Playniac are a team of developers looking to make waves in the card battling genre with Insane Robots being their first foray into the world of console gaming. Having already had the pleasure of getting my hands of an early version of it, things were looking positive in terms of their ‘hacked’ take on battles using cards. Now that Insane Robots is out, is there enough depth within the proverbial deck they’ve dealt onto market, or is it a few cards short of being a success?
Well, that depends on what you’re looking to get out of the overall experience.
Getting right into it and starting with the main Campaign mode, the world is presented to us as one of a dystopian future, in which the perceived villain, ‘the Kernal’, is pitting malfunctioning robots against one another in fights to the death. You start off playing as Franklin, preparing to take part in an uprising, with the ultimate aim to take down the Kernal, putting an end to these sadistic conflicts. The story is easily skippable though and is potential one of the weakest areas of the game, but that’s fine because the gameplay in the Campaign is tremendous fun for a multitude of reasons.
Each section of the Campaign consists of one or more battle royale style tournaments, where your little robot is thrown onto a board filled with hexagonal tiles alongside a number of other unwilling participants. Traversing these arenas is turn-based and most of the board stays covered in darkness until you’ve explored further. Bumping into an opponent instigates a fight, but the reality is that you can try to just let them all decimate each other if you wish, picking off the wounded when needed.
Essentially, the whole scenario is a battle of wits and confrontations that sees two competitors going up against each other, armed with a deck of cards – or tokens to be more specific – to use. Insane Robots does away with the concept of building decks and the need to spend hours tweaking them to ensure you’re the best prepared player around. Instead, both players get the same deck of tokens, just distributed differently and then it’s a case of taking turns, using up your turn points wisely. The idea is to fill two attacking slots and two defensive slots with tokens bearing varying amounts of energy from 1-5, before launching an attack to try and deplete the opposition’s health first.
Early on, it comes across as very simplistic in nature and in terms of the token variety, but the more you play, the more new tokens you’ll encounter. Some add a boost or cause instant damage, whilst others allow you to swap tokens with the opponent or even hack their slots to decrease the power they possess. They can be combined to create better tokens too. There’s a real depth despite only having 22 different tokens in total and it ensures every single battle is fresh. Just when you think you’re ready to defend any incoming attacks, the game can change and the slots altered by a cunning robot, leaving you scrambling on the next turn to avoid being vulnerable.
Outside of the battle and things can be just as dangerous as during in the Campaign, as the arena environment can shrink and contain hazardous areas that cause damage. It’s like a separate board game in itself here, with in-game currency to be found on certain tiles and other mysterious tiles that provide a text based choice to make. You’ll be able to enhance the robot you’re using by finding a shop to spend the money accrued from tiles and battles on health regeneration and augments – used to gain the extra edge over an enemy.
The augments are pretty cool as these provide more energy for the tokens drawn and can increase the chance of drawing a specific token, causing the likes of a whirlwind and more. Every robot is unique in having different base augments, but what’s quite confusingis that Insane Robots doesn’t explain what each one actually does. It just means you have to try them out once a new one is unlocked and that’s where the replayability comes in, because it allows you to change your robot of choice before venturing into the tournament of choice in Campaign.
What about the rest of the modes? Well, this is where things get a little iffy. Quick Battles presents a set of single matches to tackle, each of which presents a tougher opponent, whilst you’re stuck using a plain old Sentry robot. The enjoyment in that mode wanes once the opposition has more than double your health and and attacks with greater power. Then there’s the local 2P and online friend challenges, which are easy to initiate but are severely lacking in match options. Literally, the options are a single match with 10 health points each or nothing, making it feel like nothing more than a tacked on afterthought.
I was hoping to show off my tactical nous in the ranked online battles at least, however it appears that barely anyone is playing Insane Robots as I’ve waited for ages numerous times in order to get a game. So, whilst I know online exists, the chances of getting a match are very, very slim.
As a solo experience, the Campaign has enough tricks up its sleeve to entertain for hours upon hours and the dynamic gameplay ensures no battle ever feels the same – and that’s all that can be asked from any card game. Insane Robots is super easy to pick up and play too, with pop-up reminders available to explain what tokens do if required. Aesthetically it’s got a lovely vibrant and cute style in the way it presents the battles that’s kind on the eyes, but sadly, the multiplayer side might as well not be there, given that it’s limited to a single match type and the ranked pool of players is virtually none. Sure, when you challenge a friend it’s still an enjoyable match, but there’s no reason to do it again aside from bragging rights.
Overall, Insane Robots delivers almost everything that’s needed for a great single player game and so that’s the main reason to venture into this hacked world. Playniac have refined and simplified the card battling genre, without losing the strategic depth or enjoyment factor. It’s just a shame about the multiplayer offering!