Saturday, September 16

Review: Robonauts [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]

As you may have gathered in my reviews I’m a big fan of challenging games like roguelikes and I absolutely love intense arcade-like challenges. Based on that when I saw footage of Robonauts I was pretty excited, it looked like it had the elements of what I love and that I could spend some serious time racking up high scores and kicking butt. Out of the gate it felt like that would be true. Then, a number of worlds in something changed for me and it started to feel a lot less fun. The problem wasn’t really the challenge so much as it just wasn’t compelling me to get back in and play more, I just did it to play it more. While the game looks and sounds great it makes me sad to say that overall I really haven’t enjoyed it.

Starting with the positives the game absolutely looks great both in handheld mode and blown up in docked mode. It is colorful, the environments are detailed, there’s a Mario Galaxy-esque vibe to the mini planets you’ll be able to jump to, and the enemies are distinctive. Similarly the music is pretty upbeat and catchy, though perhaps not 100% fitting the action on screen. There’s no doubt that a lot of time and care was put into making these aspects of the game positive ones, and in fact many people may decide to take the plunge based just on these factors.

Where things begin to go downhill for me is in the area of control, one of my biggest pet peeve concerns. The problem here isn’t with dodgy jumping (or double-jumps, you games know who you are), it is with the auto-aim. Essentially you’re able to use the left joystick to move side to side and the right joystick is unused… with no option to change this. As a result, especially when either on the small planets or anywhere in proximity to a planet that is close by for you to jump to, you’ll often find yourself aiming everywhere but where you want to be aiming. Enemies will come at you from all sides, and ultimately you’ll want to take them all out, but there are enemies that are far more lethal than others as well as spawn points for new foes to emerge from. Too often you’ll end up aiming at something weaker while a tougher monster is wrecking you and you’ll have no control over the situation. It’s one thing when your reactions and skills are what’s holding you back but being mostly helpless in any given situation to improve your odds is infuriating. It’s even worse when the second joystick is readily available, meaning this could have been avoided. Another note in this area is that the availability and usefulness of power-ups is erratic. Your base weapons will do some damage but to really be effective you'll want one of the various gun or bomb upgrades. Unfortunately they show up unpredictably and you can't save them for later so you'll too often end up wasting them on lesser enemies. Another way there could have been a little more strategy put into the mix to help enable people to have more success that was missed.

Another, perhaps more critical, area is tied to the difficulty curve moving up pretty dramatically and yet aside from merely completing the levels to do it I didn’t get any sense of motivation going to do so. There’s really no story, my score is tracked but it’s mostly an afterthought, there aren’t any leaderboards, and there really aren’t objectives to think about. As you’ll play you’ll get some random achievements that will show up, and I suppose that’s nice, but with the lack of aim control and the aliens that are able to damage you pretty quickly if you’re not paying attention there’s a lot of stick in the game but I didn’t see any carrot to go with it.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the game does support both 2 player co-op and head-to-head modes. I’m not sure that co-op does much more than spread out the misery in the end but the head-to-head mode at least shakes things up and provides some diverting entertainment for you and a friend if you’re both the in the mood. Since I don’t think of it as a game primarily geared towards the head-to-head play while it is a nice add-on, though, I’m not positive how much it can redeem the issues with the single-player campaign.

Summing things up Robonauts has a ton of things going for it in terms of presentation but when it comes to the control and the big picture of content it falls down pretty hard. Perhaps if there had been an advanced control option where I could take on the task of aiming myself I wouldn’t be as disillusioned and I’d spend more time being frustrated with myself not being up to the challenge rather than cursing where the game is choosing to aim at any given time. While the first few levels work and feel great once things get more crowded and chaotic it falls apart. I can appreciate a game that is difficult, challenging you to come back and perform better. When it is asking you to do so with one hand tied behind your back I find it much harder to find my enthusiasm.

Score: 6


  • Looks great whether in handheld or docked mode
  • The music, while not a perfect match for the action, is great
  • The head-to-head mode goes with a different direction of things and can be fun


  • The auto-aim, with no option to aim for yourself, makes things a real mess mid-way through the campaign
  • The difficulty slope is quite steep, though the control issue exacerbates this
  • Power-up availability is erratic and they're easy to waste as you can't hold them or switch them out
  • Even if you enjoy the game and get through the campaign the lack of an arcade/endless mode with leaderboards is an opportunity missed

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