Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Trouble With Robots Review

The Trouble With Robots, developed and published by Digital Chestnut.
The Good: Approachable gameplay, large number of varied cards, deck restrictions force specific strategic planning
The Not So Good: Scripted missions, needs a medium-high difficulty level, no multiplayer
What say you? This card-based strategy game thrives on plan variety: 6/8

As Will Smith can attest to, humanity’s reliance on technology can be problematic. What if our metallic butlers refused to serve, or rose up against us in a rebellion of silicon solidarity? This is…not exactly the premise of The Trouble With Robots, which actually involves robot invaders attempting to overthrow a fantasy setting full of humans, trolls, elves, and dwarves. Work with me, people! It’s a card-based strategy game where you play actions that call in units or spells, and then watch the carnage unfold, similar to but different from a tower defense game. Does The Trouble With Robots successfully merge disparate factions of strategy and card gaming?

The Trouble With Robots features 2-D cartoon graphics that work well in the game. The drawings look nice and are animated well, injecting life into the game that less detailed 3-D models wouldn’t add. The occasionally animated backgrounds also offer different settings for your escapades during the campaign. The card art is decent but not spectacular, not matching the visual splendor exhibited in real card-based games. The sound design is also good, with pleasing effects and background music that I’ve taken a liking to. The game lacks voice acting, which is really the only major misstep in the game’s presentation. The Trouble With Robots features a respectable level of polish for an indie game.

In The Trouble With Robots, your fantasy realm is under attack by robotic invaders, and its up to you to defend against the onslaught. The single player campaign is quite linear, presenting a series of missions with pre-scripted foes, along with some extra difficult optional side missions. New cards and concepts are gradually introduced, and the dialogue has a subtle sense of humor. A skirmish mode with less scripted enemy encounters would be nice to extend replay value, although the deck customization and randomized card distribution do make each play through the same mission slightly different. Each time you complete a wave with no losses, you earn a star that automatically unlocks new cards to add to your deck. While I might have wanted to manually choose which cards to unlock next, the order does correspond to events in the campaign story, so there is some reasoning behind the restriction. Playing a mission on a higher difficulty level earns more stars, but playing on “hard” is truly difficult; I wish there was something between the relative ease of “medium” and the trials and tribulations of “hard”. The Trouble With Robots lacks multiplayer (competitive and cooperative) of any kind, so you’re stuck playing against the computer and its preordained waves of attackers.

Before each mission, you can choose a number of cards (5-10, usually) from those that you have unlocked. There are forty in all, so choosing the best combination for the next scenario is half of the strategy. Cards can bring new units onto the battlefield (peasants, elves, dwarves, griffins, dragons, and trolls), heal units, increase attack ratings, or damage an area, and most come with an additional stipulation that works in concert with another card (like a ranged warden that gives a bonus to melee units, or extra peasants if you have a dragon). Each wave, you are given three cards drawn at random, and you simply click a card in order to play it. A magic wand with regenerating power restricts how often you can play cards, but you can save up power to unleash a flurry of activity. In addition to playing cards, you can use wand power to cause damage to a single unit, useful if you have no cards to play or there is a pesky unit bothering your defenses. Enemies include melee and ranged units, some more powerful (and annoying) than others. I felt that The Trouble With Robots provides a good amount strategy, from building your desk to playing the best cards at the right time. Failing a mission usually results in altering your deck and playing your cards more carefully. The Trouble With Robots takes an interesting take on card-based games and produces some good strategic gameplay.

The Trouble With Robots is a fine card-based strategy game. Successful gaming starts with choosing your deck with cards that compliment each other. There are plenty of choices to make, once you unlock them by progressing through the campaign, and each player will find their different style: ranged units, powerful melee troops, healing spells, massive destruction, unit buffs, or a combination thereof. The game is very easy to play: just click on the cards and the occasional enemy unit to zap it into oblivion. The deck size and casting time restrictions place the emphasis on strategy, saving up your best cards for just the right moment. The hands-off nature of unit control would be disappointing for micromanagers, but most of the missions are so chaotic that direct control would be tedious and impossible. The campaign features a series of linear, scripted missions; more uncertainty would increase the replay value, but the randomization of the cards you receive means the same scenario will play out at least a little bit differently each time. For me, the “medium” difficulty was too easy and the “hard” setting was too challenging, so more flexible options would be appreciated. The Trouble With Robots also lacks competitive multiplayer (either online or on the same computer), which would be a nice feature. In the end, The Trouble With Robots has some good gameplay and offers something different on the PC, with its card-based strategy focus.