So many games in recent memory have tried to ape the old aesthetic of titles we all know and love. In some cases, these games can feel trite and stale, relying solely on nostalgia to pull you through and offer up experiences that only feel familiar. In other cases, you’ll find games that try to offer up something that those old systems couldn’t even dream of handling. With Robbotto, JMJ Interactive was able to strike the right balance of new mechanics and nostalgic design to make a rewarding and fresh take on the platformer and, more importantly, the co-op experience.
On its surface, you can sense the look they were going for, clearly honoring the original Mario Bros. or Bubble Bobble games of yesteryear. Levels are locked to a single screen and you’ve got a character who can do little more than jump. But comparisons to these classics quickly fade as a far more engaging experience presents itself. Honestly, this isn’t a game that depends on visuals or aesthetics to keep pulling you back in for more.
The premise is simple: as a single-player experience, you find yourself as one of the robots with a simple job: to eradicate all other robots in each level. The tools at your disposal are an electricity gun and a water hose, which allow you to do exactly what you’d think by spraying the other robots with electricity and then dousing them with water. The earlier, dumber robots are easy to take down to start and never feel like much of a challenge. It’s when they start introducing new robots with new mechanics – such as the ability to shoot or heal downed allies – then the game starts to really trip you up.
The levels can prove interesting and thoughtful by yourself, though eventually they can start to feel like it’s possible to brute force your way with relative ease after multiple deaths. Since dying only resets your score and starts you back at the same level, you can feel okay with just pushing on and on unless you’re trying to rack up the best score possible.
If you have someone to play with, however, Robbotto really starts to shine in the one area you’d expect it to: cooperative play. In co-op, each player take roles as separate robots aptly named Robb and Otto. Starting out on either side of the room, your job is largely unchanged: kill the robots! Once you’re faced with your first enemy, you’re met with a huge hurdle that changes everything: each player gets their own gun. That means one robot gets to shoot the electricity while the other needs to spray it down. The enemies you electrify only stay stunned for a short period of time so if you miss your opportunity to spray him down, you’ll need to keep trying.
There were a handful of levels I played by myself that took longer than I’d like to admit, only to breeze through them in half the time with a partner. Inversely, ones that I expected to be a breeze took far too many deaths and far too much time to finish.
It’s a simple, yet excitingly unexpected design mechanic that makes for a truly cooperative experience, forcing players to communicate and work together more effectively. It works in such a way that plays just different enough from single player that it makes it one of the better co-op experiences I’ve had in some time. It’s hard to explain how well this experience feels until you pick up the controller for yourself and play Robbotto with a friend. It’s a fine solo experience if scoring points is your primary goal, but smart co-op elevates it to another level players would be unfortunate to miss.