There’s been a slew of good sidescrolling games as of late. It’s like the summer is the perfect weather for redefining classics, and it brings out all the indie guys in droves. So with the season of creation at the helm of what seems to be another spread of months with similar pedigrees of quality we dive into Bad Bots.
Bad Bots is the brainchild of Vanni Del Moral, who’s no stranger to the genre as he developed another sidescrolling shooter in the form of The Hive. While the games do share some similarities, Bad Bots is a thing unto itself, and plays much differently. The plot is simple standard videogame fare; you’re on a ship where a rampant AI takes control of the robots on board, and turns them against the crew. Strange that we’ve collectively reached a point in society where we can even say that, but alas here we are. While the setup itself may not be that original, there is certainly opportunity and room to create something new and exciting here.
Sad to say while Bad Bots may be making an earnest attempt at being a good game, it isn’t taking any risks in gameplay or structure. You’ve got a melee weapon, and you’ll gradually find more and more weapons to combat all the psychotic robots that inhabit the ship. These will range from a basic pistol, to the most oft used machine gun, and a handful of special weapons that pack a more powerful punch. Shotguns, explosive rifles, and other experimental goodies are few and far between but they are definitely fun when you obtain them. While the weapon variety is pretty cool it’s almost the only thing that the game has going for it.
Level design is the first thing that starts to become cumbersome. The levels in the game aren’t always designed with clear indications of where you should be going, or how to even get there. Instead you’ll be relying on your own memory and sense of direction to navigate the behemoth level sections. This is made all the more frustrating by the fact that there is no map to speak of. None whatsoever. It’s almost as if the developers wanted you to memorize every single little twist and turn as you go along in this gargantuan maze. Supposing that could be taken as a compliment there is that ounce of positivity to be taken out of the complaint. The levels are so large in scale that navigating them becomes complicated. This is probably exacerbated by the fact that the levels are almost ubiquitous in design. The same color palette, and spread of background graphics repeats over and over.
In continuing with the established tone of monotony, Bad Bots also presents very little variety in the types o f Bots that you’ll be sending to Robo Heaven. You’ve got robots that wield knives, robots that shoot guns, and smaller robots that zap you with electricity. Bosses do a little bit to mix up the action, but for the most part you’ve got a cast of about 3 enemies that you will constantly be turning into hot piles of bolts. While that may be good for the sake of creating easy cannon fodder for you to mow down without prejudice, it also lacks any sense of impetus after a few hours. Instead the game will rely on mixing more of its level design elements into a system of threats to work against you in new ways. It does this, seemingly at the cost of just adding in a few more enemy types, because there’s such a larger variety of traps and hazards.
Even more perplexing was the game’s choice to be almost entirely devoid of any music at all, which is actually a weird thing to bring up as a point of contention but there it is. It’s a conscious choice on the developer’s part as it turns out, but one that puzzles and baffles. For starters, almost every great game has been accompanied by similarly amazing music, so the notion that a game could just largely skip including that element is a bold choice. Sure it could probably be pulled off by deft hands that are skilled in the art of building tension like a slow fire in the snow, but this is a sidescrolling shoot em up game. If there isn’t some pulse pounding driving beat to propel my action, I’m going to think something is wrong. Therein is the second part of this, the game is lacking music to an extent that you’ll likely think that something is wrong. So what may have started as a simple omission for the sake of being edgy, cool, or just cheap has ended up making the game feel empty and lifeless.
The final driving nail in the coffin is the control scheme. Playing with a mouse and keyboard is a chore, but playing with a gamepad doesn’t fare much better as it turned out. Jumping is mapped to a quick flick upwards of the left thumb stick, which also happens to be the primary means of moving your character around. This means precision jumping is basically impossible, but it also means that you’ll jump a lot when you don’t want to, or you won’t jump when you do want to, and all kinds of wonderful variations in between. Shooting is controlled with the triggers, and the right thumb stick aims your weapons. Shooting works well enough when you aren’t being chased by hordes of robots (this is never) but it breaks down pretty quickly when you’ve got a lot of jumping, shooting, and weapon swapping to manage all at once. The punishment for not mastering these arduous controls? Well, most enemies lock you into never ending loops of damage and pain when they hit you, so there’s that to look forward to.
Bad Bots is a great idea for a game brought down by a lack of variety or legitimate innovative challenge. The game does little to nothing for the genre it resides in, offering almost no compelling reason to purchase it. Bad Bots could become better with more options, DLC, or other additions, but as it stands it’s a game that should have spent more time thinking about how to challenge its peers instead of just aping them.