Robophobik has come about thanks to the team at Haruneko Entertainment – the same developers previously behind Amazing Princess Sarah. This time around we have a new twist on the top-down shooter genre as Robophobik comes with a 1970’s sci-fi. At least, I hope it’s based on the ’70s, as all the male characters are found wearing suits that John Travolta would be proud to be seen in down at the discoteque. So, let’s go back to the future and sort out some naughty robots…
The narrative contained within Robophobik is certainly worthy of being included in ’70s sci-fi history. The government has created a secret robot city, an experimental one at that, for reasons best known to themselves. They then put a super computer called PAL 9000 in charge, and it wasn’t long before the inevitable happened, and PAL 9000 decided that the best thing to do was rebel against his creators, capture the scientists in the city and then attempt to take over the world. Now, clearly we can’t let this happen, and luckily there is a highly trained group of agents – the Agency – who are tasked with stopping PAL 9000. Some have already gone into the city and not returned, and now it’s our turn, as a rookie agent called Julie. Can we succeed where others have failed?
Robophobik has a fairly unique look, with characters that are seemingly inspired by LEGO, with a dash of Minecaft thrown in. The human characters are all a funny shape, walk in a very peculiar way, and are accompanied by the tip-tap of high heels. All the people who go into the city to risk life and limb seem to be female, while the blokes stay back at base and perfect their dance moves. This even goes for Leonard, the man in charge of the HQ – he’s a real ladies’ man, flirting with all the agents incessantly. The robots are all suitably blocky and retro-looking, from the tiny butler, to the things that are just cannon fodder, right up to the big bosses. I’ve been pretty happy with the audio too, with lasers dropping the old pew-pews and constant footsteps in place as you try to evade the robots. It’s not going to stress the Xbox hardware, but it does have a certain charm and style that is pretty appealing.
No matter what game you play though, things are meaningless unless that game plays well, yet with Robophobik it’s a little bit complicated. You see, the developers claim to have invented a unique gameplay device; something which in this day and age is a bold claim indeed. The claim is that when you don’t move or attack, neither do the robot enemies. This mechanic did call to mind SUPERHOT, but in that time slows down when you are still, it doesn’t stop altogether; so I can grudgingly admit that Robophobik does have a new mechanic that hasn’t been seen in too many other places.
What this means in effect is that if you are getting overwhelmed (and you will, as some of the later levels are brutal!) then, in contradiction of every instinct that video games have ever taught you, doing nothing is a valid tactic. The robots stop, the level stops, and this can give you the time to plan where you are going to move and which robots to attack. You’ll need that time too as each of the different robot types have varying attacks: some like a good melee and will slap you about if they get next to you, others shoot in straight lines and others can fire round corners. Thankfully, the path which the shooting robots will attack along is displayed in yellow, and when you are in danger of being hit the yellow colour gets deeper, so keeping an eye on the floor is a good plan. I have to admit though, the whole “just stop moving” thing does seem to go out of the window, as I tend to run around, kind of like a heavily armed headless chicken, and have done okay so far.
As you go through the levels, there are other characters to find and free, and when you do you can play as them in subsequent runs. These have different skills that Julie doesn’t, mainly as she is just a rookie. Eva, for instance, can become invisible to the robots, allowing you to sneak through sections that would otherwise see you cut to ribbons. You can also find other prisoners to free, and again these come in a couple of different flavours: armoursmiths and weaponsmiths. As you free these guys, your armour and weapons get stronger, so it’s always worth exploring off the beaten track. The stronger weapons in particular become very useful, as while you can find weapons in the levels, they do have limited ammo, whilst the default pistol doesn’t ever run out.
In all, Robophobik on Xbox is pretty good. There are a good deal of levels to go at, and the bosses are certainly challenging, with everything complemented by a backstory to enjoy which adds to the immersion. Admittedly, it’s not the best looking game, and its main mechanic and USP is largely forgettable, but if you remember to stop then its okay as it does allow for a bit of breathing space. All in all, the game is fun, and the hook is certainly there to keep you wanting to see how things play out with each of the characters. If you want something a little different in a shooter, you could do worse than this.