Friday, September 29, 2006

Robotopia Review

Robotopia, developed and published by Gamesare.
The Good: Pleasing 2-D graphics, constant action, co-op multiplay
The Not So Good: Extreme difficulty, lack of useful documentation
What say you? A Metroid-like platform game that is ridiculously challenging: 5/8

It's clearly evident from movies, TV, and video games that robots are poised to take over the world. Sure, today they build our cars and clean our carpets, but someday their reign of terror shall begin. In the meantime, we'll just rely on computer games to feature all of our robot-killing fantasies. Enter Robotopia, a game that, not surprisingly, features robots and a just a pinch of opia. In this game, an alien swarm of drones sent by a diabolical food conglomerate is invading peaceful Robotopia. Of course! In any event, the bottom line is that you get to shoot stuff, and shooting stuff is usually good fun had by all, except by the person being shot at.

Robotopia features above average games for a 2-D side scroller. They are detailed and provide plenty of effects to dazzle the eyes. The overall presentation is crisp and, although the environments aren’t the most detailed you’ll ever see, to do an adequate job. Despite the fact that Robotopia is developed by a smaller developer, the game doesn’t look like it, although it lacks the flash associated with big-budget productions. And I’m fine with that, as I was never displeased or annoyed by the quality of the graphics while playing the game. Robotopia is very reminiscent of a good-looking version of Super Mario Brothers or Sonic (the Hedgehog, not the drive-thru restaurant, though there are some similarities). The sound is also above average in terms of quality, with appropriate effects and a decent soundtrack. Overall, I found the quality of both the sound and the graphics to be higher than I expected, which is always a welcome surprise.

Robotopia plays like a classic platforming game with a heavy emphasis on combat, similar to the early Metroid on the evil consoles. Robotopia features both single player and cooperative multiplayer gaming through the game’s levels. The game has a steep initial learning curve due to the lack of a tutorial or manual. There is some help in-game, but it’s too short to be of any real assistance. The game also displays movement and important keys during gameplay, but only using the default control profile: if you select one of the other profiles, the game does not adjust the text even though the controls can’t be changed from the three available profiles. This makes finding the appropriate keys needed for advanced moves (that are required at certain parts of the game) nearly impossible. In general, movement is very intuitive: up, down, left, right, and a key for each type of weapon, but the special moves require keys that aren’t references for the different control profiles. Once you figure out how to actually play the game, you’ll find an array of weaponry divided into two classes: bullets (shotgun, acid, bouncing) and bombs (spider, magnet, spray). There is an appropriate weapon for each type of enemy, and using them effectively and disposing of the opposition is quite fun and makes you feel like you’re controlling a spry robot. Robotopia borrows a level system from RPGs: by collecting fruit dropped by enemies, you can improve your stats and also earn money to purchase better weaponry in the shop between levels.

Robotopia has all of the trappings to make for a good game, but the actual gameplay is way too hard. Even though health regenerates (slowly), you are greatly outmatched by numerous foes carrying much better firepower. Since it only takes a couple of hits to take you out, you’ll be restarting each level many times. Now, I’m not the best platform game player (my incompetence at Super Mario Brothers is world renowned), but repeatedly dying on the first level is kind of ridiculous. The game is made much easier if you play with allies through the multiplayer modes, however. Maybe I’m missing some special keys the game keeps secret from me, but the game is still too tricky. Not helping this issue is the fact that you can only shoot to the side, which becomes an issue when you start flying around the levels and enemies are coming at you from multiple directions. The game semi-intelligently aims for you, choosing the appropriate direction sometimes if you are backing away from the enemy onslaught (instead of simply using the direction you a traveling), but this only works some of the time and you can’t count on it at all.

Robotopia takes a solid, classic premise and updates it with RPG elements, varied weapons, and crisp graphics. It’s too bad, then, that the game is very difficult and there is almost no documentation to help beginning players. This is one of the most brutal games on new players that I’ve played in quite a while, and only those players adept at platform games will find Robotopia enjoyable instead of frustrating. This game was obviously designed with the expert player in mind, so people new to the genre without a background in platform games should steer clear of Robotopia.