Crashbots is an auto-runner with a simple premise – you control a robot and your job is to get him to the end of each stage. Finding the three stars hidden in each of these stages is key as they unlock new levels and worlds, and thankfully you have a wide array of tools at your disposal – a jetpack, a slide move and a gun. And you’ll need them all if you want to reach the end of each stage.
On the surface, Crashbots seems to have a lot going for it. There is a ton of content on offer for one. 125 levels, including five boss levels, across five diverse worlds are available for players to conquer and there are five robots to unlock and upgrade. Optional objectives and missions add to that, allowing players to earn some extra coins to put towards upgrades. And then there is the endless mode which allows the player to run as far as they can in an attempt to set new high scores. All this is packaged in a sleek and polished design; there’s no doubting that the game looks great, even if the level backdrops lack variety.
But all the shiny graphics and content in the world can’t save Crashbots from being let down by some poor gameplay and design choices on the part of the development team. It seems that Neonchimp Games and Sometimes You have tried to define the game as something unique within the auto-runner genre, but in doing so have left out a lot of the things that make the successful auto-runners just that; successful.
Perhaps the biggest issue is the energy meter that dictates the gameplay. What you’ll quickly learn is that the real battle in Crashbots isn’t you vs. the obstacles and enemies put in your path, but instead you vs. the energy bar. See, everything you do drains energy. You are constantly losing it as you move. Sliding, shooting and flying take a good chunk off too. However, there are energy pickups along your path which will restore some of this precious power, and you’ll certainly need these if you hope to succeed.
In the early levels, you’ll find your robot exploding just before the finish many, many times, perhaps because you used the jetpack for a tad too long or you sprayed your weapon too much. It’s aggravating to say the least. Players shouldn’t be punished for using the moves that the game gives them from the get-go. To be fair, the upgrades you can buy do go some way to alleviating the issue, but you need to watch yourself. Careless use of your jetpack or weapon will still cost you.
Worse still, enemy hits are tied to your energy bar too. Hitting an obstacle or running into an enemy’s bullets will cost you a fair amount of your energy. And if you combine this with the need to limit your moves accordingly, it makes some levels overly difficult. It seems that Crashbots is asking for near perfection at times, and that there is only one available route open for you, especially if you’re looking to gather all three stars from a stage. It’ll take you multiple tries to get it right. You’ll really need to learn where to use your moves and where each star is hidden.
Furthermore this decision to combine enemy hits and your moves into one, all-encompassing energy system seems poorly thought out. A life system where you get two or three hits before dying would have worked better, as it does in other auto-runners. The levels are probably too short in the story mode – 30 seconds or so – for it to be implemented there, but there is no reason why it couldn’t have been put into the game’s endless mode.
The camerawork is another clear issue. Auto-runners work best with a camera that is directly above or behind your character. But Crashbots doesn’t do that. Instead the game is played in an isometric view, to the detriment of the gameplay. You’ll have a hard time working out how far away obstacles are from you and when to jump and slide. If you combine this with the controls, which seem sluggish, then you’re in for a tough time, as there is a delay on your moves so you’ll have to factor that in when judging when to perform a certain action to avoid an obstacle. Yes, you will improve this as you play more, but there are still moments when you’ll hit an obstacle you had no right to hit, just because the camera failed to correctly portray how far away it was and you moved too late.
Crashbots’ physics system throws up problems too. It is wildly inconsistent. Upon hitting an obstacle your robot should simply stumble before carrying on, but this isn’t always the case. Often your robot will be flung back a fair few feet, and when this happens, there is a significant chance that you will be pushed back into an obstacle that you’ve already managed to pass, compounding the damage you take. This feels unfair at the best of times, and is nothing short of extremely irritating. Worse still, you may be thrown into an obstacle from which you’ll be unable to escape. Say you become caught between two gates, you won’t be able to escape because there isn’t enough room to use your jetpack. That’s just one example however there are many of them littered throughout the game. You’re left with no choice but to start over.
I did encounter a few technical issues during my playthrough too, but these were pretty minor especially when compared to the issues raised above. Still, they do serve to make a frustrating experience even more so. I had to reset the game a few times because of unresponsive menus. Meanwhile, during levels I encountered framerate issues several times, especially when performing the slide move.
Crashbots on Xbox One has potential. The development team should be commended for including a veritable array of content that will keep the most dedicated players occupied for a good while. Indeed, this is something that is often lacking from other auto-runners. The game looks good too, providing a polished presentation from a visual standpoint. But Crashbots is let down by some awful design and gameplay choices. The camera needs to be better. The energy system needs to be rethought. The controls are sluggish and need improvement. The physics need to be made more consistent. The technical issues need to be ironed out.
Only after these have been addressed can Crashbots be a good game rather than a painfully average one.