So this game evoked an interesting combination of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, SuperHot, and a mobile game called Deus Ex Go (there’s a series of these puzzle games that also include Hitman and Tomb Raider). Robophobik carries the tagline “enemies only move when you do” which for most people is reminiscent of SuperHot. It’s a puzzle, 2.5D, shooter with a story chronicling the covert operations of a secret human ops conspiring against the corrupt AI, Pal 9000, and its robot army. The art style reminded me of the Lego games with blocky 3D models and shiny toylike surfaces, as showcased in brief story cutscenes. It’s a pretty cute and unique aesthetic, and ties into the campy and fun atmosphere. Robophobik is interesting because unlike the games I mentioned, there is a real time aspect to gameplay, once enemies are spurred to act, they wind up and require action, you can’t just stand in place and be safe!
Instead, the game encourages you to be very careful of how you draw aggro, or in other words, which robots you alert as you move in close proximity. Once you find a safe pocket, you are free to wait and plan out your next moves accordingly. Interestingly enough, the speed at which you can play a game like this can be blisteringly fast: I would love to see speedrunners break this game wide open. There is a sense of timing and reaction that allows you to dance around enemy attacks, although if you aren’t careful, you can become easily surrounded! There are cutscenes that break up an otherwise relatively linear level selection through a list of stages. There is some sense of non-linearity as you unlock special stages, but for the most part, I was reminded of the structure of Super Mario Galaxy 2 or Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion level layout. Levels are mechanical dungeons populated with enemy spawners. After a countdown hits 0, out spurts a robot: you never know which spawner it’ll come from until after it comes out, which makes for what feel like ambushes or encounters that require quick adaptation. Countdowns reset and can be retriggered, so level design is built around snaking in and out of levels and dealing with an overload of robots on your tail.
Noteworthy, while I mentioned enemies only move when you do, spawn timers tick in real time, so claustrophobic layouts can really put the pressure on you to move your feet. There were recently options added to either slow down timers or make time freeze entirely while you are not moving as a way to ease difficulty if it’s too hard for you as is. Dungeon layouts have an invisible grid, and enemies have patrol routes highlighted to show when you are safe to stand in place. If an area is glowing, it means you are about to get walloped if you don’t react soon. I really like how this system portrays information in a short amount of time, as it helps alleviate what could otherwise feel like cheap shots with how much calamity is on screen. In many ways, Robophobik channels a good amount of stealth in its gameplay: either that or I just found it way easier to just run past enemies and bottleneck them around stairs. I’m unsure if this constitutes as cheating or “cheesing” the game, but there are certainly too many enemies and zero incentive to farm enemies, aside from leveling up. As for leveling up, I don’t even really understand what it does but I think it unlocks traits. You are encouraged to explore for captured hunters to earn upgrades and allow further specialization among characters. You start off with only one character, but a few more join you during the course of the campaign. Characters have passive effects and active abilities that encourage different playstyles. The first one you unlock, for example, increases rare weapon drops and helps planting mines to cover your tracks. Boss fights are pretty entertaining, although some can be extremely repetitive in their attack patterns. What I found annoying was that there aren’t chances to pick up weapons as far as I can tell, which squanders the potential of select characters. If anything the default character is made for bosses, at least for a good portion of the game.
All in all, Robophobik is an odd, yet refreshing game that can lead to some rage moments if you aren’t a fan of levels with zero checkpoints. Levels aren’t crazy long or anything, but it can be pretty tilting to repeat parts you already mastered. I like the high risk high reward of level design, and how challenges are further delineated, as sometimes you are really tempted to just finish a level and bank your progress, and reward things you actually care about: bonus levels and character perks. I love games that mix up genres like top down shooter, grid based combat, and real time action in this case. It’s this type of experimental play that allures me to indie games as a whole. It may not be all peaches and cream, but is recommend nonetheless.
A review copy was provided by the devs.
Hellfirebam has awarded Robophobik the Indie Seal of Approval