Dreamworks films and their game counterparts have been hitting a bit of a lucky streak as of late. The games for Shrek 2, Shark Tale, and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events were all well received by the media and the public. Robots, based on the movie of the same name, attempts to continue this streak with impressive visuals and big name voice talent. Unfortunately, when all is said and done, it ends up feeling more like a rusted version of what it could have been.
The most impressive aspect of the game is definitely the graphics. Before production of the game, the game developers met with Blue Sky Studios, the animation studio responsible for the movie, and the two shared ideas and concepts. This really shows through as the characters and locals Robots seem to be taken straight out of the movie. While there isn’t any fancy lighting or bump mapping going on here, you can tell that a lot of time went into the look of the game. Rodney Copperbottom, the hero, definitely had the most attention put into him, as you’ll notice all the little details on his frame right down to his joints. He also animates fluidly, but still conveys the sort of stiffness that robots are known for. NPCs and enemies are generally good looking as well, even though they lack the detail put into Rodney. Locations aren’t bad to look at either? especially the final stage where you’ll see a few cool heat effects as well as some well rendered pools of lava. One huge drawback, though, is that the level design is quite repetitive with each level drawing its look from a pool of no more that four or five basic locations.
The sound is another high point of the game. The score is surprisingly catchy at times, with fun and upbeat tunes. The downside, though, is the fact that there aren’t that many songs in the game. Like the levels themselves, each location has its own theme, but there just aren’t enough themes to make a varied soundtrack. The voice acting is also pretty good, with some big name stars added to the cast. You won’t be hearing the likes of Robin Williams in the game, but Robots‘ voice cast does well to bring the characters to life. One minor drawback is the fact that every time Rodney dispatches an enemy, he spits out some incredibly lame one liner like: “Robot go bye-bye!” It’s cute at first, but becomes incredibly annoying very soon.
Unfortunately, this is where the game takes a nosedive for the worst. The biggest problem is, of course, the camera ? it never seems to show you what you need to see. In wide-open spaces, the action is shot at an overhead view, angling downwards. This makes it incredibly difficult to see what’s above or in front of you; and because so much of this game consists of jumping onto platforms above, sometimes doing so is just a crapshoot of whether or not you’ll land or fall to your doom. Luckily, there’s a first-person mode, so you can always enter that if you’re not sure what’s in front of you. Though you are able to manually control the camera at any time using the C stick, the camera always seems to be fighting with your control. It’s difficult to position the camera to look up or down, though spinning it around Rodney seems to work okay in open areas. In tight corners, the camera just gets more and more confused and difficult to control. Camera control becomes obsolete in these situations because anything with collision blocks the camera ? this includes walls, enemies, and Rodney himself. This becomes a huge issue later in the game when every level seems to position you in some tight area and asks you to jump onto some tiny platform. The camera refuses to cooperate and if you try to rotate it behind Rodney when he’s blocked in by walls, the camera just runs into the wall itself. It would have been so much better if the camera were allowed to go through at least the player character so you could position the camera behind him at any time.
Getting the camera to show you what you want to look at is only half the battle, though. The game is designed without enough leeway for those who misjudge their jumps. Many moving platforms you must jump on only remain in range for a split second, meaning you’ll have to battle the camera into position and gauge how far you’ll jump in that amount of time. To make matters worse, Rodney’s jump and double jump maneuvers go on the fritz every now and then. If you stand too close to any sort of object and attempt to jump, your jump height gets cut in half, and you get knocked back down to the floor. It just doesn’t make any sense to me that if I have to jump onto a block, I have to back away from it first. The least the designers could have done to alleviate this problem was to make Rodney’s ledge grab move a bit more useful. Sure, Rodney can grab onto some of the ledges and pull himself up, but the key word here is some. Instead of a helpful tool for those who just barely miss jumping onto a platform, this move becomes just another way to solve jumping puzzles, and Robots was designed so you can only grab onto a few ledges in the entire game.
Okay, so you’ve battled the camera, and managed to figure out the jumping mechanics. Congratulations! You’re now ready to take on the incredibly boring and remedial task of playing this game. It’s one thing to include a fetch quest or two to lengthen a game, but it’s quite another to make an entire game based on them. About 80% of Robots consists of you searching throughout a level for pieces to create a new invention. Once you finish your search and create that invention, you just have to go into another level and do the same. To make matters worse, the inventions you make, which are supposed to become helpful in your quest, are barely used. You’ll move a total of about six boxes with your Magnabeam throughout the entirety of the game and there’s even an invention you’ll only need to use one time.
The strange thing, though, is that the first hour of the game seems to show a lot of promise. The game begins with Rodney’s dad running our young hero through a training mission, telling him to pick up ten blueprint pieces by means of his different abilities. The next level eases the player into the game with another simple fetch quest ? this is all fine and good to me as I believe the first segment of the game should be about teaching the controls, and fetch quests are a completely acceptable method of doing so. There’s even a fun little racing segment for a change of pace. After that, though, you start to notice the trend of the game as you’re required to pick up more blueprint pieces and you’ll even have to complete side fetch quests to earn pieces for your main fetch quest. It’s utterly ridiculous and totally annoying, thanks to the whacked out camera and controls. Luckily, you’ll only have to suffer through it for about five hours, since the game is so short.
The sad fact is that Robots tries to draw you into a terrible game by way of a pretty package. There are a lot of cool things, like talking to NPCs (who usually do nothing but spit out something useless like: “My jaw piece is rusty? I should get it fixed.”), buying weapon upgrades (none of which you’ll need because combat is a joke in this game ? you can beat 97% of the enemies with nothing but your melee attack), actual movie footage cut between levels, and cool inventions (which you’ll rarely have to use). There’s even a hefty amount of unlockable behind-the-scenes material. But even so, almost everything that pertains to the gameplay is completely and utterly broken. After you finally finish all the fetch quests, though, the game becomes a little better. The final level seems like the game the designers should have strove going for, with a sort of Prince of Persia-esque “find out how to get out of this room” puzzle. If the game were more like this level, it would have been more enjoyable. Sadly, this one level is all there is of anything that resembles an entertaining product.