Shoot Many Robots – Review

Xbox Live Arcade title
Price: 800MSP
Developer: Demiurge
Publisher: Ubisoft
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: co-op 1-4 players

Games these days are intricate beasts. They can make us think about our values, challenge our morals, tell fantastic tales and amaze us with layers upon layers of complex gameplay  mechanics and things to do. The likes of Mass Effect with its deep characterization and stunningly detailed galaxy are a far cry from the days when we just controlled a ship at the bottom of a screen and shot down incoming alien bastards for absolutely no other reason than because that’s just what you did! So in many ways Shoot Many Robots is a bit of an oddity in today’s world, because it does exactly what it says on the tin and makes no apologies for it. More power to it, I say.

In case you hadn’t already figured it out, then, this is a game about shooting a hell of a lot of robots. To be a little bit more precise, it’s a side-scrolling game about shooting a hell of a lot of robots. To be even more precise, it’s Borderlands: The Side Scrolling Version. But this comes as little surprise given that Demiurge Studios, the developers of Shoot Many Robots,  actually did briefly work on Borderlands alongside Gearbox. I actually considered just ending the review right here and now because everything I’ve said thus far sums up almost everything you really need to know about the game: you shoot robots, you get loot, you shoot more robots and you get even more loot, presumably so you can shoot some  more robots. Throw in Claptrap and it really would be Borderlands, albeit without the ability to move in the 3rd dimension. Still, let’s give this review malarkey a shot and delve into the game a little bit more to see what we can uncover, apart from bits of robots.

As the fantastically named P. Walter Tugnuts, a hick who can regain health by chugging a beer and who is apparently incapable of comprehending the 3rd dimension, your job is to hunt down and destroy as many of those metallic bastards as you possibly can, shredding their metal shells with an armory that would terrifying to your local friendly military. Why are you taking out the robots, you ask? Because they trashed your home, that’s why! Oh, and because they’re destroying humanity, or something like that, but that’s really not important. And so you set out in your typical redneck RV, complete with a seemingly infinite amount of closet space and a shower that somehow acts as a store, to tackle a series of stages infested with robotic adversaries and, most importantly,  a lot of loot. And that’s it for storyline. Past the games intro you’ll never see anything pertaining to a story again, unless you happen to look around whilst playing and end up reading the back of the DVD box you just bought. And really, what more story do you actually need? Some of the best games in history have had little or no story, and considering this is a game that just wants to you to shoot stuff it doesn’t need anything past the most basic of set-ups to succeed.

You’d be forgiven for reading this far, looking at the screenshots and then assuming that Shoot Many Robots is a twin-stick shooter. And, to be honest, it’s a fair assumption, yet Shoot Many Robots has gone for a different control system than its competition, presumably in an effort to try to set itself apart from the masses of side-scrolling shooters that inhabit the Xbox Live Arcade Marketplace. Instead of moving the left stick and shooting with the right, your left analog stick  controls both movement and direction of fire, while X shoots the  weapon you’ve currently got equipped,  A jumps and the left trigger is used to lock you in place so that you don’t have to be constantly running around while firing. At first it feels a little clumsy to use and in all honestly a twin-stick setup would probably have felt better, but after a short amount of time you’ll be blasting apart legions of robotic foes with ease and will have forgotten entirely about your misgivings.

 Early stages of Shoot Many Robots do indeed have legions of robots to battle, as the title would suggest, but still manages to balance out sheer numbers with cunningly contrived waves of different enemy types to catch you off guard. There are only a handful of enemy types to face off against during the game, with a few boss battles for good measure, but the game initially does a good job of using them well, such as hiding a heavy hitter amongst a large group of little bots that only take a few shots to pop. Later in the game, though, things start to go wrong as the developers seem to have decided that sheer numbers was the way to go, literally swamping you with foes and turning the game into something resembling utter carnage. This is fine for the first while as seeing the on-screen mayhem is pretty damn cool, but as the numbers of robots increase the sense of skill that it takes to navigate the levels and take out the robots gradually gets replaced by a sense of sheer dumb luck as you leap around and blast the enemy like a frantic Kangaroo in the mating season. Sure, you narrowly dodged that missile while leaping over a pack of chainsaw robots, but it feels more like a coincidence rather than skill . This can also lead to some major difficulty spikes where you simply find yourself flooded by the incoming horde, forcing you to just hold down the fire button and hammer  jump in a vain attempt to stay alive and make it to the next level.

Still, persevering against the tide is well worth it as your hated foes will drop nuts (not the eating kind and not the fleshy kind, but the metal kind) when they die which serves as the games currency, allowing you to purchase new items for your character to wear or shoot. They also often drop loot boxes which unlock plenty of gear for you to play with, which is where the real meat of Shoot Many Robots comes from, employing the same tactic of getting players obsessed with loot which has made Borderlands and games like Torchlight so goddamn addictive! By simply going to the shower in his RV (don’t question this stuff) the mighty Mr. Tugnut can buy a variety of gear to don, from guns to hats to pants, each offering various stat boosts and, in some cases, new moves such as being able to slide and use ground pound attacks. At any given time you can lug around two different weapons with which to fully carry out your destructive goal: one primary that never runs out of bullets and one more powerful secondary that can even annihilate entire screens of enemies but has a limited ammo supply. The primary weapons are your standard affair in terms of design, offering up such classics as sniper rifles, shotguns and pistols, but the actual amount of weapons  to choose from is staggering, and each of them have their own stats and, sometimes, bonus abilities. The secondary weapons offer far more destructive power and as a result also offer some of the interesting designs, such as Atlantean Freeze rays and massive mini-guns that can rip up the enemy hordes in record time. Once you’ve finished with the weapons its own to the apparel, and its here where the games customisation really shines as each of the three items of clothing you can don offers radically different stat boosts. For example, one rather fantastic paper bag offers over 400% extra damage at the expense of having almost zero accuracy – sure, it means that wielding a sniper rifle will be a pointless exercise, but it can make a flamethrower a force to be reckoned with! Should it take your fancy you can equip fairy wings that give you a ground-smash attack  or an astronaut helmet which lowers the strength of gravity, allowing you to leap around like a maniac. Or perhaps you’d prefer a jetpack to blast around the levels with or a baby carrier that offers absolutely no statistical benefits but will make all the girls say, “awwwwww”. The range of stats and designs on offer is superb, allowing you to both tailor Tugnut to your playstyle and to your terrible sense of fashion. My character happily ran around in his underpants and astronaut helmet for much of the game, leaping around like some sort of demented chimp on a sugar-high. And like Borderlands the simple acquisition of loot can keep you playing for hours, always driving you to play just one more of the fairly short levels in the hope that you’ll gain a new toy to play with or lovely new piece of clothing that finally completes that pink outfit you’ve been working on, you big cissy.

And special mention must be made of the games wacky sense of humour that turns up in almost every item description. Sure, it’s not comedic genius but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t usually smiling the entire time I was shopping for new gear as I happily read through the descriptions.

It’s a good thing  that the loot drives you forward as well, because ultimately Shoot Many Robots biggest flaw is also the most obvious: it gets monotonous quickly. There’s certainly no deny that simply blasting your way through must be the worlds entire robot supply is entertaining, but when you’re fighting the same baddies over and over on simplistic level designs it does begin to drag, especially when you take into the consideration the games love of just throwing enemies at you like there’s no tomorrow, which, presumably, there won’t be if the robots win. A run through the singleplayer will last you quite a bit because of its rather interesting nature: complete the Normal levels and it opens up a new set of Hard levels, and complete those and you’ll be given access to the Insane levels. This is all very well and fine but the levels really don’t do anything to set themselves apart from each other and the increased difficulty simply means even more bloody robots with bigger health bars.  By time I had beaten the final level on the Normal mode my interest was  already starting to wane faster tha a depressed Lemmings love of life.  Still, the allure of getting my grubby mitts on even more loot kept me playing for a bit more, but by about the half-way point of the Hard campaign my interest had pretty much hit rock bottom and was showing no signs of picking itself up, dusting off and rejoining the fight. Of course the argument could be made that Torchlight did the very same, simply throwing samey level after samey level at you and loads of enemies with only the promise of loot to keep you going. In all honesty I can’t explain to you why Torchlight was so hugely addictive (I sunk about 100-hours into it) while Shoot Many Robots isn’t, even through it uses the same formula.

But that’s where Shoot Many Robots biggest selling point comes into play: four-player co-op! I’ve said many times before and I’ll say it again,  being able to get friends into the game exponentially increases its fun-factor, especially when the game happens to be loot driven as there’s always that drive to show off that new shotgun/jetpack/cowboy hat that you picked up during the last level. To avoid the inevitable arguments over who gets the loot that plagued Borderlands, Shoot Many Robots opts to have color-coded loot and nutsacks. You can stop sniggering, you little bugger, nutsacks are simply bags of nuts for you to spend, offering a nice bonus for your destructive skills. Stop it. Stop. Good? Good. Of course you can only pick up the loot and nutsacks that match your color while the rest of the nuts gained during a level are shared out amongst the players at the end of the level. Showing off each piece of new gear you’ve acquired to friends is addictive and helps to drive the game forward, and of course the simple joy of working in unison to destroy the robotic hordes helps to the monotonous nature of the game at bay far longer than if you’re just playing by yourself.

The game’s levels are pretty basic affairs, simply tasking you with moving from left to right with the screen occasionally locking in place as you have to fend off a few waves of enemies before moving on. Sometimes the levels have a go at providing two different routes, but it doesn’t really matter which one you choose to tread. At times you’ll also take part in Survival levels, which are exactly what they sound like, pitching you against waves of enemies in a fairly small level, but ultimately these do little to break up the pace off the game as you’re once again just blasting robots. Not helping is the fact that the enemy AI’s ability to navigate these environments is a little questionable. Quite often in levels you can find bits of the environment that you can stand behind without fear of the enemy being able to reach you, allowing you to simply blast away and rack up the kills. Again, survival levels are far more fun with friends as you hold back the enemy tide Simply said the level designs in Shoot Many Robots are instantly forgettable, which is a shame.

At least those levels look good, though. Shoot Many Robots features a cel-shaded graphical style that suits the game well, and again gives it a slight Borderlands feel to it all. The levels, the enemies and Tugnut himself all look great and the animations are solid creating an all-around nice package that’s back up by some awesome backing music that sets the tone of the game perfectly.

In case you hadn’t already guessed it from the tone of this review, then, Shoot Many Robots isn’t a game I can recommend if you’re looking for a singleplayer side-scroller, unless you happen to be completely loot obsessed, that is. Indeed, Demiurge should be commended for choosing to keep the game simple and at just 800MSP it’s not going to break the bank, and it is fun for a while, but it grows tiresome quickly. However, as a co-op game played with a group of friends it’s a fun time that should keep you playing for a good while, even if it is only so you can show off your character.

The Good:
+ Playing dress up and ending up looking like a reject from clown school.
+ Co-op!

The Bad:
– Gets monotonous.
– Later levels simply hurl enemies at you like mad.
–  Needs more enemy types.

The Score:

Graphics: 8.5
Shoot Many Robots is a very nice looking, there’s no denying that. The art style gives the game a unique flavour.

Sound: 7.5
The sound effects are solid and the music is superb, even if it does repeated itself a bit too much.

Story: 3
Look, robots! Shoot the bastards!

Gameplay: 6
Fun for a while, but gets old quickly. With three other players it’s a blast, though.

Lifespan: 7
There’s actually a lot of levels in there and a hell of a lot of loot to unlock, but the repetitive gameplay will likely stop you from playing long before you get your mitts on everything.

The Verdict: 6.5
A simple game that doesn’t set out to challenge your beliefs, make you think or even tell you a story. Instead it just wants you to shoot robots, get loot and have some fun. Sadly that also means it’s a repetitive game that can’t really be recommended for those looking for a singleplayer game.

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