel incredibly heavy and sluggish or weightless and zippy. Turning circles on most robots are bigger than they should be and weapons never have any real ‘oomph’ to them. Seeing the mighty Sir Killalot wobbly pelt his way across the arena to shatter your creation at 500mph was a strange mix of uncanny and terrifying.

Okay so it’s not the best game to replay. The weapons still feel very samey, the physics wasn’t ready for the genre at the time. It was bug-ridden and frustrating when your robot would randomly explode at the lightest tap. But we didn’t care! Our childhood brains craved hyperactive destruction from the awesome Hypno-Disc and this game provided that mindless fun. Never mind that Johnathan Pierce has been screaming the same 10 lines repeatedly while I write this.

Robot Wars: Extreme Destruction

Xbox, PC, GBA, 2002
Developed by: Climax Group, Warthog Games

What do you get when the same developer releases the same game genre in the same engine a year later? You get basically the same game, with some improvements. That only applies to the Xbox and PC versions of Extreme Destruction however. The GBA ‘port’ is an entirely different game all together! So rather than covering the most well known game of the franchise, I’m going to talk about my favourite entry.

The most modern incarnation of the show sees all the robots at their best designs.

The most modern incarnation of the show sees all the robots at their best designs.

Dare I say GBA Extreme Destruction is the best Robot Wars game of them all? It has the best physics, which immediately makes it the most realistic. This is the only Robot Wars game you can wedge under things and push them around, flip them and feel the impact of a 100kg machine landing. Hitting something with a spinning disc actually pushes both bots away from the impact and shards fly off. It even has a grid based arena builder with options to set gravity and theming.

Sure it may not look the prettiest for a 3D title, but it’s a fully 3D physics enabled Game Boy Advance game, you can’t deny it’s impressive! While the console and PC ports have everything Arenas of Destruction had, the GBA version had some never seen before robots from the American version of the show… For some reason. At least it added variety and never before seen robots for UK audiences.

At the end of matches House Robots come out to finish the deed.

At the end of matches House Robots come out to finish the deed.

In terms of game modes, it has pretty much everything the previous Game Boy games had, but being able to play them in a 3D space makes them as fun as they were no doubt intended to be. Each robot handles a little differently and even has extra ‘abilities’ you can use for a more arcade feel. Completing the games hardest challenges rewards you with better parts to build your own robots with. Eventually mysterious ‘gold’ parts will be rewarded, that combined together make a weird hovercraft grabber thing with a flamethrower. Like I said, new ideas!


Unfortunately, despite Robot Wars being in high demand for another 3 years or so. We never got anymore official games out of the series for some reason, even despite a short lived reboot in 2016. Makes you wonder if we could have gotten bigger and better titles that had better physics, more customisation and a bigger impact overall on modern hardware.

‘Proper’ robot combat games sort of died with the popularity of the original Robot Wars IP too, as the Battlebots Gamecube project was ultimately cancelled, and the Robot Arena series became abandonware with a dedicated modding community. It’s atrocious sequel, Robot Arena 3, failed on multiple levels and indie projects such as Robot Champions (now known as Smashpunks) and Robot Rumble 2 remain in heavy development. 


  1. Avatar photo

    Tornado cheated.

  2. Avatar photo

    Oh man I spent so much time playing Arenas of Destruction as a kid. Absolutely terrible, but also the greatest game of all time.


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