Tuesday, 17 February 2015

REVIEW - Don't Die, Mr. Robot! (PlayStation Vita)

"Spoiler : You Will Die!"

Sometimes the simplest things in life are the best - from a slice of bread fresh from the oven, to a cold beer on a hot day. This philosophy is carried across to the world of videogames, which is why classic 80's arcade games have such a strong following some 30+ years after their original release. While complex titles involving the use of more buttons than you would find in a helicopter cockpit have their place in gaming, it is the no frills, one or two button, easy to pick up & play titles that keep us enthralled for years - Just look at the roaring success of Rovio's Angry Birds and Namco's sublime Pacman Championship Edition DX for proof of this. Now there's another title that can be used as a perfect example of the 'simple = good' mantra - Infinite State Games' Don't Die Mr. Robot! on the PlayStation Vita.

When I first heard that a new arcade twin stick shooter was coming to the Vita I was excited - after all, the platform is perfect for the genre - but this excitement was dampened somewhat when I read that there would be no shooting of any kind. Yes, you read that correctly, no shooting. This would be a simple avoid-em-up, in which you would navigate the titular hero around the screen, collecting fruit and avoiding enemies in a bid to get as high a score as possible. Simple? Certainly. Disappointing due to the lack of shooting? Absolutely not! 

The game comes with four different modes. 'Arcade' is the main attraction, simply tasking you with avoiding the enemies for as long as possible. Fruit appears every second or so, collection of which causes a small explosion which is harmless to you but will annihilate any enemies in range. If the blast radius touches another fruit, then a chain is started and your score is multiplied accordingly. As you play, the enemy and fruit spawn rates increase, making life predictably tougher the longer you survive. Vanquished enemies drop coins which can be used afterwards to buy upgrades such as extra shields (hits), faster movement and a larger fruit blast radius. These carry over to your next game, giving you a greater chance surviving for a longer period of time (and thus, hopefully, getting an even bigger high score)!

Remix mode features a plethora of challenges that switch up the rules of play and require you to reach a certain target or objective in order to gain one of three medals (your standard bronze, silver and gold). These rule changes can range from being stuck on a vertical axis while avoiding laser beams fired from the sides to making certain types of fruit lethal to touch. Upgrades cannot be used in remix mode, making it a purer challenge for the hardcore, and a reason (as if you need one) to keep coming back to the game. Time Attack mode is your standard 'against the clock' affair, with death costing you precious seconds and points, and, lastly, Chillout mode is a far more relaxed affair, slowing things down to a more sedate pace, all to the delightful sounds of an electronic remixed version of The Blue Danube Waltz.

The presentation in Mr. Robot! is wonderful. The visuals are a perfect tribute to the arcade games of the 80's and 90's, with an extra colourful and visually stimulating appearance that comes with being made in 2014. The pulsating lights, wobbling lines, firework-esque explosions and colourful enemy laser beams often resemble a hypnotic, neon light display in a nightclub. This is enhanced further by the excellent electronic soundtrack that thumps along in time with the quickening pace of the on-screen action and the wonderful sound effects that perfectly captures the sound of a noisy arcade some 20+ years ago (complete with fruit machine and pinball sound effects). It truly is a treat for the senses and will keep your brain over-stimulated and gasping for more! It is Geometry War's Pacifism mode mixed with the work of Jeff Minter (Attack of the Mutant Camels, TxK) and Eugene Jarvis (Robotron 2048, Defender) and it is more addictive than nicotine and social networking combined. 

In fact, I am finding it hard to find faults with this wonderful game. I guess I could say that the main player sprite is rather bland, and has less personality than many of the enemies you face (especially the amusing giant 'dustbin' type robot who stomps slowly across the screen, devouring fruit as he goes), but you can save up enough money to purchase new characters anyway (one of which resembles a character taken from a 30 year old arcade game), so it isn't a big deal. No, there is no two ways about it, this game rocks! I haven't experienced anything quite as satisfying in gaming, recently, as achieving a large chain in Mr. Robot! - you take your time, carefully avoiding enemies while more and more fruit appears on screen, only grabbing one at the very last moment. This causes an enormous chain reaction of explosions, coupled with manic sound effects, a ludicrous amount of visual effects and the humorous female (GLaDOS from Portal much?) voiceover complimenting you on a "sweet, sweet chain!". This simply never gets old.

Don't Die Mister Robot! not only shows that you don't need an attack button in an action game, but is also now one of the best reasons for retro gaming fans to own a Vita. I am not kidding. Online leaderboards and trophies are the icing on an already sumptuous cake and will keep your glued to your handheld for weeks, nay months to come. If you own a Vita and don't already have this game, please make your way over to the PSN store post haste and nab a copy. You can thank me later!

Title : Don't Die, Mr. Robot!
Developer : Infinite State Games
Year : 2014
System : PlayStation Vita
Other Systems : None
Price : £4.49
Genre : Arcade, Twin-Stick Shooter (without the shooting)

Like this? Then try:

Robotron 2048 (Arcade)

The granddaddy of twin-stick shooters, Eugene Jarvis's 1982 insane blaster is a masterclass in design - simple, fiendishly difficult and highly addictive.

Geometry Wars 2 (Xbox 360 / PS3 / PC)

Ok, so this is another twin-stick shooter, but it's excellent, has trippy visuals and great music, and also features a Pacifism Mode, which removes your ability to attack and so plays just like Mr. Robot!

Artibeus (PC, Freeware)

The closest game to Mr. Robot!, Artibeus also has you collecting fruit and avoiding enemies. Great fun in small doses, it may lack the polish of Infinite State's superior game, but it's still worth playing and is completely free.