Robonauts is a topsy-turvy action platformer from Polish developer Qubic Games. You play as a small janitor robot who’s idle curiosity and unsatisfied sense of being lands itself into a whole world of trouble. This leads to the tiny-tinbot being blasted off onto an unfamiliar planet as it flees for its artificial life from a gang of unfriendly, hostile aliens.
When a shifty looking robot by the name of El Supremo gets wind of your predicament, he grants a helping hand in developing your survival skills. He directs you towards a battlesuit that gives you the ability to shoot and bomb your way to safety. Noticing potential from your new found talent, he soon assigns various objectives for you – all in aid of mining for a precious stone that holds a high financial gain for a company known as Corpo.
These series of events send you on an intergalactic journey throughout 12 areas of planet hopping action. Each level is made up of a cluster of pint-sized minor planets that possess their own gravitational pull. Although it seems very much like a 2D Super Mario Galaxy, Robonauts visual gimmick has the camera fixed to the recently employed war-bot. Thus giving you the impression that the planetary system is spinning around you as you jump from one planetoid to another, dishing out plenty of gunfire as you eradicate both the aliens and the nests that they spawn from.
The controls are as basic as any other arcade shooter of a similar type. You move left and right with the stick and direction buttons, hold the L Button to shoot and the R Button to use your bomb. Your actual gunfire is auto-aimed towards the enemy closest to you, which leaves the combat slightly out of your control as the bullets of your weapon find their own way home. I would personally much rather have the ability to use the right stick to manually aim, as it feels as though it becomes more of a dodging platformer as opposed to a traditional arcade shooter. Furthermore, because your weapon auto-aims, it doesn’t always fire at the target that you want it to.This becomes more of an issue when you’re trying to fight an enemy in your path and it insteads decides to aim up towards a critter on another planetoid. It’s not the end of the world or anything, and, for the most part, it can actually work quite well, but those moments where it matters can be the difference between the life and death of your little Robonaut.
Despite having an auto-aim feature, Robonauts can prove quite challenging at times. In fact, Robonauts is at its best when you are surrounded by enemies, hopping between planets with the Afterburner-style 360 camera spinning as you blast the faces off your enemies. It’s the small details in between that can tarnish the momentum of its gameplay.
First off, the way damage is received doesn’t present itself quite like how I would like it to. When hit, the little bot just bounces back slightly. That’s it. It doesn’t really feel clear that you’re actually being attacked unless you look at the visual depletion of your energy bar. There’s no flash or obvious sound to indicate you are in danger besides the red glow that rides the perimeter of the screen right near death. It never quite feels like your in a panic until its too late, which can make combat feel like there’s less weight to it than Saturn.
It almost seems as if they blew most their audio budget on Simon Viklund’s contribution to the soundtrack – known for his work on games such as Payday: The Heist and Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition, among others. The music is excellent and absolutely nails the astro-arcade rave vibe that the game is going for. However, it does drown out the sound of the action quite a bit. There are volume controls in the options but no matter how much I played with them I couldn’t quite find a decent balance between the two.
The biggest gripe that I had was with the cutscenes, though. In the event of your demise, you start the level from the very beginning. Most of the levels have at least one cutscene within a stage that you’re forced to be reminded of every time you want to retry. What makes the whole thing more frustrating is that even when you skip the cutscene it tends to pause longer than the actual cutscene’s length before you are back into the action, singlehandedly turning the challenge into a chore.
The level design themselves have a lot of potential. “Potential” becoming the keyword for Robonauts as it never quite builds upon the somewhat decent ideas that it teases you with. For example, very early in the game, you face a boss that happens to be a planet that you land on. This being the only boss in the whole entire game. Another example is found on a level where you have to activate switches on a planet that is built up with maze-like layers, giving it a unique experience to break the repetitiveness that shooters can sometimes fall victim too. Again, there’s only one level of this kind. Even the weapons you collect have a very limited and short lifespan due to the very low ammo count each gun contains, feeling like nothing more than a momentary perk.
There’s a bit where it introduces an enemy called a Ramper. These pesky blighters are the only enemy to have an introduction. When they do show their face, however, the game still feels like it’s in an early tutorial stage only to realise that you’re actually nearly halfway through the campaign. Even when you do finish the game, it all just kind of ends abruptly.
Whilst I can admire what the developer is going for here as it attempts to vary up the gameplay a bit without feeling too repetitive, its hard to ignore that the whole thing feels like a proof of concept for a larger project. Everything just feels a bit clumsily stitched together just to be pushed out of the door. Which is a massive shame as a little more love and attention could really bring out the best of what appears to be a pretty cool concept, overall.
There are local-only multiplayer modes where you can hop alongside a buddy in the split-screen main campaign, or go head to head in a VS match which despite the options that are available – they all conclude to who has the most kills. The maps in VS mode are a little duller in comparison to the main campaign as they usually consist of a single planet with a moon if you’re lucky. This addition does give the game a bit more meat though, especially on a console that’s perfectly tailored for multiplayer.
Despite Robonauts‘s basic 3D graphics, the framerate noticeably suffers during the local-only multiplayer as it seems to chug along like its connected to a Fisher Price internet connection. There are no such issues when playing solo though which to be fair, the basic visuals of this game should be able to run perfectly on an iPhone 4 let alone a Nintendo Switch.
The very basic 3D art design can be quite nice at times, with a variety of different planet types gracing the screen. The colour pallet has more to be desired though as the colours don’t really differ all that much. There are a few nice colours that compliment each other quite well but it never really moves away from the safe greens and blues found in most levels. It would have been nice to see some of the colours really pop to give each planetary system more of an identity. The visuals also suit Handheld mode more than it does docked in TV mode, as the grainy edges are much more noticeable on the big screen.
Robonauts is a game that really does deserve to be good. It has a bunch of decent ideas loosely brainstormed across its brief campaign that ultimately turns an interesting concept into a short-lived gimmick, making the overall experience fun but somewhat a little short and disjointed. It’s a bit like bringing a cooked chicken to the table and calling it a roast dinner. Don’t get me wrong. I love chicken, but it’s so much tastier with all the extra trimmings.