Friday, April 9, 2010

Indie Game Review - Mechanoid Army

I've mentioned that I like "cute" (like teddy bears and kittens) in ways that grown men probably shouldn't. It's not something I'm proud of but, hey, we all have our faults. I also like robots. This isn't quite as embarassing as liking cute. So it figures that I REALLY like cute robots. Yes, I think R2D2 is adorable. Yes, I wish I had a real working "Johnny Number Five". And yes, I cried at WALL-E. Also, I'm broke as hell and enjoy my games cheap. It isn't fair, then, when there's a decent-looking platformer for three bucks where you control a small handful of cute robots, but that's exactly what Mechanoid Army is. A game aimed at all of my weaknesses.

Mechanoid Army, from developer Mancebo, puts you in control of a captured robot in an effort to keep a kill-everything-in-the-universe army of robots from wiping us Earthlings out. The entire game takes place on the army's ship (both inside and outside) and has you avoiding, jumping on, or in some cases taking control of other robots in standard puzzle platform action in an effort to collect nuts and get to a goal. Your ABSOLUTELY ADORABLE main character robot can jump and carry small objects. The other three have different abilities. One is huge and can carry other robots but can't jump and is slower than a director's cut of King Kong. One is quick but that's really about it. And the third has a jetpack. Let me rephrase that. Ahem. THE THIRD HAS A FREAKIN' JETPACK. There. We can move on now.

The visuals in Mechanoid Army look great. Everything is rendered in 3D (the game is a 2D platformer but hey, it looks better this way) and there's some seriously impressive lighting for an indie game. There's even a stage where you need to carry a light around with you in an otherwise dark level. There's also the common green light = good, red light = bad, no light = sad motif going with the eyes and, though cliche, it does give a little more character to the robots. The meteors and sawblades (the little bit you see them) don't seem to have the same level of detail as the robots and the explosions feel a little tacked-on, but it's a minor gripe. A major one, however, is with the camera. It moves back and forth with explosions and footsteps. Sure, I can see the reasoning behind it, but it absolutely destroyed my head. I felt like I was watching Cloverfield, it shook that much. (If the developer reads this, put a patch on the game to make that optional. I had a headache all night.) The music and sound was mostly forgettable, though the boingy death noises were a bit on the adorable side.

I did draw some issues with the controls. One, your metal hero doesn't jump immediately upon pressing A. I had to get used to that. Two, there's only one jump height: floaty. Doesn't matter how long you press the button. One jump height, one jump speed. This is especially annoying in the low-gravity outside levels where a little tap of the A button sends you flying for about six seconds, maybe more. And three, the move-in move-out ability (think Little Big Planet). This doesn't need to be in there at all and only can lead to frustration or confusion as not a single stage uses it. Luckily, the game isn't horribly fast-paced, so these issues don't become dealbreakers. They just become annoying for anyone who has played a platformer in the last ten years.

Speaking of annoying, let's touch on the length of the game. It weighs in at less than an hour, and that's even if you die a disgustingly large amount. The worst part about it is that, during this time, you go through 15 stages. So you start a stage, see some sort of cool ability or idea, and then you're on to the next stage. Except for the two low-grav stages. Those take forever, and they're the worst stages in the entire game. There's no justice in the world, I tell you. Even the final stage does this, having you use each robot's ability exactly once before giving you the exit about a minute after its start.

In the end, it's difficult to recommend putting three bucks into this when Kaleidoscope, PixelKiller, Arkedo's Jump! and Arkedo's Pixel, and a few dozen other platformers on the service are better and longer than this. A longer game with more familiar controls and a focus on puzzle elements (rather than going outside and floating for half the time you play) would definitely have been to the game's favor. Mechanoid Army does a few things really well but, in the end, the surprisingly short length puts the game further down the list than the idea itself deserves.

Mechanoid Army is available on XBox Live for 240 MS Points. Played the game through to completion and had a headache the rest of the night. Excuse me, I need to go watch WALL-E now.


  1. you forgot (or maybe intentionally left out?) Apple Jack, which is my very fav platformer on XBIG. I also think Supercow and Space Milkman are pretty good to boot. But with so many great (or at least good) platformers out there, it takes a lot to distinguish a game from the pack.
    Too bad about Mechanoid Army ending up not super great...

  2. When I wrote this, Apple Jack was still being made. ;P I wasn't as huge of a fan of Space Milkman and Supercow as I was of the other ones I mentioned, but yeah they're good stuff.