Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto…
Shoot Many Robots delivers precisely what its title promises in this chaotic side scrolling run and gun shooter. Is it worth your downloading though? Read on to find out.
Game: Shoot Many Robots
Developer: Demiurge Studios
Price: 800 Microsoft Points
If there is one thing you wouldn’t be expecting out of a game called Shoot Many Robots, it would be a story — and you’d be quite right. Shoot Many Robots is set in the ‘robotcalypse’, and you as a stereotypical gun toting, RV driving redneck have to fightback by shooting many robots.
You don’t have to be alone in your stand, as you can bring along up to three redneck friends. Four players can join in online, whereas local multiplayer is bizarrely limited to just two players.
The campaign takes you through farmlands, mines, cities, sewers and factories, but there isn’t much sense of journey nor crescendo as areas are recycled multiple times in each campaign. There are three campaigns to contend with, each split into multiple acts which themselves split into a number of levels.
The first campaign – “Normal” – has 6 acts of 3 or 4 levels each. Some of these levels are in the form of survival modes, where you have to defeat wave after wave of enemy in a small area, while the majority are traversals from A to B, segmented by checkpoints, where robot encounters and ambushes are many. When totalled with the two further campaigns, “Hard” and “Insane”, Shoot Many Robots comprises 61 levels and hence many hours of content.
Your robot enemies come in all shapes and sizes, though you will get used to seeing a few again and again. Choppers are the robots swarm unit, and you’ll often be taking these on by the dozen. Things get a lot more difficult once you throw in the flying hummers the stand-back-and-shoot tankbot, and many more.
As the game progresses bigger and badder versions of each enemy type will enter the fray. The enemy variety isn’t exactly ground breaking, but, unlike the occasional boss fights which are both formulaic and repetitive, it is satisfactory.
To oppose this robot horde your redneck is given a couple of weapons and some melee capabilities. Primary weapons have infinite ammo, whereas the secondary special weapons are much stronger, but have limited ammo.
As you blow robots to bits, you collect nuts which serve as the games main currency and scoring system which you can use to buy better equipment. Nuts fall off disabled enemies, having to be picked up before they disappear, and you are rewarded for killing quickly with an increasing nut multiplier.
To buy a particular weapon or piece of equipment, you need to have a high enough level to use it (you gain levels as you collect nuts), you need to have discovered it by finding it in a random loot drop or hidden crate, and of course you need enough nuts.
Primary weapons vary from pistols, SMGs and Assault rifles to blunderbusses, sniper rifles and flame throwers. Special weapons are more exciting — rocket and grenade launchers are the duller companions to gnoming launchers and the ice ray gun which is my personal favourite.
Clothing ranges from bat wings and jetpacks to a magic crown or a working propellor beanie. These give you a multitude of bonuses such as increasing bullet damage, reducing the effect of gravity, giving you more ammo, or increasing the damage of your melee attacks. I was particular smitten with my Emperor’s New Pants, which doubled my nut sucking capacity. More than anything, it’s improving your character that will allow you to cope with Shoot Many Robots harsh difficulty curve.
There is a lovable irreverence to the the whole system, and if Shoot Many Robots has a unique-selling-point, it is this: which other game allows you to fly around in a pink fairy costume and tutu with a flamethrower on full blast and a gatling gun at the ready? Which other game tells you that your stars-and-stripe fangled assault rifle increases your patriotism by 25%? And which other game tells you during the loading screen that mashing X will make it load faster? It should be noted that descriptions and weapon names are occasionally profane.
If there is one thing Shoot Many Robots does deliver on, it’s humour, something all too rare in video games, and the audio and visuals only enhance the light hearted theme. Shoot Many Robots is presented in a pleasing cel-shaded 3D, though gameplay is always restricted to a 2-D plane, and there is a constant twang of country music in the background, while your deaths are signified more often than not by that scream.
So Shoot Many Robots is funny, has decent graphics, good music, lots and lots of guns, and while there is no story to speak of, that only serves to get you to the action faster, but how does it play? Well, unfortunately Shoot Many Robots lets itself down where it matters most with the gameplay.
The problems start from the very questionable control scheme which seems to have taken no pointers at all from the twin stick shooter system which is now industry standard for most arcade shooters, whether it’s a space-based game like Geometry Wars, or a gun toting one like Shadow Complex. The developers of those two fine examples and many others knew what Demiurge seems to have missed, which is that having movement and aiming controlled by the same stick is an absolute nightmare and ruinous to precise gameplay.
So movement and aiming are both on the left analog stick, and the fire button, as opposed to being on the trigger as you’d expect, is the X face-button. A is used for jumping, and B for melee and batting back enemy fire. Mashing the right bumper replenishes your health with a swig of beer, and the left bumper is used to revive friends. The left trigger is used for jet packing, and locking your movement so you can aim properly. Using a lot of the left trigger to aim down the sights makes Shoot Many Robots survivable, but it makes the game much harder, and much more frustrating than it would be as a twin stick shooter.
Had the left trigger been used for jumping, the right for shooting, and the right stick for aiming, Shoot Many Robots would be twice the game it is. Instead, gamers are treated to an experience which is hard because it’s incredibly fiddly. Before long most players will be flustered by the sheer awkwardness of dodging, aiming, reflecting bullets and shooting back all at once in a game which is happy to throw 20 enemies at you all at once.
Batting back enemy bullets (big and red to aid spotting) requires more than a small feat of timing, and you will often find yourself wondering how you didn’t connect to that one. Much more of the time you’ll struggle to even see them coming, as these bullets can be obscured behind explosions, scenery, and other enemies, and most deaths will come out of nowhere as you try to deal with the finnicky controls, and the oncoming barrage of attacks. Reviving is equally awkward, and reviving a friend in the heat of battle seems as likely to fail as succeed.
Camera problems add to the chaos, and you’ll often be having to deal with enemies who are off screen. Worse still, the camera in local co-op fails to accommodate both players, often leaving one or both players on the edge of the screen unable to see what to shoot at. Most of the time, Shoot Many Robots is mayhem, and not in a good way.
Due in no small part to these awkwardnesses, the difficulty of Shoot Many Robots is inconsistent, varying between stiflingly hard and a dull grind. The game doesn’t seem to take into account whether you are on your own or as a foursome. As such, playing alone is horribly tricky, especially when front-armored enemies practically require a second player to assist. Not only that, but a lone player will gain nuts and stars much slower which entails grinding to level up enough to cope with later levels.
It’s good to encourage people to play cooperatively, but the game should play well with any number of players, and Shoot Many Robots simply doesn’t. Playing on your own makes everything harder, from getting a decent tally of nuts to getting the stars you require to progress through the game.
Online features are limited: leaderboards are offered for each level, filtered by # of players, and you can search for a quick game which will throw you into a four player game. It doesn’t seem to care much about what it puts you into though, and I found most of these matchups to be perilously unfair. Me and two others with levels around 35 were paired with someone who’d just started, and he was completely incapable of helping us due to his level. Similarly, I was put into a game where one other player was so much better than us that he gobbled every kill.
Due to these flaws, Shoot Many Robots never quite delivers the addictive gameplay it ought to. As opposed to happily wreaking wanton destruction, you’re much more likely to be wondering why you are dead, or why these two checkpoints are so far apart. The most fun you’re likely to have is in kitting out your character with the most ludicrous gear possible, because shooting robots in a princess outfit simply isn’t as fun in Shoot Many Robots as it should be. The difficulty may be too much for a satisfying single player experience, but there is definitely entertainment to be found in co-op.
If you’re going to pick this up, make sure you have some friends to bring along for the ride. At the relatively cheap price point, Shoot Many Robots is a reasonable purchase with a solid amount of content and some genuine laugh-out-loud moments, it’s just a huge pity that a few major and blatant problems get in the way of what could have been a really enjoyable arcade game.