Twin-stick shooters are all pretty much the same, right? Not really. The two best examples of the genre, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 and PixelJunk Shooter, are quite different from each other. Microbot — an effort from developer Naked Sky published by EA — comes in somewhere in between those two, but it has an identity all its own.
Microbot is the tale of a tiny robot injected into a person to battle some sort of technological infestation. We’re never given any sort of context for this; the entire game takes place from the perspective of the tiny robot. Given that, Naked Sky sets the mood perfectly — sounds effects come in muted tones, and the music is quite sedated and never uptempo. The environments are beautiful and the colors luscious yet dark; the swirling blood and plasma in which you swim around are entrancing.
Microbot (PS3 [Reviewed], XBox360)
Developer: Naked Sky Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: January 04, 2011
Because of that mood, I never felt tense while playing Microbot, even though it’s just as frantic at times as any arcade shooter you’ll play. There’s an almost existential satisfaction to playing it; it creates a feeling of calm inevitability in the player. You’re here to do a job, no matter how long it takes, and you will get it done. Yes, I blew up, but that’s part of the process and I will finish this. In the environment, soft shapes give way to hard edges as you move closer and closer to the source of the infection to nurture a growing feeling dread, but the effect is subtle and creates a nagging feeling in the back of the mind rather than overwhelming the general mood.
It’s really a quite marvelous feeling, and I’ve not experienced anything like it in a game since Flower. Unlike Flower, though, there is little strong emotion in Microbot. It’s not a feel-good experience, and the act of finishing the story is not so much satisfying in the traditional sense as much as it is a quiet appreciation for the completion of a life’s journey. Indeed, this tiny robot has completed its sole task in life, and it can now, finally, rest.
Gameplay is varied and grows in complexity as you progress, and you can customize your little robot in a huge number of ways. You’ll earn many different weapons, defenses and even items that drastically change the way you move, and you can arrange them in in way you want, even going so far as to, say, put seven electric rotors and no weapons on the bot; this actually works really well, because you’ll move very quickly and you’ll slice through your enemies.
The game gains value with a another pair of features. You can play single-screen co-op, and there is a Challenge Mode in which you get one life to try to survive as many levels as possible. For the “value-conscious” gamers (aka douchebags), this is a plus, but I don’t feel these modes make the game better; having a friend play with you negates the somber mood the game creates, and a mode in which you play in order to move up on a leaderboard feels antithetical to Microbot’s journey. These are hollow additions.
And the truth is you don’t need extra value because Microbot will only run you 800 MS Points/$9.99 on PSN anyway. And for your money you get a a truly artful and thought-provoking spin on the twin-stick shooter. It deserves to be played.
It’s just a beautiful experience, man
Entrancing design, from the environments to the sound
Extra features feel tacked on