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Video Game / Robot Odyssey

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"Robot Odyssey is the hardest damn 'educational' game ever made."
David Auerbach, in a 2014 review

Robot Odyssey is an adventure game published by The Learning Company in 1984. It was released for the Apple ][, Color Computer, and MS-DOS. It reused the engine from the well known Atari game Adventure and had an easier version named Rockys Boots intended for children.

The protagonist is a person who, in a series of screens is shown to wake up from a dream and steps out of bed, inexplicably falling into Robotropolis, a city of robots. The person can escape only by programming robots to solve puzzles.

The game teaches basic concepts in electrical engineering; to solve the puzzles you must wire and rewire your robots. There is an extensive tutorial system to help you learn the concepts.

The game consists of five levels: The sewers, the subway, the city, the master computer center and the skyway.

You can watch the opening here. It's very telling how hard this game is that nobody posted the ending until 12 September 2017.

Tropes appearing in this game:

  • Absurdly-Spacious Sewer: Never mind the Fridge Logic on why a robot city needs a sewer, most of this "sewer" doesn't make a lot of sense. It's big, wide open, and has robots guarding things... in the sewer.
  • Back Story: Averted - we know absolutely nothing about the player's character's life before Robotropolis or his motivations in general.
  • Copy Protection: Utilized copy protection by checking the 5.25" disk for a "flaky bit". If the bit was not found, the player's ability to solder connections in the robots of the main game was disabled, rendering the game unwinnable. However, the copy protection was never disclosed in the manual and the flaky bit had a tendency to "settle" over time, meaning that many users found their legitimate games impossible to play past the third level.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: In the intro the player is awakened by dreaming of being carried off by a robot and upon awakening immediately falls into Robotropolis.
  • Easter Egg: The second level has a secret room that can be accessed by traveling a specific direction with a message from the programmers and a mysterious keyhole that does nothing. Droidquest uses it to "unlock" the hidden sixth level.
  • Empty Room Until the Trap: Inverted with Jack-in-the-Bot station on the subway level, which has no doors to get out of the station until you actually get off the train. The pain in the butt it is to get a subway token in the first place deters players from trying it for a long time.
  • Excuse Plot: You fell out of your bed and ended up in Robotropolis. Have fun!
  • Fission Mailed: The aforementioned Jack-in-the-Bot station on the subway level, which you have to take a leap of faith to find out there are exit doors.
  • Klaatu Barada Nikto: pops up after solving the penultimate puzzle on the city level.
  • Level Editor: The Innovation Lab gives you the opportunity to make your own puzzles.
  • Locked Door: The subway requires a token. Every time you ride it. And you have to ride it several times. And you need to send your robot to get the token each time. And sometimes the token ends up in a different place.
  • Loyal Phlebotinum: The toolbox. You can leave it behind anywhere - even on the previous level - and summon it any time. It's never established where you got it, either - so you may have summoned it from outside of Robotropolis in the first place.
  • Nintendo Hard: Big understatement. This game is hard. The puzzles require leaps of logic, and despite an extensive and interesting tutorial the game is still confusing. There are NO HINTS. Even the walkthroughs people post online read like technical blueprints. See Tutorial Failure.
  • Only Smart People May Pass: This game fits it well. The game teaches concepts in electrical engineering, and if you can't get the concepts down you're eventually going to get very frustrated.
  • Pressure Plate: Several puzzles require either you or your robot to activate a door this way.
  • Programming Game: Yep! You can't get much more "programming" than wiring robots.
  • Run, Don't Walk: Your character moves quickly at all times. You can move slowly, but it's only useful in trying to enter your robots, or get on the teleport pad at the end of each level.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Tutorial Failure: The game suggests using the innovation lab to recreate puzzles that are bothering you. Unfortunately all you can do in the innovation lab is draw and erase walls. You can't put in any of the things that will actually have you ripping your hair out, like colored lines only letting certain colored robots through, invisible minefields, and buttons that must be pressed in a certain order.
  • Unwinnable by Design: If you missed some items in earlier levels.
  • Video Game Tutorial: Not only will you need to do them, but they are easier and in some ways more fun than the game.