When you see a word like "Special" you have to wonder what it could mean. What is so special about this version of the game? Why should I buy this over the decidedly not special version found on another system? Will the game come with extra levels or a brand new mode? These are the questions that pop into your head as you hold that box marked "Special". In the case of Atomic Robo-Kid the word "Special" meant that this version was closest to the arcade game. So, in fact, there is actually nothing special about this game. If anything it's the inferior versions found on other consoles that should be using the word "Special" to described their sad port.
Of course, arguing over which port is better is ultimately pointless. Both the Genesis and PC Engine version are solid action games, and looking back at it now it's hard to tell the difference between the two. When it comes right down to it I saw no reason why this game should use the word "Special," the game felt perfectly normal to me.
Atomic Robo-Kid Special is a fantastic variation on the tried and true 2D shooter. Instead of having the game push you forward, you advance through the levels at your own pace, offering you a sense of freedom that games like Gradius and R-Type could not provide. Because you are in control of advancing through the levels, you will have to worry about enemies coming from the front and the back. In a nice twist on the genre, Atomic Robo-Kid makes you worry as much about what's coming up on your rear as what's in front of you.
Like all 2D shooters, Atomic Robo-Kid features several standard power-ups, including a powerful laser weapon, a spread gun and little grenades you can toss in any direction. The developers have done an excellent job of giving you reasons to use each of the four power-ups. It's clear that some thought has been put into each of these weapons, which is not something I can say about most 2D shooters from that era. And while none of the power-ups are especially original, they all feel unique thanks to the game's close-quarters combat.
Along with the standard levels you get a number of large and challenging boss characters. Most of them take place in a closed off room that will require all of your navigating know-how if you want to win. On top of the standard large bosses, you will will occasionally find yourself locked in a one-on-one battle against a similar robot character. In these Pong-like matches, you stay on your side of the level and try to shoot the other character. It sounds easy, but the game's smart AI makes this task extremely challenging. It's a shame the developers didn't do more with this mini-boss mode, but I definitely like the break in action that this diversion provides.
Like the Genesis version, Atomic Robo-Kid Special for the PC Engine looks almost exactly like the arcade original. The backgrounds are varied and detailed, the character is memorable and the whole art direction just feels different from all other space shooters. The game doesn't get nearly the amount of credit it deserves for flipping the cliches of the shooter genre on their side and giving us a bizarre, yet wonderful action game. Aside for the game's short length, the only real complaint I have with this game is the easy difficulty. I'm not expecting the game to be as hard as R-Type, but I feel that Atomic Robo-Kid Special swings a little too far in the other direction.
Atomic Robo-Kid Special is a phenomenal 2D shooter on a system known for its phenomenal 2D shooters. Just because this arcade shooter doesn't have a big name, that's not reason to avoid one of the console's very best action games. With its innovative gameplay, exciting boss battles and tension-filled close combat fire fights, Atomic Robo-Kid Special is a game that no shooter fan should go without.