Do you even lift, Robo? We ask because rather than lift, Robo kind of… pushes. We guess Robopusher would have sounded more like a sci-fi drug-dealing sim, which – yes – we definitely want to play now.
Robolifter would have been the quintessential Ratalaika Games budget-puzzler, if they had published it. It’s barely an hour or two long, it gamely offers up all of its achievements in the first fifteen minutes, and it has a single gimmicky idea that it gently toys with right until the end. It’s less than a fiver, and revels in its pixel art. If you asked us to describe a Ratalaika Games title, that is how we would have done it. Except it’s not. This is a Flying Islands game, who presumably we will hear more of in the future.
Robolifter is the last lifter-robot on a ship full of destroyed lifter-robots. It is activated by the ship’s Repair AI with a simple mission: repair what you can, and try to hunt for the cause of the major malfunction. This takes you through several rooms in the ship, all looking for power, reactivation or a touch of malware removal. We imagine it’s what it’s like to be an IT or PAT tester in a large corporation.
While the AI has some effective pixel artwork, the presentation is rather lo-fi. The story, for example, hangs off a lot of technical jargon and thinks it will serve as plot. Getting detailed descriptions of the inner-workings of the ship as an intro to each level will only generate snores, and so it goes here. We mostly skipped through it.
There’s a nice Tron-like glow to surroundings, as Robolifter slathers neon blues and reds onto its palette. But we’d argue that the library of blocks – pushable and not pushable – in Robolifter are all confusingly similar. There are spaces on the grid that could be switches, teleports or furnaces, and it’s reasonably difficult to distinguish between them. There was a time, roughly at the midway point of Robolifter, when we genuinely couldn’t tell you what would happen when we pushed a block on a space, or stepped on it ourselves. That’s not a situation you want to be in with a grid-based puzzler.
Where the presentation does win back some points is its soundtrack. Rather than assaulting your eardrums with jingles on a loop, or the grating repetition of the ship’s alarm, Robolifter instead opts for a Philip Glass-like circular orchestral score. It’s lovely, and made the occasional wait in a single puzzle a wee joy.
You have undoubtedly played plenty of games like Robolifter, and that’s its main problem. Remove the dressing of a robot, on their own, saving a ship with the help of a partner AI, and what’s left is a reasonably simple Sokoban box-pusher. Crates need pushing onto switches. Others need to be pushed to deactivate and activate robots and turrets; or used as shields against the same turrets; or nudged into portals and furnaces; propelled via pistons; or dropped into chasms to form makeshift bridges. We’ve done all of this before.
Robolifter does at least introduce them at a steady rate. It’s almost as if Flying Island know full-well that we’ve been here before, so they’re comfortable in introducing one, maybe two, new mechanics per level. At the start, it can veer towards confusion, but you’ll eventually get there. The confidence in the player’s ability to understand is high, and it’s to Robolifter’s credit that it doesn’t treat us like grunts.
A certain kind of player might be rubbing their hands with glee at this point, as a concise, fiendish puzzler with 1000G all but guaranteed can be an attractive proposition. But while the easy cheevos and conciseness is indeed true, this isn’t actually all that fiendish. Once we’d figured out what the new obstacles did, and we could read the arena (honestly, why does everything functional have to be red), Robolifter was extremely easy. Once you avoid the usual Sokoban pitfalls of avoiding pushing blocks onto walls, because there your crate will forever be, there are only so many places you can move. And one of those few permutations will be the solution.
That said, the levels are still well thought-out, if a little too concise. Problems tend to have a single solution, but that solution is at least inventive, and there will be a few moments of furrowed brows and thumb-twiddling. Just don’t expect long sequences of problems, or a level that absolutely destroys you. Robolifter isn’t quite that confident in its puzzle-making.
There’s an occasional Undo button and the ability to Restart at the touch of a single button, so Robolifter doesn’t get in the way of proceedings. A few levels have a secret keycard to find, which offers a bit of off-piste collecting (attached to Gamerscore, too). But otherwise, Robolifter can’t generate much in the way of longevity. The levels here will be done in an afternoon, and there’s no co-op play, challenges or difficulty modes to truly stretch things out. It’s the bare minimum, which may be enough, depending on what you’re looking for from your £4.99.
We can appreciate the craft in Robolifter. But even as we were playing its gentle Sokoban block-pushing, we knew that any memory of it would tumble out of an airlock as soon as we stopped playing. It’s too familiar, too challenge-less to create any lasting memories. The 1000G for fifteen minutes of play will be on our permanent record, of course, but everything else will get purged as soon as we finish this review. Oh, look, it’s already gone.
You can buy Robolifter from the Xbox Store