Robots somehow find their way into every facet of pop culture. One could ask what exactly their appeal is, but the premise of massive hulking machines being able to shoot fire or take flight a la Power Rangers speaks for itself. Or what about dramatic tales inspired by the likes of Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick which examines the potential humanity of man-made humanoid constructs? Then there's the comedic servant robot archetype as seen in The Jetsons and Star Wars. The interest of robots is likely due to their diversity, where they can be literally placed into any situation and be built for any purpose, able to do things humans cannot due to heightened resilience, intelligence, or what have you. There's also a bit of amusing irony in having robots do what humans can normally do as well, such as professional wrestling. Yep, big clunky machines grappling and slamming each other to the delight of attentive crowds. That's all there is to Sega/Sanritsu's Robo Wres 2001, which is something of a follow-up to their improbably named Appoooh, the second-ever pro wrestling video game. Except now we have gigantic robots fighting instead of unlicensed ripoffs of celebrity likenesses.
Pro wrestling itself was flying high in the mid-eighties mainstream with the WWF gaining widespread popularity. Hulkamania was in full swing, Andre the Giant crushed all who stood in his way, and Randy Savage ranted to Mean Gene Okerlund about Ricky Steamboat's cup o' coffee in the big time. However, as video games were still developing as a commercial industry, some concepts gamers take for granted nowadays had yet to fully form. Pro wrestling games had yet to really take off by 1986, as the lackluster efforts of Technos Japan's Tag Team Wrestling and Appoooh were considered nearly impossible to control. However, Technos later showed promise in 1985 with Mat Mania, an actually competent wrestler with controls that, while still a bit stiff, weren't total bunk. It also featured unlicensed wrestler parodies like Appoooh but with more realistically drawn proportions. Still, game publishers did not yet hold enough sway to feature actual wrestlers, as each wrestler essentially counts as a celebrity whose distribution of likeness would necessitate royalties and their personal approval. So before the era of yearly WWE RAW vs. Smackdown releases, wrestling games would have to make do with semi-original characters. Sega/Sanritsu decided not to worry about creating recognizable likenesses and instead just made a wrestling game about robots. Not a bad solution, all things considered.
Robo Wres 2001 is set fifteen years from the future (from 1986's POV anyway) and ostensibly involves a robot wrestling federation. There may be some plot details about how human athletes became too lazy to do what robots can do for cheaper, or some oppressive draconian government has killed off too many humans and the only things left to entertain are robots. Nobody knows or cares; two robots fight and that's that. Now instead of choosing from different robots, you instead get a pick of ten different movesets while the player one robot remains unchanging. The name of the robot which you pilot is "BIBLE," which is... probably one of the greatest conceivable names for a giant wrestlebot. The opponent robots have other somesuch bizarre one-word monikers like "GELLBAG," "BIAS," and "NOVEL." All robots have their default moves posted at the top of the pre-fight screen and both competitors each get to choose from ten sets of three special moves. The moves you can perform range from basic kicks and punches (or "panches" as the case may warrant) to body slams ("slums" via further bad English) and Irish whips. You are shown what buttons are pressed to activate their appropriate moves, for whatever good it does.
While the controls haven't been that much improved since Appoooh, they are at least made a bit more palpable. You don't have to be holding a direction in order to throw out a basic striking attack, and at least the game has the courtesy to show you what moves correspond to which buttons. That being said, Robo Wres 2001's controls are still rather stodgy, and it's hard to tell how exactly to toss out throws even if you're pressing the appropriate buttons. Naturally, the computer's AI is relentless and you will be lucky if you can win even one fight without having your BIBLE junked and carried off on a stretcher. Robo Wres 2001 ultimately plays like bunk, but at least its graphics are pretty on point for the time and the robots themselves look neat, although there are quite a few palette swaps abound. There are at least three enemy robots which look exactly like BIBLE with a different paint job. Also, the music is incredibly middling and plays an approximate four-second loop over and over, adding nothing to the atmosphere but mild annoyance.
There is one notable advantage Robo Wres 2001 holds over its spiritual predecessor, and that's an actual two-player mode. While Appoooh technically allowed for two players, it didn't allow for head-to-head play and merely gave the two players alternating turns against the computer. This time around, two buds can actually take on each other in their own one-fall matches, which is generally a fairer way to fight than taking on the artificial intelligence. This is something Robo Wres 2001 even holds above Mat Mania, which also lacked a simultaneous two-player mode. However, for what Mat Mania lacked, it made up for in less obtuse and more responsive controls, and an updated re-release of it named Mania Challenge featured a new two-player mode that allowed players to fight with each other. That game is actually playable compared to Robo Wres 2001, which feels like a bit of a chore in comparison. It's not that bad a game if you can somehow figure out how it works, and it does create an interesting semi-futuristic atmosphere which is not very often seen in sports titles aside from Base Wars, Mutant League Football/Hockey, and other sci-fi sports venues. While Robo Wres 2001 isn't as notable a contribution to Sega's stable as Bank Panic, it's still worth a play just to get your robo-foe into a "head rock" and follow up with a "power slum." There also just so happens to be a rather obscure MSX port by Micronet, but it looks abominable, the action's incredibly choppy, and you only get to pick from six movesets instead of ten. On top of that, the music has somehow been made even more annoying. There are also ports for the PC-88, Sharp X1, and FM-77. If you have to play Robo Wres 2001, stick to the arcade version.