Jontosaurus laments the loss of Robot Wars on the BBC, again, and finds his mechanical carnage a little bit further away from home…
‘Murica. Anything we can do, they can do better. And, in fairness, when it comes to any and all types of warfare, that statement is truer than most. It is sort of a stereotype attached to our friends across the pond that they like to do things bigger, better and brasher than we do. We laugh about it, but it is perhaps why they have gone on to become the superpowers they are. It is also undoubtedly the reason that a loudmouthed caricature such as Donald Trump can be legitimately voted into the highest political job in the United States. We could delve into the psychology of such things, or we could just take some time out to acknowledge that sometimes, bigger and bolder is undoubtedly better. Battlebots makes this statement true.
With the BBC harshly axing their rushed reboot of Robot Wars– sadly, understandably after its modest viewing figures- there is once again that gap in the UK television market for robotic carnage. And whilst Battlebots is a long way away from being prime time terrestrial viewing, it can hopefully fill that gap for some of us until the BBC inevitably reboot Robot Wars in a decade’s time and them promptly axe it again.
Battlebots itself is a reboot of the old American television program that aired at around the same time as the UK’S Robot Wars did. Whilst America also has Robotica, a sort of Robotics Olympics, and also its own version of Robot Wars (presented by WWE’s Mick ‘Mankind’ Foley, God rest his soul), it was always Battlebots that epitomised everything the US combat robot scene had come to represent. Big, hulking, super-heavyweight robots fought each other in the arena, but instead of the house robots, the arena is instead filled with various hazards including a hammer that would make Thor’s Mjolnir blush at its own inadequacy, and some huge buzz saws that are sharper than a catty drag queen’s comebacks. Bouts are three minutes long and if you thought the UK’s efforts caused severe destruction, this is nothing in comparison to what the American competitors can manage.
The first major difference is that these robots are the size of small cars. In England, our safe weight category for fighting is that of a heavyweight: 100-110kg. In America, though, they have no care for such puny weight limits and their most feared fighting machines are around 340 pounds- roughly 154kg. That’s an extra 40kg or so to add to a robot, and as you can imagine, it makes for some pretty fearful contraptions. There’s the current reigning champion Tombstone, which makes Hypnodisc look like a baby’s play toy. Its huge spinning bar has smashed hundreds of rivals into oblivion, although this is also a robot just as likely to rip itself to pieces as it is its enemies. There’s also Bronco, a robot with a flipper so strong that were it not for a ceiling, some of its rivals would be in danger of being sent into orbit. It makes everything we’ve seen Apollo and Chaos 2 do in recent series and injects a whole load of robot-grade steroids into the mix. Some of our Brits have gotten in on the act, too, with the boys from Razer entering their own super-heavyweight creation, the imposing and majestic Warhead. It has a flywheel the size of a dustbin lid and also a flamethrower, because one ridiculously overpowered weapon just isn’t good enough, as well as a pair of wings which apparently serve a purpose but seem to be more for show than anything else. And my personal favourite is Blacksmith simply because it has a mighty hammer that is so powerful it makes the robot jump about like a maniac if it misses its target.
The carnage is very real. Here in good ol’ Blighty, we are a relatively civilised bunch of folk, and the thought of completely ruining a fellow gentleman’s (or gentlewoman’s) mechanical creation just isn’t cricket. We like to flip them out of the arena or dump them down the pit so that they at least have a chassis and a pair of wheels to take home with them. In Battlebots, though, there is absolutely no mercy whatsoever. The entire arena is designed to kill anything and anyone, and there is no pit to drive yourself into if your robot starts to take a monumental battering. Instead, you have to hope the opponent takes mercy on you, which is unlikely. Many a time a loser is reduced to nothing but a burning pile of rubble. And ‘burning’ really is the right word, what with more than a handful of the robots in the competition using weapons of the ‘hot’ and ‘flaming’ variety.
The ad breaks are frequent, and the over the top commentary can be a bit a bit grating, even when compared to the childishly excitable exclamations of Jonathan Pearce. But Battlebots is still a series that kicks Robot Wars into the dust, and every machine is a feat of engineering even if it isn’t that good when actually deployed in the Battlebox. The UK and European scene is still vibrant and exciting, and the robots are made more with ‘tactics’ in mind, with flippers and lifters dominating. In America, meanwhile, the emphasis is very much on smashing your opponent into tiny pieces before they can do the same to you. Even the flippers are designed to hit your robot so hard that it might evolve wings in the way down. And there’s nothing really wrong with such brazen carnage- there is something cathartic about it, in fact. If you like your destruction massive, Battlebots is worth a viewing. The Americans, in this instance, really do ‘do it better’.