There was a point in time where phones, tablets and other mobile devices became powerful enough for people to say that it’s like holding a small computer in one’s hands. Since then, “experts” have been declaring the end times for PC and console games as we know it, as mobile devices will become the main platform for all of our gaming needs.
While I understood the basis behind that logic, I never quite believed in the hype. It is now years later and still, mobile devices aren’t respected as platforms to have meaningful gaming experiences on. Honestly, I’d have no problems accepting my powerful smartphone as a valid alternative to my Vita or 3DS, only if they showed me the games that I can point to and say, “now that’s a must-play game that couldn’t have been done better in any other way.” I’ve been waiting for that title for years now and unfortunately, the wait continues, as Bad Bots is not that game.
The story of Bad Bots begins as Sam awakens in the space cargo ship, “Titan Hauler”. He finds himself trapped in a trash compactor and while looking for an exit, finds “Mother”, a robot companion claiming to be the record keeper of the vessel. Sam wears Mother on his back (ala Ratchet and Clank) and goes on a quest to find out just exactly what happened to all the crew members of the ship. Even from that brief synopsis, I would wager that almost everyone would be able to guess not only what happened but also what will transpire as the game progresses. Thus begins my first major complaint of the game.
Whenever I dive into a new game, I try to cast aside as much of my preconceptions as possible, and while I understood that the story in the genre of 2D action platformers often tend to be throwaways, I had hopes that I was in for a pleasant surprise. When the game began and the exposition started rolling in, I thought to myself, “it can’t possibly be that cliché. Surely this obvious plot direction is a red herring for a devious twist to come!” A few hours later, the credits rolled and I was left in my seat with the palm of my hand firmly pressed against my face. The disappointing story aside, at least the presentation of it is decidedly retro and endearing in its efforts. Still, considering the nature of the genre, if the game play was great, the throwaway story could’ve been forgiven or perhaps even completely ignored, but that also suffers from a myriad of poor design choices.
First, I must mention that I played the game using a wired 360 controller as that is my preferred method to play dual stick shooters. Using this control scheme, the button to jump is up on the left analog stick. The problem with this is that pressing up-right or up-left will often times not register as jumps or will register as a jump without any forward/backwards momentum. I can’t stress how frustrating it can get when I’m trying to make, what is for all intents and purposes, a simple jump and then fail repeatedly because the control scheme is poorly thought out. This could’ve been easily remedied by giving the players a way to customize the controls, but that is not an option. In fact, the options are scarce to the point where there wasn’t even a way to turn on vertical sync, all the while there’s constant screen tearing throughout the game.
Luckily, outside of the platforming, the shooting itself works well. Blasting away hordes of robots is quite satisfying, at least for a little while. The handful of types of enemies the game has to offer runs dry quickly and it’s not helped by the fact that the seven or so boss battles in the game felt uninspired and forgettable. In fact, I was able to beat the vast majority of those bosses by simply jumping and shooting in a matter of five to ten seconds. The game also attempts extend its length by locking the player in “quarantine”, where waves of enemies kept coming until a set number was destroyed. These rooms are entirely too frequent and served as nothing more than a lazy way to inflate the playtime.
Also, while the game offers a few powerful secondary weapons, how they’re handled makes the variety feel almost non-existent. The player carries a main rifle and a secondary, dropped from weapon boxes in the level. The problem is that in order to swap a secondary weapon, the firearm one is holding at the time must be discarded and ammo doesn’t stack unless the player is already holding that weapon to begin with. What this means is that if the player has a shotgun with 1500 bullets but wants to pick up a dual-barrel rifle, he must leave his shotgun on the ground and go with the new weapon with minimum amount of bullets.
If that sounds like a terrible idea, it’s because it is. This encourages the player to pick a secondary and basically use it for the whole game making all the other weapons more or less obsolete. There was one particular boss fight that forced me to use a different weapon, but outside of that, it was me and my trusty shotgun to the bitter end. When it comes to weapons, it’s always better to give the players more options. More and more games are going with the whole “the player can only carry two-three weapons at a time” design motif, and it oftentimes hurts the game more than it helps it, this being yet another example of the former.
The levels also do not offer much variety as each room bleeds into the next seamlessly in a giant bland mess. In fact, the overall atmosphere is irreparably damaged by a lack of something we’ve all come to expect, music. I’m not saying that the game has no music, as it does in boss fights and odd places here and there, but for the vast majority of the campaign, all the player will be hearing is the sound of gunfire and one-liners from robots that seemed to repeat more times than the number of digits to π.
I was so bewildered by its lack of music that I actually contacted the developer to see if I was encountering a glitch of some kind. He responded by saying, “There is music that plays during gameplay but only comes in to accentuate select moments like boss battles.” While understandable, I find that it’s better to accentuate select moments with silence and not the other way around. After all, we all know the profound effect music has to influence us both physically and emotionally. To cast that aside completely for the idea of making a few select moments feel more significant is a massive misstep and the quality of the game suffers for it.
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning the game also has a challenge mode which is a test of skill to see how many points one can rack up in a minute, and offers things like combos, which are not present in the story mode. The campaign will last around two to three hours depending on how often the player manages to get lost (at least four times for me). Even adding in the trivial personal leader board challenge mode there really isn’t much of a game here to justify the asking price of $9.99.
In the end, Bad Bots feels and plays like a game made specifically for the Android/iOS market and then sloppily ported to the PC. Perhaps it makes sense for a game on the phone to not have much music since the player would have the sound turned down anyway. In fact, maybe it makes sense that the game is repetitive and bland so it can be a piece of forgettable bite-sized gaming anyone can pick up for a few minutes at a time. Unfortunately, all of that is irrelevant here. This is the PC market, where great games are being released every week, vying for the attention of players who’ve come to expect more. Step up your game or don’t show up at all.
Fun Tidbit: Check out Cave Story+ if you’re interested in indie 2D action platformers.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.