I, Robot breaks part of the mold of the usual GOTD in that it is a well-known title. Certainly it is one of the most collectible cabinets from the old-school days. However, though it is a well-known title, it is NOT an oft-played one. There are not a lot of these machines around and the sites that track MAME ROM downloads never show I, Robot getting any hits. As such, many of my friends knew of it but had never played it.
If you have never played, you have missed out. I, Robot is one of the all-time most innovative games. I played it in the arcades in 1984 and was completely compelled by it every minute.
I, Robot was apparently the first true 3D filled polygon game and they make good use of it. In fact, you can change the angle of the view and it changes your scoring!!!!!! The more your view is right behind your robot the bigger the scoring multiplier - and the higher/more overhead your view is, the smaller the multiplier. This is because it is much easier to play from the overhead view than the flat/over-the-shoulder view.
So, here's what you do...There is a playfield/grid of colored blocks (blue, at first) and you have to move around it and change the color to red - you do this simply by touching each block (gliding over it). Many times, where you want to/have to go is across empty space - and you simply move the joystick in that direction and make the jump (there isn't a jump button, it just happens). The problem is that the evil Big Brother eye that is watching you tries to shoot you down when you are in the air. When the eye turns red, you can't jump or you will be vaporized. Additionally, there are birds flying toward you that will also vaporize you if they come into contact. Luckily, there is something you can do to defend yourself - shoot them. The main button fires a shot and will vanquish any bird (or other objects in later rounds) - so make sure to be shooting when you jump in the air to get to a new block. Once you have jumped to a new block, the land in-between those blocks will fill up with blue so you can always go back without having to worry about jumping again (you can only die while in the air). You complete the stage by turning everything blue and then jumping to the part where the eye resides.
The scoring is very detailed. You are on a timer and (of course) get points based on how fast you finish. Also, if your break the record for a stage, you are awarded additional points. This is all in addition to the first thing I mentioned in that your score is multiplied by a number based on the angle you have chosen to view the action (you move the angle up and down by using the start buttons).
All of that above is just for the first kind of stage. In round 2, you are flying through space with all kinds of cool crap coming at you and the game is temporarily a 3D space shooter. And a well-done one at that. Again, even in this stage, you can adjust the angle of viewing and get rewarded for the harder/tighter view. And also again, you get all kinds of cool bonuses and rewards based on your performance.
Later there's a different kind of stage that I won't even explain here, but you can read a more detailed description of this stuff in the nice write up on CAESER here...
Each of the ground-based stages has a different design and different challenges. And keep in mind if you can't see well what is going on, you can always change the angle of view. Some stages have tougher maps to navigate, some have warps/transporters to go to a new level of your choosing.
The game can be daunting to start. Not realizing exactly where to go or what to do can be puzzling - and being zapped by the eye because you aren't paying attention to when it turns red can be disheartening. But stick with it for a few minutes and you will quickly be compelled and mesmerized by the game. It is fun, graphically interesting, unique and challenging. The amount of details in the scoring, angle of view and different types of stages show the level of thought and care put into the game.
So please take a little while and change your knowledge of the game from "yeah, I've heard of that, it was some early 3D game" to "Wow, I, Robot was really something special and just a little bit ahead of its time".