X360F review: RoboBlitz

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X360F review: RoboBlitz

has had a lot going for it from day one. Since it was first announced, it was something special. Oddly enough, the hype surrounding RoboBlitz had little to do with gameplay, but rather the fact that the game uses Unreal Engine 3. Of course, that's a huge claim coming from an Xbox Live Arcade title that has a mandatory size cap of 50 MB. RoboBlitz's other major bullet point was physics driven gameplay. According to Tian Mu, co-founder of RoboBlitz devs, Naked Sky, every element of gameplay is driven by physics, right down to character animation. All in all, RoboBlitz was trumpeted as a game that could redefine the retro-friendly Xbox Live Arcade. We spent a good week playing RoboBlitz, delving into its physics, killing baddies, and, ultimately, finding out if it lives up to its promise.

The story behind RoboBlitz is simple and adequate to the task. You are Blitz, a service droid of sorts, whose job is maintaining the Space Cannon, a huge orbital weapon. Long story short, space pirates -- from space -- invade the Space Cannon with the intent of bending it to their nefarious will, and it's up to Blitz to stop them. In order to do this, Blitz has to get all the cannon's systems operational so that he can blast the space pirate leader into tiny metal bits.

Lucky for us, most of the cannon's systems can be configured by solving a series of physics puzzles. You've got to love that "outside the box" design ethic. As an example, the security system requires Blitz to redirect lasers with mirrors so that they contact the right nodes. Some mirrors can be operated with a switch, while others will have to be picked up and put in place by Blitz -- who must avoid being roasted by the lasers himself. Other puzzles require Blitz to create levers, carry items -- like fuel drums -- to their proper place, or simply reaching the right switch. The puzzles all make enough sense, and most people shouldn't have too much trouble solving them (there's an optional hint system if you get stuck, though).

Now, no game would be content to let you solve puzzles unimpeded, and RoboBlitz is no exception. There are enemies aplenty in RoboBlitz from the wobbly little pirate drones to the nasty flying NOEDs, the game's boss characters. There is a wide assortment of weapons in RoboBlitz. The most basic are Blitz's grabby arms, which he can use to grab things. The most useful things to grab include boxes and barrels, which can in turn be used to batter enemies. The next item in Blitz's arsenal is the EMP rifle, which briefly incapacitates enemies. In conjunction with the grabby arms, the EMP can also turn an enemy into an impromptu cudgel. Blitz's other offensive weapons include the pulse cannon, firework launcher, and suck mortar. The firework launcher is an amusing twist on traditional rocket launchers. Instead of merely blowing enemies apart, it sends them flying sky high, exploding in a festive shower of sparks. Nice.

While the offensive weapons will get the job done, it's Blitz's other weapons that bring the most enjoyment. The antigrav cannon shoots balls of goo that makes any object float in the air (enemies, too). By far the most interesting device is the Point-to-Point beam. The P2P beam creates an attractive force between multiple objects. For example, shoot one node onto a box, and shoot another node onto the ceiling. The result is a box dangling from the ceiling, tied to it with a beam of energy. Almost any object will be affected by the P2P beam, including boxes, barrels, and enemies. Using the P2P to screw with enemies may be the most entertaining part of RoboBlitz. It's easy to connect two, three, even four enemies together. If you're lucky, you might even get two of them to crash into each other and destroy one another. You could always just let them dangle from the ceiling, too. The last item is the tractor beam, which acts like the P2P, except the origin is always Blitz. Lighter objects will be drawn toward Blitz -- very handy if you're lazy -- and Blitz will be drawn toward heavier objects. This makes the tractor beam a sort of grappling hook, which allows Blitz to explore previously unreachable areas.

The graphics, as expected, are exceptional for a Live Arcade title. The edges are sharp, textures are clean, and it (usually) moves at a smooth clip. The graphics could easily pass for a polished original Xbox title. The setting is a little bland and devoid of any organic elements, which may be off-putting to some. Still, RoboBlitz sets the graphical bar for Live Arcade at this point. The sound design is adequate, though nothing special. The music is good in that 80's sci-fi kind of way, but it's not exactly memorable. The achievements are simple enough, most of them rewarding players for reaching a certain score or obtaining certain upgrades. We'd like to go on record that the "Spartan Blitz" achievement -- beat the game without buying any upgrades -- is insane.

RoboBlitz definitely isn't without its faults. It's not a game for everybody, as it's neither straight puzzles nor complete action. It strides a middle ground that fans of old school platforming will probably appreciate, but the frustration that that entails may be too much for others. As entertaining as it can be to mess around with RoboBlitz's physics, they are also its most annoying feature. There are times when Blitz is brought to a complete halt by a tiny bump in the floor. Sure, it might be physically accurate, but it's definitely not fun -- especially if you're running away from an enemy. Another frustration is that crashing into the wall at a certain velocity can cause serious damage to Blitz, which can make the tractor beam a risky proposition. It's annoying to die when you're only trying to reach a higher platform. Also, we actually managed to trap a boss in such a manner that he was unable to escape and unable to expose his weak point. This was especially frustrating as the in-game hint system actually suggested that we find a way to corner the boss.

These (occasional) annoyances aside, RoboBlitz is a very decent game. It's not for everyone, but anyone that appreciates a platforming challenge will find something to like. Right now, it stands as one of the most complete experiences to be had on Xbox Live Arcade, and it's definitely worth 1200 points -- especially considering that free multiplayer is coming in 2007.

Final score: 7/10

[Note: Our score might go up if the mutiplayer turns out to be good.]
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