Good afternoon, everyone! It’s certainly been a hot minute, hasn’t it? How are we all doing? All good? Doing our best do ignore all of the sh*t that’s going on in the world right now and turning to killer robots destroying each other as comfort? High fives all round!
Yes, it’s certainly been a while since this page has been active – motivation lost, no will to live, general insecurities in life, it’s all relative. I try my best, but sometimes that just isn’t enough.
I wasn’t even going to be writing about this mini-series just gone. When I first saw it announced I thought it would be just a nice little add-on to another spectacular season of robot carnage. How wrong I was. As it turns out, BattleBots: Sin City Slugfest (or BattleBots: Champions if you want to get all political about it) is perhaps one of the greatest televisual events ever made. Remember the Robot Wars Northern Annihilator? Or the dog episode of Futurama? This series slaps so much ass it deserves to be in a realm of its own.
So basically I decided to go ahead and do a cheeky ‘lil review of all six episodes. Just as I thought my love of fighting robots was waning, this thing just went and properly roped me back in.
As the series was a few weeks/months/same thing ago now (we’ve just had the next season wrap up filming), here’s a reminder of the format: the first five episodes feature eight robots in a straight knock-out bracket. The winner faces one of last season’s bounty winners, and the winner of that fight goes into the final episode, a bracket of eight containing the five episode winners as well as Tombstone, End Game, and Tantrum, the active Giant Nut winners. It’s meant to be the best of the best, which I thought was what the regular tournament was meant to be, but let’s just treat this as like the BattleBots equivalent of the All-Stars tournament from Robot Wars.
Taking to the field in the first episode we have; the barmy Bill Wales and his bot Syperhhock – I mean, Hypershock, DUCK! Still trying to figure out what it is it’s actually meant to do, SMEEEEEEEEEEEEE (there’s probably more ‘E’s in there somewhere), desperate attempts for me not to make any references to the Ride of the Valkyries (because of Valkyrie), the high bar of grappling bots in the respective guises of Claw Viper and Defender, Martin ‘the Messiah’ Mason and Mad Catter, and another chance to see if Triple Crown will actually work. The best of the eight will move on to face the mighty Gigabyte, still looking as destructive and edgy as ever.
Shall we begin? I think we shall.
Hypershock vs. DUCK!
You’ll see throughout this run of episodes that the producers liked to put two mis-matched bots together in round one in the hope of the second-round fights being a bit more interesting. Case in point: this opening fight between a ‘roided-up Hypershock, and the latest version of DUCK!, doing its’ hardest to stake a claim to being one of the most useless robots to have ever competed.
OK, that may be a bit harsh on DUCK! – we all remember Sweet Revenge and Chrome Fly, don’t we? – but I truly cannot stand this version of it. When DUCK! first burst on the scene back in 2018, it quickly became one of my favourite robots. It’s no-nonsense, balls-to-the-wall style approach coupled with its innocent demeanour, meant that when it got robbed of a place in the top 16 that year, I was up in arms calling for Bombshell to be cancelled and for Hal Rucker to be given the de facto Giant Nut. Or something to that extent, this was like four years ago now. Which is why it’s hard for me to watch DUCK! in its’ current form. Putting the lifter at the front not only makes the robot look horrible, but it also means it can’t do what it was built to do – throw itself into a spinner and break it. To make things worse, the lifter can’t even lift anything, and only serves to expel stupid quacking noises whenever it opens. So realistically, what was the point of this redesign? After an 0-3 season I really couldn’t have expected less from it in this fight.
To make things worse, it was up against Hypershock. A Hypershock that was left Hyper-shook after crashing out in the last 32 to P1 after an explosive start to its regular season (so much for taking the self-righter off, eh?). Almost completely opposite to DUCK!, Hypershock has never looked better. The weapon looks capable of causing like, actual damage without breaking itself, the front forks work like a charm, and Will Bales can actually drive the thing without it exploding halfway through the fight. Usually.
I didn’t mean for this to turn into an anti-DUCK! polemic so we may as well get on with the fight. Before the fight, as the Hypershock team were busy doing the conga, DUCK! revealed its’ secret weapon – a pointy stick to get underneath Hypershock before realising their lifter is complete trash. A nice idea in theory, it’s just a shame that stick went about 20 seconds into the fight. But it’s not like DUCK! was in control because of the stick at that point, but after a couple of glancing blows from Hypershock’s drum it, and part of the lifter, came straight off. After that, the carnage began.
I will say that, apart from losing the stick, most of its lifter, a whole wheel, and probably the will to live, DUCK! did pretty well to make it to the end of the fight. With Hal Rucker shamelessly passing the controls to his daughter Hannah, clearing him of any responsibility for the ensuing mess that took place inside the arena, Hannah also did a decent job of driving the thing. It doesn’t alter the fact that DUCK! did approximately nothing the whole fight, save for getting chewed up and spat out by the screws, getting sent at least twelve feet into the air, and taking a general all-round beating. There was a point when Hypershock started to smoke a bit, and you couldn’t help but fear that it’s just thrown the fight against a robot whose chassis it has properly bent out of shape. But the fight inexplicably went the full three minutes, in no small part to either Hypershock’s weapon breaking or the team deciding to show a small amount of mercy to their opponents. The latter seems unlikely.
Before the result was read out, Will repeatedly commented “you never know, you never know,” knowing full well that he, and everyone with a working brain cell, knew his bot was the clear winner, and they take the first spot in round two. DUCK!, to its mercy, has been retired, a sorry end for a bot I used to cherish so much. But hopefully Hal and his gang will come back at some point with a robot worthy of carrying the 2018 DUCK! legacy.
Valkyrie vs. SMEEEEEEEEEEEEE
Na-Na-Na-N- nope, it’s too hard. I just can’t with this bot.
Riding into the arena for fight number two of the night is the most destructive bot of 2020, basically because it managed to take a panel or two off of Rotator, it’s the mighty Valkyrie. I won’t lie here, Valkyrie is a cool as sh*t bot and can obviously dish out the damage when it wants, but considering it’s been around for four seasons now and the furthest it’s reached in a championship, I can’t help but think it’s reputation is a bit… I don’t know, overblown? It’s not like it’s a bad robot or anything, far from it, it just feels like at this point I should be remembering it for more than just a badass fight against Rotator back in 2020.
The team probably thought this tournament would be a perfect opportunity to test their mettle, and their first fight comes in the form of SMEEEEEEEEEEEEE. SMEEEEEEEEEEEEE, which sadly won’t be coming back next season is one of the most unique bots we’ve seen on the show. I’d love to know what sort of fever dream Joe Fabiani was having when he decided “f*ck it, let’s build a ruler with wheels and chuck a couple spinners on too.” Unfortunately, “unique” doesn’t always equate to “good,” as can unfortunately be seen by its inconsistency over the last two years, failing to replicate the form that makes its beetleweight counterpart so hard to beat.
The fight itself will probably be remembered more for Chris and Kenny’s dentist jokes than it will for any of the actual fighting, because this was about as one-sided as a cook-off between Gordon Ramsey and, well, pretty much anyone. It was about as brutal as a night in Hell’s Kitchen, as Valkyrie spent most of the fight picking away carefully at SMEEEEEEEEEEEEE’s front end before sneaking in round the back and going in for the kill. SMEEEEEEEEEEEEE’s weapons seemed to give out after about ten seconds and never got up to full speed, leaving it at Valkyrie’s mercy.
First a bottom panel came off, then parts of the wheels, a whole spinner just popped out, it was pretty nasty. But SMEEEEEEEEEEEEE just kept taking it, at least until one of its back panels was ripped away, and they finally decided they had had enough. I will say this is one part of these mini-tournaments I love – none of these ‘sporting gestures’ so the defeated team will have time to fix their bot in the pits for the next fight – not here. The attitude of ‘screw it, it’s the last days of filming, we haven’t won the Nut, let’s just go apesh*t’ and the losers going ‘yeah mate go for it’ – it’s so refreshing. I’ve long missed the days when you could just go to town on an opponent for however long you want, and it’s great to see all parties involved enjoying themselves.
Anyway, as expected, Valkyrie came out on top, and advances to a juicy tie against Hypershock.
Mad Catter vs. Triple Crown
There aren’t many things in life worse than an off-camera defeat, and Triple Crown has now suffered two of them.
In many ways, I feel sad for Triple Crown and its’ builder, Todd Mendenhall. For one thing, the bot is one of, if not the most, technically complicated bots that has ever appeared on BattleBots, and is pretty cutting-edge whichever way you look at it. It’s unfortunate, then, that it wasn’t really built as a fighting robot and to have Valkyrie and Mad Catter as your only two opponents, well that just isn’t very cash money is it? Also, the show treats Todd like he’s an amateur builder with some cool ideas – they do know he’s got a trophy case stacked with winners’ medals and trophies from back in the good ol’ days, right?
And now, here it is again, suffering another ignominious un-televised defeat against Martin “McFly” Mason and Mad Catter, after breaking down at the sound of the buzzer. It drove in to the arena fine, and then kaputt. Nada. The box rush from Mad Catter counted for nought, as it had somehow managed to win the fight before it had even started.
You can see the visible disappointment and confusion written on Todd’s face as his bot gets counted out. He uploaded a short video to YouTube explaining what happened during the fight, so check that out if you want some more details that I’m too unqualified to explain. Mad Catter essentially receives a free pass to the next round, and Triple Crown retires wondering what might have been.
Claw Viper vs. Defender
In a direct middle finger to all the 4WD-vert stans out there, the good folk at BattleBots decided at least one control bot would be making it to the second round when they paired Claw Viper and Defender together. Hohoho, delightfully devilish, Greg and Trey.
What’s even more delightful is that both these bots had pretty unspectacular seasons, both finishing with 1-2 records and narrowly missing out on a berth in the top 32 – in the case of Defender, because of a play-off fight against Hydra. They’re two bots that promise a lot, but usually appear let down by a lack of control or just coming up against more destructive opponents. This fight offers them the chance to really show what they’re made of.
This fight delved into a pretty literal fight of two halves early on. After winning the ground game pretty comfortably, Defender managed to flip Claw Viper over with the first meaningful attack of the fight, and looked pretty much in control for the entirety of proceedings. But everything changed after one seemingly innocuous Claw Viper attack which seemed to knock one of Defender’s wheels loose, before it comically wobbled off to leave the lesser Vasquez bot in peril. The Viper, using a new-fangled four-bar-lifter which was about as useful as a peach in a toaster, managed to turn the fight around from that point on, slamming Defender into as many walls as it possibly could before the clock counted down to zero.
It’s not one that will live very long in the memory, but Claw Viper pulled off a victory when defeat looked easier. All hail the four-bar.
Hypershock vs. Valkyrie
The night’s first clash of the titans brought together Hypershock and Valkyrie. As Chris pointed out before the fight, both bots have won Golden Bolts in seasons past, but have never really challenged for the Giant Nut. This is probably the best chance either team have had in years to put things right and win themselves a major honour.
Sadly for Valkyrie (who Faruq just had to introduce to that f*cking song), Hypershock had this fight pretty much wrapped up from the opening buzzer. First they stopped Valkyrie with a box rush, knocked it off balance, and then, right in front of the team, popped their weapon straight out of its socket. Like, it just comes straight out after two hits. I think Leanne’s delayed reaction when she realises her robot’s weapon is no longer on her robot is pretty f*cking priceless. It’s in equal part awesome, and yet so funny.
Given that without its weapon Valkyrie can do practically nothing and is resorted to doing its best impression of the letter ‘V’, Hypershock did what Hypershock does best, which is to methodically destroy Valkyrie piece by piece, before leaving it high-centered on the screws. It even had time for a quick round of Beyblades, pinging Valkyrie’s still-spinning weapon across the arena, just to add a bit of insult to injury. If you were looking for a commanding victory, this is as close to one as you’re ever likely to get.
Will Bales looks as surprised as the rest of us to see how amazingly his robot is doing, but I’m sure he’s more excited about the prospect of facing either Claw Viper or Mad Catter. On a sadder note, this is the last we’ll see of Leanne Cushing at the helm of Valkyrie for a while, so while we can, let’s remember her for all the meme templates she has blessed us with, and wish her well.
Claw Viper vs. Mad Catter
If you line these two bots up and look at them from a distance, you’d be forgiven for not telling them apart, such is the colour scheme of the two of them. Inside the box, it’s a whole different story.
In a cunning display of “tactics” a-la Steg-O-Saw-Us from the third series of Robot Wars, Mad Catter lined up in its square sideways – yes, you read that correctly, SIDEWAYS! Whatever will that mad old professor Martin Mason think of next? Well anyway it worked a treat, because Mad Catter dodged the box rush, and then went ham on Claw Viper for the next one minute and thirty seconds of television. Especially with that field goal from the middle of the arena.
The underrated hero of this piece was arguably the mini-bot Gassy Cat, since it was just getting itself caught in the most inconvenient places at any given opportunity. My favourite was when Mad Catter scooped up Claw Viper and shunted it from one end of the box to the other, taking Gassy Cat with it, and balancing its opponent on top of the minibot, meaning it couldn’t move. Mad Catter took full advantage and, over the course of the fight, seemed to dislodge both of Claw Viper’s drive treads, as well as generally giving it a bit of a bruising. It also seemed to get hung up on Gassy Cat at the end of the fight, which I though was great.
Martin Mason is ready to get hyper-shook in the next round. Claw Viper goes home, and we didn’t even get to see the four-bar again. Big sad.
Hypershock vs. Mad Catter
Here it is folks, two of the most batsh*t mental team captains in existence, squaring off against each other. Will Bales gets flattened with a steel chair upon entry, Martin Mason gets RKO’d from outta nowhere. Sadly only one of those anecdotes is true, but the fact that at least one of them is lets you know we’re in for some shenanigans right about now.
This fight had pretty much everything. I did fear for Mad Catter a bit going into it because, despite having come on leaps and bounds since it first appeared three years ago, it’s never really had a standout performance against an elite-tier bot, for all of Calvin Iba’s awesome driving. That continued here as Hypershock quickly flipped it over and inexplicably set it on fire, and then managed to flip itself over – twice!
It’s the chaos we’ve come to know and love from both these teams, but after Hypershock settled itself, it just kept winning the fork game, and Mad Catter’s weapon seemed to have pretty much packed in after the first big hit. Pieces just seemed to be falling off at will, Gassy Cat was eviscerated twice, and Will still couldn’t seem to comprehend his robot was actually functioning this well. I’m not sure how it took so long for Mad Catter to stop moving, but that’s probably testament to its durability more than anything. It was flipped over again, took a few more big hits, and that was all she wrote.
Mad Catter lay lifeless on the upper deck as Hypershock spun its way into the final fight of the night against Gigabyte.
Gigabyte vs. Hypershock
And so here it is. The first face-off for a spot in the final bracket. Hypershock, which has looked pretty unstoppable so far, against the most ferocious full-body spinner in the land, which earned its spot here by taking down Son of Whyachi in one of last year’s bounties. Everyone who took part in tonight’s episode was fearful of what Gigabyte could do to them. Hypershock was about to discover whether those fears were well-placed.
As it turns out, maybe not? Within two seconds Gigabyte was launched from one side of the arena to the other, and spent much of the opening part of the fight trying to drive away and spin up to full speed, only to get clobbered by Hypershock instead. Incredibly it was still working after all those massive hits, even after being sent hurtling through the air at 200mph straight at Derek Young’s face.
Then things seemed to start going all “Hypershock-y” for Hypershock – that is, it was all going so well, and then breaks down. Gigabyte was still spinning at full speed, despite being noticeably a bit off-balance, and Hypershock was mostly spinning in circles. Will confirmed afterwards this was an issue with the transmission and was just about able to break free from the crab-walk before delivering the hit of the evening.
Gigabyte held off from engaging with Hypershock while it was crab-walking, and they may well still be thinking that cost them the fight. After just about regaining control of itself, Hypershock went straight into Gigabyte, which went sailing into the air before flinging its shell one way with the rest of the robot going the other. It even smashed one of the BattleBots logos before completing its descent. Will then gave us the face of the night, Gigabyte was counted out, and that was pretty much that.
It was one of those moments that left you pretty stunned at what you had just witnessed, and we’d seen plenty of them throughout the night, mostly from Hypershock. But it was also one of the most iconic moments of BattleBots, as far as I’m concerned, from recent memory. Hypershock seals the first spot in the final episode after a phenomenal display over four fights. Gigabyte, still one of my faves, will be back with a vengeance next year. I’d also like to wish Brent Rieker well in his cancer treatment, and sincerely hope he makes a recovery.
And so that about does it for this belated write-up of the first Sin City Slugfest episodes. I know it was a bit of a long one (over 3,500 words!) but you can’t say you don’t get bang for your buck here. If I have a controversial opinion or two you know full well I’m going to be expressing it.
Next week (because these will be going up every week, either on a Thursday or Friday), we’ll get to relive the excitement of episode two, which saw two of the most gargantuan spinners in the sport, a frog, and a shiny football hooligan take each other on for a chance to face the mighty Lockjaw. Who will win? You probably already know that, but please read it anyway. Please.
Thanks for reading everyone, and see you all next week.
*All images belong to BattleBots.