This holiday season Xbox 360 players undoubtedly are revving their chainsaws, saving Vegas, or pampering their piĂ±atas. With Microsoft releasing some of its most anticipated titles, will gamers have enough time (or money) to venture into Naked Sky Entertainmentâ€™s RoboBlitz?
Naked Skyâ€™s first Xbox Live release stars robot, Blitz, on a mission to save both his space station and home world from a slew of invading mechanical space pirates. With the aid of a friendly engineer-bot, Karl, they must maintenance a lunar space cannon to destroy the orbiting MegaNOED and pirates before it reaches their planet.
Blitzâ€™s space station contains 6 different sectors: the Distribution Plant, Security Vault, Coolant Tower, Ammunition Depot, Radar Station, and Electrical System. The various sectors must be prepared in order to fire the space cannon, and they also act as the gameâ€™s level structure. They can be accessed through the main hub any time throughout play. This presentation suits the game wonderfully and gives a non-linear flow to the game. By taking Blitz into any of the sectors, you will find they are separated into three levels, the third being a boss battle with a NOED - testing your reflexes and problem solving in order to take the NOED down and complete the sector’s maintenance. Accessing one of the missions in a sector plays out like a mini puzzle. It’s a clever delivery of what would have been expected as a textual menu.
Each sector is unique in the type of puzzles it throws at the player. For instance, the Security Vault sector is filled with lasers. These laser unlock the vault by aligning a mirror system, thus coordinating the laser beamâ€™s energy into the locks. Other sectors like the Ammunition Depot will have you guide missiles into place for the use with the lunar space cannon, while the Radar Station requires you to go down into the underground caverns and restore power to the radar tower, and so forth. Each of the 19 levels are filled with unique and enjoyable puzzles that give you some freedom to how you complete them. Coupled with Blitzâ€™s upgrades from Karl, there is a bit of replay value just coming back to the levels later on through the hub.
Also connected to the hub is Karlâ€™s lab where you will be able to spend your accumulated Upgradium (the gameâ€™s currency) on new upgrades for Blitz. Each upgrade is rather unique and lends itself to the physics-based gameplay well by changing the way you play. The first gameplay changing mechanic is the point-to-point tool that allows you to attach a barrel (or any other loose item) to another or even to a surface. With this ability you can chain a stream of pipes, barrels, or boxes to use as a massive weapon against the mechanical invaders, making for some creative yet fun combat. Again later, once Karl has built you the tractor beam, you have the ability to propel yourself to any location you desire and then use the beam to swing with momentum. Swinging around the space station like Tarzan with the tractor beam and bouncing off the walls with the numerous Jump upgrades is a lot of fun and very useful to obtain some of the hard to reach Upgradium. Both of these abilities prove that Naked Skyâ€™s physics engine can be pretty impressive and entertaining to play with.
Along with the Tractor Beam, Karl also equips Blitz with an assortment of weaponry such as the fireworks launcher, EMP rifle, hover gun, and more. These will aid you in defending yourself from the invading space pirates as you begin maintenance on the various sectors of the space station. Unfortunately, the additional weaponry is not where the game excels, as some weapons like the pulse cannon are hard to use against the miniature villains. And once youâ€™ve received the fireworks launcher, thereâ€™s no real point in using anything else to take them out. In addition to those gripes, purchasing the speed upgrades can make steering more difficult if you have yet to adjust to the momentum based system.
Blitz himself is a multi-talented robot, able to equip an assortment of weaponry along with using his arms to lift objects. Due to the physics engine that Naked Sky has meticulously created, players will often find themselves frustrated that Blitz sometimes struggles to clasp a barrel or crate in his arms. Occasionally, you will find yourself bumping into objects that you mean to lift or use in some way and be forced to try again. Furthermore, some of the larger objects like poles may end up being lifted from a different angle depending how youâ€™ve used Blitz to pick them up, and thus drag on the ground hindering Blitzâ€™s movement. There was a few times where I had found myself at the mercy of the physics engine, making little progress trying to carry a cog to the other side of the environment. This is one of the rare occasions where the physics engine disappoints, marring the very enjoyable experience that it brings during a lot of the gameâ€™s puzzle solving. The physics engine is by no means perfect but this seems to be a design flaw that perhaps could have been avoided.
RoboBlitz is a several hour affair, some may be able to complete it in 4-6 hours, but for those that enjoy playing around with the physics engine puzzles, there may be some more fun to be had. The single player component of the game features two difficulties, Technician and Master Technician. Technician allows you to play through the game with the added bonus of unlimited lives throughout each stage. If you die mid-mission, you can pick up where you left off. This difficulty is of course, very forgiving but not as challenging as Master Technician which requires you to restart each level upon death. As an added bonus for playing on Master Technician, there are unique achievements for completing the game under this difficulty, offering a slight bit of extra replay value if achievements interest you. When it comes down to it though, once you know how to deal with each puzzle, going back to them might not seem so interesting, other than to collect the remaining Upgradium.
From what I understand though, Naked Sky Entertainment plans to eventually release a multiplayer component through the Xbox Live Marketplace as premium content. After enjoying the physics engine and getting a taste for the robot life, I am interested in some multiplayer mayhem. It could certainly add legs to the game’s replay value. Unfortunately though, this method of content distribution may displease some players as it did with Lumines Live! Let’s hope that Naked Sky doesn’t release a costly addition.
Among the rest of the Xbox Live Arcade roster, RoboBlitz is perhaps the best looking title available today. The Unreal 3 Engine proves to be very impressive in its application. When you consider RoboBlitz is under 50 MB, itâ€™s safe to say a game this good looking (and at this price) is an accomplishment in game development. You’ll immediately notice the unique visual style that the Unreal 3 engine renders, each environment is filled with excellent texturing and detail. This proves to be a great backdrop for Blitz and his cohorts the robotic pirates speeding around the station. Each weapon offers a unique visual effect, sometimes over the top, but very impressive. My favorite being the fireworks launcher that sends its victim flying in the air with a toss of bloom lighting. Naked Sky has done well visualizing Blitz’s domain.
These excellent visuals are supplemented by a great effort within the audio department. RoboBlitz is filled with an ambient techno-like soundtrack that fits in well with the space station environment. From the sound of rockets flying through the air, to various robots chattering throughout the space station, Naked Sky has done well to please my ears.
With all that said, RoboBlitz is a reminder that Microsoft has created an excellent medium for independent developers to prove their mastery. At its core, the game is founded on a terrific physics engine that makes for an enjoyable sci-fi puzzle-solving romp. The 1200 ($15 USD) price point makes it hard to recommend when you realize there are a plethora of excellent titles out for the Xbox 360 this holiday season, but despite its flaws, I would recommend RoboBlitz to gamers looking for an alternative to the big action titles dominating the market today. This quirky game is perhaps one of the best releases on the Xbox Live Arcade in recent months.
Final Score: 7 out of 10 - Above Average (how do we rank games?)