Shoot Many Robots Review
Shoot Many Robots is not a game that holds a pretense of somber, adult entertainment, compelling drama or even ironic camp like Metal Gear Solid or Halo. This is first made apparent by its extremely descriptive, extremely simplistic title. The title almost renders a review usless, the title is a three-word review and lets you know exactly what you’re getting. There are a great many robots and with any luck, you will end up shooting them. But, as I said, it renders the review almost useless. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty here. Is the mere act of shooting robots a welcome vacation from gaming’s more level headed affairs? Or can we finally put an end to the brutal, meaningless techno-slaughter?
Well Executed Simplicity
One of the main issues with simplicity in game design is that it can make the game boring or unchallenging, but Shoot Many Robots understands that simplicity lies in objectives and controls and not in mechanical game structure. While main controls come down to shooting, jumping, sliding and shooting, the game understands that variety is, in the end, the spice of life or at least game design. Many variables come into play while shooting robots, which robots to shoot, from what place with which weapon, the standard unlimited ammo or the secondary risk-weapon, which robots require priority, keep an eye out for deflectable bullets and whether you should use a limited heal or risk the lengthy regeneration time that only half-fills your health?
Some games simply work with entirely basic premises and Geometry Wars certainly doesn’t need a dodge mechanic, but Shoot Many Robots should write the book on how to make a simplistic game that’s continually fun to play and where to draw the line on complexity. This may easily be Shoot Many Robot’s greatest strong point and it knocks it out of the park. The upgrade system is fun without being overbearing, no level feels too massive or like too much of an undertaking and the controls are easy to learn with an odd finesse to manuevering robots and getting the best tactical position. Its minute-to-minute design is tight, well-focused and doesn’t add anything that doesn’t need to be there.
Strong Visual Design
Customizable outfits and strong visual design have never walked hand-in-hand at the shore of a glittering lake, looking deep into each others love-longing eyes, but Shoot Many Robots still manages to excel. The main appreciable design choice that manages to make Shoot Many Robot’s visual presentation excel in both form and function is the very premise. The game is about shooting robots, and not shooting people or realistic robots or even tall animals. In form, the game manages to make a chaotic game based off the similarly chaotic Contra or Gunstar Heroes and give it a tinge of customization is that the humans are immediately differentiated. Whether in 10 gallon hats or wearing tutus or fairy wings, the humans are generally taller and have a more natural form, where the robots du jour are not of the futuristic Binary Domain human variety but rather of a Tennessee junkyard creating all manner of metal monstrosities. The game is thus capable of allowing the chaotic pace, tone and combat of the game without being confusing or annoying.
On the purely creative end, Shoot Many Robots’s southern, red state, dusty, gritty plains actually manage to evoke an atmosphere, something way outside the usual expectation of a self-aware unapologetically dumb shoot ‘em up. The cartoony visuals lend the game a constant lightness of tone, so it’s impossible to ever have a moment in the game as a whole that takes itself too seriously. The foundry and factory settings that occur aren’t particularly hard to look at either with nicely atmospheric lighting and moods that make the segments stand out from the rest of the occasionally samey but nonetheless pretty environments.
Soundtrack Is Cool, But Also Well Implemented
As I said before, the atmosphere actually manages to play a part in Shoot Many Robots, despite the expectations set up even by its title. A lot of this is also thanks to the game’s inclinations in audio design, the southern rock, moody electric guitar plucks fit in perfectly with the overall southern theme and the tracks make nigh-seamless transitions into blood-pumping rock solos when the robots are finally ready to come out, waving their un-shot, perfectly intact bodies around just asking to be pumped full of lead. I wouldn’t be hard pressed to say that most everyone interested in this game wasn’t expecting a focus on atmosphere, but we got it, and it’s an extremely welcome treat.
Off-Putting Design Choices
Shoot Many Robots is actually a fascinating study on how to drag a game down without actually affecting its core or even secondary gameplay. In laymans terms, the developer has a great system in place, but don’t quite know how to deliver a full package. These design choices range from clerical and remote design omissions such as the inability to delete game data while in the game and the only two settings the game has to offer entirely are ‘Sound’ and ‘Music’, to fairly massive decisions, which can charitably be described as irritating and uncharitably described as infuriating.
The game has more than a few examples, the shameless microtransition money grab, the ‘stars’ system that blocks players from advancing if they didn’t perform well in earlier levels, the inability to buy a great deal of items until they’re “discovered”. However, with the cards all laid down on the table, probably the worst offender of cheap design would be a multiplayer focused game, with four identical guys on the title screen, blocking off a third or fourth player unless they’re online friends. This was a design decision that had no reason to exist. The game is clearly capable of supporting four players, but arbitrarily blocks off players from inside the same living room.
Weird Difficulty Curve
In a game that keeps itself linear (or at least ostensibly linear, see the stars system above), the game doesn’t manage a healthy or consistent difficulty curve. Understandably, upgrade systems seem to exist often to simply do nothing but plot the downfall of difficulty curves, but the upgrade system actually had very little to do with the problem, and encounters can come and go, never knowing whether to be total cakewalks or multi-death kill traps. As a result, levels can also feel extremely interchangeable, since, all being encounters of varying difficulty, no one area seems to recall easy beginning stages while another brings memories of an satisfyingly hell-raising robot gauntlet.
Above, I stated the problems with the difficulty curve have little to do with the upgrade system in play, and this is true. The upgrade system, however, causes an extremely slow opening by not starting the player off with a functional weapon. Yes, the starting gun shoots, and shoot it enough at a robot and it will explode, but the opening gun isn’t even tactfully different than later guns, it just means enemies die a lot slower and the opening pace is crushed underfoot.
Starting this game up with friends and watching the slow pace of what’s billed as a dumb action game where the enemies take forever to die and it doesn’t seem like that will be changing any time soon means that anyone would be well within their rights to get bored in the first 15-20 minutes. Those who stick around will eventually experience the meat of the game and it becomes satisfying, but the guns simply cannot get upgraded fast enough, and even the first available upgraded guns don’t seem to alleviate the problem all that much. The beginning is, put as simply as the game’s title, a grind.
Shoot Many Robots does eventually cross the finish line in the race to become a decent, fun-to-play game, but trips an embarrassing amount of times before getting there. The exclusion of 4-player offline co-op comes off as both a tease and a shame while a sloggy, grindy opening also doesn’t help the game’s case as an admirable time sink, but with some downtime on your hands and maybe some Xbox Live friends that aren’t busy with Mass Effect 3, the game does eventually become greatly entertaining and well-rounded as a whole. Take this low-level, brainless side-scroller at face value and it may end up surprising you.[Editor's Note: Shoot Many Robots was reviewed on the Xbox 360 hardware. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.] Shoot Many Robots Review,