MicroBot preview: Inner conflict

MicroBot is the first and only game I've played where your character is introduced to the world through the needle point of a syringe. The "world," as it turns out, is actually a living human body, pumping with plasma and microscopic ... enemies? Your character's intent is ambiguous in MicroBot, but it's clear upon picking up the controller that, like so many other games, your goal is to destroy everything that might pose a threat to you. What those things are and what you're doing inside the body, however, remains a bit of a mystery. (Surely those evil nanites don't deserve to be in here.)

The first thing that struck me about MicroBot -- a top-down Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network shooter from EA and Naked Sky Entertainment -- was the impressive graphics engine, a proprietary solution from the dev team. Sure, you're controlling a MicroBot on a 2D plane, but depth of field trickery shows off various happenings in the body in the forefront and background, giving the environment a grander scale despite its 2D perspective. And the game's procedurally created world assures that no two playthroughs of any environment will be identical.

The second thing that struck me was the game's sense of momentum. As a robot floating around inside a human body, careening in any particular direction too fast could result in an accidental death. It also gives the environment a more dangerous presence. Our worry? Who knows what happens to a human when robot parts are left to scatter throughout the internal organs.%Gallery-105174%


Click to un-Micro.

MicroBots are customizable, too. Three slots allow for three separate power-ups, based on movement, firepower, and health. "Atom" is dropped by defeated enemies, with new enemy types dropping "data files" as well. "Atom" is the currency used to upgrade bots, and "data files" represent new upgrades that become available to purchase. The more data files collected, the more upgrades become available, allowing you to optimize bots for speed, strength, firepower, or some mashup of the three.

The action itself isn't anything groundbreaking or brand new. In fact, it's a lot like PixelJunk Shooter, only with the emphasis on environment-based gameplay replaced with a seemingly deep customization system. As you might imagine, it controls like other top-down 2D shooters -- one analog stick is used to steer and the other for shooting. Navigating the human body with a co-op partner (couch co-op only, I was told) adds an interesting dimension to the gameplay, especially when employing your bot's grappling hook. Outside of grabbing enemies with the hook and swinging them into other baddies, you can equip a buddy's bot with all movement or health upgrades and tether it to your ship, consequently dominating all in your path.

MicroBot might not be a game changer, but it's got all the right ingredients for an enjoyable digital diversion. With a debut scheduled for Winter 2011, we're hoping it has a chance to stand out amongst the Q1 flood.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.