DEVELOPER: Heatbox Games
REVIEW PLAYFORM: Steam
RELEASED: 2/15/17 (Early Access)
I don't think there are many gamers alive who haven't played and/or conquered Tetris in some way. It is the iconic puzzle game that has outlasted a lot of its predecessors, challengers and copy-cats. So when a building game comes along where pieces fall from the sky, it's hard not to compare the all-time reigning champion in this field to what's been created. But unlike other developers, Heatbox Games has no shame in comparing itself to Tetris with their new game Robots In The Wild, which came out on February 15 for Steam's Early Access.
The premise of the game starts you off with the idea that robots are roaming freely throughout the galaxy with their own ships and whatnot. One particular ship is hit by an asteroid, destroying the vessel and spreading pieces throughout the solar system you're in and beyond. The Menu Bot and a couple other personality bots manage to repair themselves on a display screen and must set out on a mission to retrieve all of the Heart Bots they lost who have been running the ship. It's your job to protect those bots on those planets for an extended period of time until a rescue ship arrives.
At the top of the screen you'll be given options of pieces you can rotate and drop down. Each one containing a specific design that will allow you to build and concentrate resources. A good example, three specific blocks aligned in an L-shape will produce a Pew Pew Bot, which will fire in a direction away from your base to kill enemies. You need to pwer this bot, so arranging the bots in a figure eight design will create a Dwelling Bot that produces energy to fuel the guns and other electronic gadgetry.
While the controls are pretty simple, the gameplay is a hassle. You have the ability to build and remove pieces from your base, but you have no control over the order the pieces come out in, meaning there are many times you'll be wasting materials you may need later just to get to better materials you need now. The benefit is that if you don't like the design of the base or need another pass at creating something, the option is open. As enemies pile up you'll be able to ward them off in various ways, but you'll be put to the test frequently as missions can last several days before help can arrive. You base has the chance of being decimated by the life on these planets and you'll need to rebuild something better before they reach the center.
The biggest issue for Robots In The Wild is probably memorizing and building. For starters, sometimes you can lay down every piece exactly how it needs to go to form a specific bot, but the bot won't materialize because just one of those pieces may be connected to something else or not have the proper configuration. If you click on the heart you're protecting, it will bring up a menu you can browse through to look at designs, but you'll have to do it all by memory as there's no way to display it on the main grid to follow like a blueprint or look on it for reference after exiting. So far too often you'll be designing something that doesn't work, or a pattern that's slightly off because you remembered it wrong.
The real saving graces for the game are the design and personality. The main robots are cute as hell and there's no denying they're fun to interact with. The designers put personalty into the game with a hint of fourth-wall breaking that has a fine charm to it. The robots you create and monsters you fight against are also cool, like an upgraded version of Plants vs. Zombies. It's a neat trick on their part to take simplistic characters and give them a better sense of personality to make you more invested in the game, and it's one that many other designers overlook more than they should.
Robots In The Wild is a pretty good puzzler, but it's hampered with a wonky building design that leaves little room for error and a massive learning curve. You're basically going to approach the game through either trial-and-error or memorization and practice. Both are going to be time consuming, but once you get the patterns and designs down, the game gets really fun. Maybe not a game for younger kids, but definitely a building block for teens who need to improve memory and coordination skills. For adults, it's going to be more of a trip down memory lane with a twist and some personality.