Have you ever had a game that you thought was really, really bad? It frustrated you to no end: maybe the controls were bad, maybe the story sucked, or something else was wrong. Yet, you continued to play it and actually enjoyed it. You haven't? Well, I hadn't either, and that's exactly why Mr. Robot
, the indie adventure/puzzle/RPG by Moonpod, confuses me so much. I...did not find it very good. I just didn't. I had several major problems with the game, that served to frustrate me incredibly, and yet...I went back to it every time and I completely finished it after a while. My final thoughts were something like: "Pretty interesting game, I liked it!", and it baffled me that I thought that.
So let me now gather my thoughts and try to figure out for everyone who cares just what the deal
is with this game.
Meet our main character, Asimov
First of all, lets start by explaining how I actually got this game, as most people probably have never heard of it before. As you may know, a couple of weeks ago, Steam held a holiday sale. Several packs of indie games were available. I bought the so-called 'Adventure Pack' because it included Gish
and And Yet it Moves
(seriously, get AYIM, it's great). The other three games, including Mr. Robot
, I considered 'bonus'. And that's how I started playing Mr. Robot
, and it didn't take me long to find some serious flaws...
Most importantly, this game is hell to play using a keyboard. You are looking down on the game from above from an isometric perspective, so the 'camera' is located at an diagonal angle. This means that the character will never actually move the way you want him to. Push the Up-key, and your character will move up-and-left diagonally, push Left and he will move down-and-left. You are able to move your character in a straight horizontal or vertical line by pressing two keys, but this looks and feels very awkward and sometimes doesn't even work properly. Normally, this would just be an annoyance, but not a deal-breaker. However, Mr. Robot
includes jumping puzzles and other platforming elements. Safe to say, the weird camera angle does not
help in overcoming these obstacles and I died a great many times simply because of the controls. Maybe it is better with a gamepad, but I don't have one available, so I was stuck with this.
It is difficult to explain the situation in words, so maybe this in-game pic will clear it up a bit
Secondly, the characters and objects in this game have a really weird 'hitbox'. It's kind of like the old NES titles, were you could float in the air as long as one pixel of your character was still on a platform. The same works here. If the very edge of your character is still located on the very edge of a platform, you will not fall off and just float there. The game even requires this from the player at some points. Some gaps are just barely
wide enough to jump across, but only if you wait until the very last moment, when your character is already 'floating'. This hitbox is also present when pushing blocks. If the very edge of your character touches the very edge of a block, you will (almost telekinetically) push it. This can get really annoying because the game contains so many block pushing puzzles. You can easily screw up the puzzles because the game interprets you as pushing a block when you actually meant to just walk past it. Combine that with the controls as described above and well...good times it's not.
My final complaint (that I will mention) is that the RPG battles can be pretty boring. You can hack computers and other robots in this game, which will shift the game into an RPG with turn-based battles. These battles take way longer than they need to because the enemies guard nearly every attack you send at them. It happened often that I wasted two turns and did no damage at all, because every attack was blocked. Luckily, your characters also block nearly everything, so there is not even any need to worry about death during these sections. If everyone would block less, these battles would go much faster and be far
Okay, so let us talk happy now
Looking at the above paragraphs, I really should hate this game. It has several fundamental shortcomings that really frustrated me more than once. And yet, I can't hate it, I just can't. In fact, I can safely say that I liked it.
The story, setting and atmosphere is what saved it above everything else.
First of all, this game is simply a love letter to everything Science Fiction. In the first five minutes of the game, I saw at least five references to other important works and series, and I'm not even the biggest sci-fi geek around. As I mentioned, the main character himself is called Asimov
. The main computer aboard the spaceship where the story takes place is called the HEL-9000
, and the avatar HEL uses when communicating with the other characters looks really similar to the Autobot
logo. (see HEL below)
But most interesting of all: There is a character called Zelda. At first glance that seems like a strange reference in a sci-fi game, until you realize, and this blew my mind when I remembered, that a robot called 'Adam Link
' was the main character in the short story I, Robot
by Eando Binder, and indeed Mr. Robot
borrows some themes from that.
HEL's avatar, mocking you, on the left
Besides all of these references, which alone already make sure I can't in good conscience hate this game, the setting and story just work. The story takes place on a spaceship, where the humans are all in a state of hibernation, leaving the robots to run the ship until they arrive at the planet Prime (hello, reference #5). One robot takes over the ship and threatens to kill all the humans, so it is up to Asimov to stop him. You then puzzle and hack your way trough to game to stop the evil robot. It's a simple story, but it works. It even has some interesting plottwist at several points, which is not something I expected out of it, but greatly appreciated. The credits are another thing I will mention. I won't spoil it, but Mr. Robot
contains one of the most clever credits scenes I have ever seen in a game.
However, throughout the story the robots become increasingly 'human' and this, right here, is exactly what changed my mind about this game once and for all. The game completely nails that theme.
The more human the robots become throughout their hardships, the more you start caring about them as characters. Asimov and Zelda in particular are really interesting to watch and follow, as they figure out who or what they are and what they want to be. The term 'permanent deletion' started to sound much more sinister, even moreso than 'death' does in other games. Not only do the personalities of the characters develop over time, during the game they actually completely gain
a personality they never had. This is what made me come back to this game time and time again, even though I realized I would again get frustrated by the controls at some point. My anger and frustration just wasn't as strong as my interest in these characters, the story, and the other clever stuff the game has going for it. It's really a bad game from the gameplay side of things, I can't deny that, but I still can't help liking it. It's simply too interesting not to.
I hope I have been able to explain my own confusion and feelings on this game. One thing I do know is that I understand it better myself after writing this. So if you want to remember what it's like to actually care about the characters in an RPG, find yourself on a ship populated by robots and try your hand at some interesting block-puzzles in the meantime, try Mr. Robot
, but prepare to be frustrated often as well.
In the end, I just found myself caring about all of these robots, even the unnamed ones in the background, much more than I usually care about the humans in other recent games.
And I think that, above all, is what the game was going for. If so, to Moonpod itself, but also to Asimov, Zelda and the others: DIRECTIVE COMPLETE: INITIATING PRAISE.