Sunday, 24 July 2016

Robot Wars 2016 Review, Episode 1


(credit to the Official Wars website for the image)

After all the hype, the promotional ads on the BBC (which have been very nostalgic at times, especially when they teased the house robots for the first time!) and the new website, we have finally seen the first episode of Robot Wars. So was it any good?

The BBC, for all that it has done a good job in the build up, nearly ruined it by putting Real Steel, the film starring Hugh Jackman about a former boxer piloting giant rock'em sock'em robots, before the show. Maybe they're trying to appeal to the family crowd? It is pre-watershed after all, much like the old series. While Robot Wars is ultimately a family show, this didn't really set the dark yet sometimes comic tone that the old series had going for it (I like to think the final act of Hobo with a Shotgun). So not a great start? Hold on, we haven't even got to the show yet...

The remainder of this review was written during the show, so it will sometimes flow, and sometimes will jump between different themes very quickly. You have been warned (again).

The introduction: er....what? I didn't enjoy the speech and intro about the robots before the logo was shown. It had none of the action of the old series of weapons and fire. This was in particular due to the use of the slow motion cameras, which are great but aren't given much of a shoe-in elsewhere. But the music has the right tone. I like the trophy and the logo though! Dara and Angela's intros on camera were also fairly good at building atmosphere. I would've liked an emphasis on SSShunt though (personal taste). 

The format: it was very similar to the later series of the original Robot Wars, with no gauntlets, no football or tug of war (although part of me wants to see those again). I have previously mentioned I liked the new arena. The head-to-head format wasn't explained too well before the show, even on the website, although the points system adds another element of competition.

Pits: The banter has changed somewhat, with Dara and Angela seemingly both are doing work in the pits, talking with the teams and actually, I'm getting Phillipa Forrester esque vibes from the way Angela talks with the easy-going manner with the teams. Dara seems a little stiff in his presentation, which is a bit of a surprise. Overall, I think they've struck a good balance by not doing a promo video of each robot, and only making a fleeting reference to the previous series!

Jonathan Pearce, are we going to have good commentary this time? Nice to have the judges given their own introduction. Well, now I see why Real Steel was  shown before, they don't use the viewing tower until the end of the fight so all of the competitors are on the ground floor! The voice-over is suitably dark and robotic, not too dissimilar from the original series, but making a distinct difference. I do miss the lack of Holst-remix music though. The info about the robots are slick but a little light on the "data" such as weaknesses or whether it's electric or petrol driven motors.

First round Battle: Firstly, what on earth happened to the timer? It disappeared after 5 seconds. The robots are so much faster so any comparisons with the old series is difficult, and Jonathan really couldn't keep up with the action (I'd like to see anyone try and mkake some sense of it all!). But my goodness I really enjoyed the carnage and the speed all the robots were going made the battle particularly ferocious. Nuts is through?? Forget what I said about low quality robots, there will be some big, one sided fights if this continues to happen. Terrorhurtz showed some fantastic power but really the axe head should be a pickaxe to cause more damage. Razer out in the first round though (taken down by Kill-e-Crank-e), has that ever happened before???? No real action for Matilda for the first fight. Having Dara and Angela in both roles of pre-and post-fight interviews, that will show if both presenters can really cut and so far they are holding up well.

Oh Dara, Dara, Dara, that isn't how you pronounce Behemoth!! If that's the nadir of the presenting gaffes then I am very happy with that. Next fight- the floor spikes coming into their own there. Behemoth demonstrates how powerful all the robots have become in 10 years. The timer is becoming inconsistent already, unless it's only shown once. Now, the graphics (e.g. the info) could easily add weaknesses, I know I bang on about this but it wouldn't be too difficult, surely? The General's wheels were demonstrated to be their Achilles heel, for example.

Head-to-head: they get HOW LONG to fix their robots?? 2 hours?! What sort of live entertainment is being put on the arena in the meantime for the poor audience? Robo-Babe? Liking the judge's analysis though of not underestimating any of the robots. The only issue about this format means that the robots can potentially face each other 3 times in the same heat. But it is a fairer system and with the pace of the battles, they can fit 9 battles into the hour, which is great for the viewer, although you might suffer from burnout at the end of it. But surely the audience aren't sitting around looking at Robo Babe for 2 hours between battles??? 

I spoke too soon about the promo videos. At least they're keeping them reasonably short before the head to heads. Those graphics though, they really didn't give them enough time to really take in the values of the attack and strength. Wow, Sir Killalot looks like something out of the Fallout series or the Plague from Hobo with a Shotgun)! Carbide looks impressive (Fluffy-esque, who almost, almost beat Pussycat) but can it make it to the final after a loss to Terrorhurtz? Again, the speed of the battles in this round are making them entertaining, there's been no nitty gritty battles between two heavily armoured robots... yet.

Now a point about clusterbots (Nuts being the first clusterbot in this series). I think the rules are that you still have to immobilise only one of them to count the whole robot as out? They didn't really explain that 2 house robots are put in the arena occiasionally. The flipper is really struggling to makean impact, although I like that it gets more action against moving robots than just immobilized robots. I'm finding that Jonathan can keep up with the action when it's just two competitors, which seems to help his style a lot. It's also clear that they felt that the judges could incorporate the old style category into control and aggression, so there's only 3 categories to mark on.

Professor-roboGod Noel Sharkey gets an nice little interview, explaining how the world of robotics has evolved so much in the last few years. The drone bartender though, I think shows how family friendly the show has been made by exploring the world outside of Robot Wars. Previously the judges were treated almost as revered dieties at times, barely being used and their decisions taken as final. Now they seem a lot more friendly!

The cameras in action in the arena perform about as well as the original series, which didn't really need too much tinkering, although with the clusterbots or multiple comeptitors you often end up missing the action in the old series. The new arena though, seems to have cameras in places where you can see all of the action, probably because the arena looks a bit more square, rather than the camera angle making the old arena seem a bit rectangular. On a side note, some of the laughter from the audience sounded a little canned, particularly in the battle between Carbide and Nuts? Also nice to show how dangerous Robot Wars is by displaying the shrapnel that is going around. Good thing they've got bullet proof glass.

I always maintained that Behemoth's scoop was nigh-on indestructible for some reason. Not any more...possibly the best battle of the programme overall?

Final: I won't reveal too much but it goes much the same way- the main problems are the timer being inconsistent, the cameras being excellent, the speed being frantic, and another shock result!

Overall, there was less of the dark and comic humour of the old series, but it felt more family-friendly at the same time.  The problem with saying that is that I couldn't help but make comparisons to the final scene in Hobo with a Shotgun (see below), with some shocking robotic carnage at times reminiscent of some of the most one-sided conflicts, and that's just what we all came to see! Nostaliga didn't weigh it down as much as I thought it would, which is great to see as I really worried that this would be the thing that would ruin the show. The fleeting references weren't overpowering, in part because the battles take your attention! Some of the graphics could be improved, the promo videos really need to be done for every robot and they need a bit more music, or at least to up the volume a little bit (but not too much, listening to some of those weapons produces an amazing feeling of awe for me). The frantic pace of the fights is exciting; the new arena and Jonathan Pearce's commentating is much improved now, adding to a fantastic experience. Dara O'Briain and Angela Scanlon do add their own style, the formatting helps and there seems to be a bit of a nod to the old commentators too by putting the competitors on the spot and the occasional wit. I also think I've got a new favourite robot of this generation, and (to quote Craig Charles) they're NOT FLUFFY!? (but Carbide). I will definitely tune in to the next episode with the old spark that I originally watched the show for, although I might be playing Holst's Mars suite in the background to make up for the lack of music during the fights.

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