If you’re just reading this headline and know nothing of the independent PC title Mr. Robot, then chances are you may think this game is about our own Mr. Destructoid. Sadly, that is not the case.
However, what you are getting is an independent game that is described as such by its makers:
Asimov is a lowly service mechanoid aboard the interstellar colony ship Eidolon. Carrying hundreds of frozen human colonists to a new world. When the Eidolon’s computer brain malfunctions, it falls to Asimov to undertake a perilous journey through the bowels of the massive ship to save his robot friends and the precious human cargo. Solve puzzles. Overcome obstacles. Hack hostile networks. Evade crazed robots. Save the mission.
Check out our independent review after the jump.
England has brought us a great many things since the collapse of the race of cybernetic ants that ruled the country’s craggy shores for much of the last millennia: Mike Skinner, Chris Eccleston, David Beckham, and probably a bunch of other people who I don’t have heterosexual man-crushes on. Now, thanks to Moonpod Games, they can add “wicked awesome indie title Mr. Robot” to that list.
Mr. Robot is the story of, well, Mr. Robot, as he unravels the mystery of why his ship’s on-board computer has suddenly gone wonky. Kinda cliché plot, no? Thankfully, the entirety of the ship, everyone on it, and the situations presented therein are all written extremely well. It doesn’t quite approach the level of the old Lucasarts SCUMM titles, but since most games released nowadays sound as if they were written by drunk six year olds mimicking Joss Whedon, a bit of wit goes a long way.
The graphics are old school, but the animation and the little details Moonpod has included add up to make Mr. Robot prettier than post-sanguination Elizabeth Báthory. Personally, I’m not a fan of the isometric view point, but, much like a pretty girl whose into watersports, you do get used to it, and there really isn’t another way they could have presented this title.
The one real problem I had with Mr. Robot is the sound. The voiceovers and sound effects are on par with anything coming out of the big budget studios, but the music is repetitive at best, and at worst, it makes you want to die. I don’t mean that as a clever euphemism, either, the lack of musical variety had me trying to slice my wrists, up until I realized I was using a baby carrot.
If you’re looking for something unlike anything on the market today, that’s also an amazingly fun title, pick up Mr. Robot. For that matter, if you just wanna stick it to the corporate fat cats at EA and Ubisoft, you should also pick up Mr. Robot. Lastly, if you want to support an independent company and their efforts to make sure Britain is never again ruled by cybernetic ants, you will pick up Mr. Robot.
Final score: 8
“Charming” is a word I haven’t used to describe a video game in a very long time. Adjectives like “cinematic”, “realistic”, “immersive”, and “atmospheric” are ten a penny in these days of high res, FPS domination and 5.1 surround mixes as standard, but plain old “charming” and “fun”? Paper Mario aside, I hadn’t played a game like that in a good long while until Mr. Robot came along, and I’d forgotten just how much I’d missed them. It’s ironic but possibly fairly indicative of the current state of the industry that this modest indie game, which arrives unashamedly ignoring the bells, whistles, and trends of current game design, should get me as excited as anything I’ve played all year.
It would be very easy to describe Mr. Robot as “old school”, but I’m not going to do that. The phrase implies something outdated and operating on nostalgia, and to use it here would be to do the game a disservice. While it clearly takes its cue from classic isometric adventures such as Knight Lore and Head Over Heels, Mr. Robot is far from merely a simple retro gaming tribute. Rather, it’s positive proof of a conceit I’ve had for a very long time, namely that good game genres don’t die, but instead just go quiet until someone works out how best to add something new. A well-made and enjoyable game is a well-made and enjoyable game, regardless of current fashionable styles or polygon count, and I’ve bemoaned the loss of many a genre in the name of modern gaming “progress” over the years. Thankfully though, there are people like Moonpod working to reverse that.
What we have in Mr. Robot is a very slick, very well designed, and very enjoyable game. Essentially the product of splicing the genes of an isometric platform puzzler with those of an RPG, it’s one hell of an enjoyable and worthwhile hybrid, and all the ammunition you’ll ever need in the creativity vs. technology debate.
The character design is a major strength, with vibrant personalities clear before a word of dialogue is even spoken, the sharp character models given a real feeling of solidity by their pleasingly clumpy robotic animations and some understated but striking lighting effects. There’s a fantastic overall sense of tangibility and character about Mr. Robot’s looks that immerses the player through bringing the game world to life more effectively than a few next-gen games I could mention. And the fact that the lead character reminds me of a less steampunk version of Robo from Chrono Trigger definitely gets it a couple of bonus points as far as I’m concerned.
In terms of gameplay, we’re also talking about something very smile-inducing indeed. Everything in the game, from interface, to puzzle design, to learning curve seems to have been planned from the perspective of making the player experience as smooth as possible. The puzzles, a modern evolution of the block-pushing environmental hi-jinks of old, are very well judged. You may well find yourself spending half an hour over repeated attempts at clearing the same room, but you’ll never find yourself getting annoyed. Everything’s fair, logical, and clearly laid out, and this aspect of the game provides more classic “That would have been so obvious if I hadn’t been so dense!” moments than any other puzzler I’ve played for quite some time.
If you can’t work something out, it’s only because you aren’t thinking around it in the right way, and the way the game often rewards trial and error experimentation (and is friendly enough to allow you to reset any room any time you like if you want to make a better attempt) makes the whole experience far less clinical than it could have been.
There’s also a very nice surprise in how much the game mechanics vary throughout the course of the quest. While much of your time will be spent platforming and puzzling your way through the game’s remarkably well written storyline, Mr. Robot takes the step up from slick action adventure to being a more involving experience through its use of a proper turn-based RPG battle system for combat and hacking tasks. The game would have still been a perfectly enjoyable, if more arcadey, affair if dealing with enemies had been a button-stabbing pew-fest, but the inclusion of what essentially amounts to Final Fantasy meets Tron (the film) makes Mr. Robot something you can really get your teeth into.
The game does have faults, though. While the ambient electronica of the soundtrack gives everything a very mellow and fittingly spacey feel, the limited number of tunes definitely becomes noticeable after a while. And although the character animation is brilliantly expressive, there’s a slightly floaty inertia to the controls that occasionally leads to some unintentional slip-ups in the precision platforming sections. There’s also the occasional frustration when trying to avoid a hazard while walking behind scenery, though that’s more of a problem inherent to the isometric genre than a failing of game design. To their credit, Moodpod implement some nice transparency effects to combat this, but it would have been good to see some stronger indications of hidden dangers as well as your character.
As an overall experience, Mr. Robot is vibrant, inventive, classy, and above all, fun. It may not have bump-mapping, a realistic physics engine, or advanced A.I., but if that’s what you want, those kind of games are common as dirt these days. Walk into any games store and you’ll find the shelves clogged up with that stuff.
What we are lacking is stimulating, imaginative gaming that brings a smile to the face and genuinely puts the player in a better mood afterwards. As the kind of game that got me into gaming in the first place, Mr. Robot delivers all that in bountiful amounts, and it’s more than deserving of a purchase. And yes, it’s rather charming too.
Final score: 8
As a Cheetos-stained love note to the science fiction genre and home computer classics like Rare’s ZX Spectrum title, Alien 8, Mr. Robot is a smashing success. It drips with the love of a slobbering nerd who grew up in the 80s, attempting to be the perfect little package of platforming, Japanese turn-based role-playing game design, and the occasional box shuffling puzzler (a la Sokoban).
As a package delivered to my door step in 2007, Mr. Robot plays out as a title that appeals to my sense of nostalgia, but does little to add fuel to the indie fire that will set the gaming world ablaze. That’s not to say that Mr. Robot is not a delight to play, and at under $25, it’s difficult to complain too much (but I will, of course).
The game’s aesthetic is quite endearing; I found myself fawning over Asimov, a lowly server robot and the game’s unlikely hero. Making him strut and hop around with the mouse brought a smile to my face and was simple to do. The ship in which the game takes place on is filled with hazards, not unlike an episode of the Nickelodeon classic, Double Dare, only with no Marc Summers and less slime. Moving platforms and electrified pools of water make traversing rooms a chore; why anyone would design a ship like this is beyond me, but now I understand why the scientists onboard are in a cryogenic slumber.
So while the game had me at hello, with its platforming goodness and hints at possible robot sex (with a bot named Zelda, no less), it wasn’t long before it slams on the breaks and it throws in some turn-based RPG elements. Like holy water and garlic to Nosferatu, the turn-based RPG has very little place in my home. The slow paced, back and forth nature of the system does little for me except provide me the opportunity to eat a sandwich or watch American Idol while playing, without negative consequences.
It should be noted that there are a few exceptions and things that will force me to tolerate this kind of gameplay — riveting story, sparkling visuals, or at least a hint of combat innovation. Mr. Robot, while undoubtedly solid in many places, doesn’t necessarily hit any of those marks.
To make matters worse, the “inside the computer” grid design of the turn-based board is bland and repetitive. Enemies (or viruses or firewalls and other technological hootenanny) are, for the most part, boring to look at and have little to no remarkable animations in combat. Same goes for my cute little robotic friend and his pals, who all have attacks which consist of them waggling little ineffectual arms or causing long chains of explosions with their robot minds.
Still, the developer, Moonpod Games, knows what they’re doing, offering a variety of upgrades and collectible item to augment skills. For someone with more patience than myself (or someone who likes this type of gameplay), Mr. Robot does offer a reasonably solid turn-based experience. But to me, battling and level grinding in this style is as exhilarating as watching turtles hump.
Which is a shame; because everything about Mr. Robot’s production values scream triple-A, and it’s obvious a lot of love and soul went into the making of the game. For fans of solid, old school gaming (and those looking to support passionate, independent developers), Mr. Robot is calling your name. But for anyone looking for the next big thing outside of the mainstream box, I’d advise looking elsewhere.
Final score: 7