It’s a rare joy, reviewing a game that you know you’ll come back to again and again, but that’s what Insane Robots offers.
Insane Robots is a quirky little card-based battle royale game, complete with trash talking robot enemies and mini text adventures (think The Walking Dead’s text choice gameplay, but without the timer) interspersed through each map to try to keep things fresh. And it does, to some extent.
While this game is not perfect, Insane Robots is very good. The premise of the story is that you are a Franklin-series robot, designed to be a chef has just had his memory wiped, for the crime of asking questions. The question of where, exactly, are the humans in this exclusively robot-filled world? The punishment befitting of this heinous act is, of course, death by combat — unless you can get to the end of all eight tournaments and talk to the robot boss, the Kernel. For those of you already picking up on the robo-puns, strap in, it’s going to be a long ride. For everyone else, don’t worry, there are plenty more where that one came from.
From here, you’re thrown into your first bout of combat. At its most basic, battling is easy to the point of boredom: you need to complete your attack circuit (put down two red squares) to attack the enemy. If they complete their defence circuit (put down two green squares) in time, they can stave off, or at least absorb some of your attack. Rinse and repeat until someone gets turned into scrap. Fortunately, as you progress there are all sorts of modifiers to your attack and defence, ways to interfere with the opponent’s circuits, and even ways to deal direct damage — the sum total is a respectable combat system which is fairly well balanced. You can also augment your robot as you play through the campaign to help the odds stay ever in your favour.
My biggest problem with the game, however, is that as much as I love card games — it’s no secret that I’m a massive Magic: the Gathering fan — there’s no way to edit your deck. Some of the cards you draw in Insane Robots are basically useless. The ‘Glitch’ card, for example, is just as likely to buff your opponent as it is to debuff them. There’s also the fact that your defensive modifiers (for example, the one that deflects damage taken and hits the opponent with their own attack) get used (wasted) if you attack. Since you can’t remove the chaff from your deck, you’re just at the mercy of the believing in heart of the cards each turn, and that way madness lies.
These aren’t the only problems of course — enemies can steal the random loot drops that are spread out across the map, and you don’t get to collect these on their death. On that note, it is entirely possible to kill an enemy and get zero loot dropped — this will happen an irritatingly high number of times towards the end of the campaign. You’ll also begin to notice that not all enemy units will attack each other, as you’d expect in a battle royale game. Some units just pass each other by, and then dog-pile you, resulting in a profoundly unfair ass-whooping.
These are but minor grievances, however. If you step back and look at the game as a whole, what you have is a charming, witty game, that is beautiful to look at, and a pleasure to listen to. The soundtrack is a jaunty little futuristic thing that perfectly matches the tone and style of game. The colours are vibrant, and there are plenty of little touches that help make the game that little more endearing, like when Franklin completes his defence circuit, his bow tie becomes a little shield badge, and when you complete his attack circuit, his emoticon-style face display turns all angry. Couple that with the one-liners, like the spy unit who says “Let me see if you have Intel inside” when attacking an opponent, and you’re onto a winner.
Then, of course, there are the other things that you’d expect from a battle royale — a large roster of playable characters, each with their own backstory. Since the mission dialogue is identical, no matter your chosen character, you only see this if you go looking for it in the random pickups dotted about the battle maps. You could easily play the game with one character without out seeing a single of these. There is also a range of two-player modes and a ‘quick battle mode’ which is, to be frank, just a survival mode where you save between rounds.
Interestingly, the Insane Robots official website boasts an “epic 15+ hour single-player campaign”. It would be remiss of me not to mention that it will likely take you more than 15 hours to complete this. In order to complete the game in a satisfying way, you need to level up more than one (ideally eight) different characters, and that is going to take some time. Which brings us onto Insane Robots’s strangest dichotomy. The game is good for the long grind, but the combat gets so repetitive that the grind will wear you down. This isn’t a marathon game like Skyrim or Bastion— more a jump-in, jump-out game like Super Meat Boy or The Binding of Isaac.
Insane Robots is a brilliant little game. It’s far from perfect, and I can’t help but think it’d be much better on the Vita than the PC/PS4, but I wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone who likes card games, games which require grinding, or anyone just looking for something a little cute and different.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*
- A beautiful game world with witty writing and an engaging soundtrack
- A fairly well-balanced card-based battle system
- There are plenty of characters with unique base augmentations
- There are hours of play on offer here
- This is not a deck-builder, and you cannot remove cards you don't like
- You are entirely at the mercy of the random number generator
- The dialogue doesn't change between characters – they all say the same thing, making the game robotic in a way the devs probably didn't intend
- Gameplay gets repetitive quickly enough that you can't play this for hours on end without getting bored: this is more of a 'little and often' game