Shoot Many Robots' atmosphere sets a high bar. The rest of the game chainsaws the bar in half.
After a few weeks of doing nothing but playing AAA shooters from major publishers, I was quite happy to receive a review copy of Shoot Many Robots from Demiurge Studios (the guys who worked on the Mass Effect PC port). The Xbox Live Arcade usually has the most interesting stuff, regardless of quality. And I’m proud to say that statement holds true for Shoot Many Robots, but not in the way you’d think.
There isn’t much in the way of story, at least not that I could find. You’re a redneck in an RV who keeps his guns in his shower. Robots exist. These robots want to kill you. You want to kill these robots. That’s all the setup you’ll get, but it’s excusable considering this is a ten-dollar downloadable game.
What isn’t excusable, however, is the controls. If you’ve played any 2D shooter in the past few years, you should know that if you’re using a dual analog controller, dual stick controls are far more comfortable. Demiurge ignored this, relegating the right stick to the important task of absolutely nothing. You aim and walk with the left stick, which is not helpful when mobs of robots are headed your way. If aiming was mapped to the right stick, you could move with the left stick, allowing you to aim your jumps correctly while shooting at the same time.
Even worse is the act of firing a gun, which is mapped to the left face button instead of the right trigger. This would have worked if two other very important things weren’t also mapped to face buttons; jumping and melee. Jumping is necessary because getting too close to any robot will result in a quick death, and melee is necessary for hitting red missiles back at red missile-shooting robots. Having the three most important buttons all in one place caused quite a few finger cramps while I was playing.
As it is, the right trigger is used for a slide attack, which I barely used. My thumb can only comfortably hit one button at a time, while my right trigger finger goes unused. There’s no way anybody could look at this control scheme and think it was intuitive. Instead of adding a simple options menu for players to set their own button maps or even cycle through a few presets, Demiurge did nothing.
Shoot Many Robots is an old-school arcade shooter, and by that I mean it trades in real difficulty for spamming enemies to give the illusion of real difficulty. When combined with the awkward controls, playing this game alone can almost be a chore. There are enemies with large amounts of health who shoot red bullets at you that do huge amounts of damage, but these bullets are slow and can be reflected with a single melee attack. The trick is to actually have the time to use a melee attack in between all the smaller robots chasing you who do damage upon contact. So you’re trying to dispatch small robots, which are enough of a problem on their own, while other robots fire missiles up your ass.
All these criticisms can easily be countered with one abbreviation: co-op. If you have friends to play with, then I assume the difficulty goes down significantly. But if you’re like me: the only one on spring break right now and playing video games at 11 in the morning, you didn’t get to try the co-op aspect. But playing co-op with strangers is a crapshoot, so I suppose if you have three friends with ten dollars apiece kicking around, then you can ignore my complains about the difficulty…but only the ones about difficulty.
The game certainly looks nice, with everything done in a cel-shaded style. The robots look nice, or at least the stills I found look nice, and the weapons vary from dependable assault rifles to freeze rays. There’s certainly a lot of variety here, but it’s a shame you really won’t be able to see much of it. Unlocking new levels are dependent on the stars you earn in other levels, and the stars you earn in levels are dependent on the amount of “nuts” (the game’s currency) you earn in each level. So 300 nuts in the tutorial will result in a two-star rating. The more robots you kill and the faster you kill them, the more your streak goes up, and the more your streak goes up, the more nuts you earn per level.
How many robots you kill, due to the clunkiness of the controls, is up to the mercy of your weapons, and weapons can be bought with nuts. The wrinkle here is that you don’t earn enough nuts to get any worthwhile weapons early on, so you probably won’t be earning many stars until you’ve played all six or so pre-unlocked levels. What Demiurge did to counteract this is give players the option of purchasing sacks of nuts (Ha. Ha. Ha.) with real money. This is part of a prevailing trend in games where microtransactions show up in paid games, and it needs to stop now. Microtransactions work only in free to play games because the game is free. If I buy a game and then you tell me the only way the game becomes fun is with the low, low price of 160 Microsoft points, you can forget about a recommendation. It’s by far one of the worst trends in gaming right now, and it’s the last nail in the coffin for Shoot Many Robots.
What Shoot Many Robots does right in art design, music, and general atmosphere is mercilessly smothered by unintuitive controls, unbalanced difficulty, and an unfortunate focus on co-op. If you have four friends raring to go on this, then feel free to add a point to this review because as it is, it’s a bad game to play alone. Hell, a simple ‘button layout’ option would have easily added yet another point to this review. But I can’t write a review based on what might have been, so Shoot Many Robots comes away with the grand prize for wasted potential.
(Review copy for Xbox 360 provided by Demiurge Studios)