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Robocalypse

Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Tecmo
Developer: Vogster Entertainment
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Strategy/ Real-Time Strategy/ Action

Graphics & Sound:

Off the top of my head, I could name two games that attempt real-time strategy on the DS, but neither are as good as Robocalypse. While it does lack a polished presentation, it more than makes up for it with deep and rewarding gameplay.

Part of the problem with the presentation is the visual design. It is meant to evoke a Saturday morning cartoon show vibe and it does pull that off well, I just don't agree that it fits with the type of game that Robocalypse portrays. I found it a little darker than it would seem at first and the Archie Comics-styled visuals don't convey that feeling very well. While the story is told through haphazard cutscenes, the actual gameplay elements of Robocalypse look very nice. The maps are small and tidy and the units have just the right amount of detail to convey personality and charm. I want to say that Robocalypse looks like a really good Super Nintendo game (like Earthworm Jim) , but I am afraid people won't know that I am complimenting it.

The sound design also suffers from the same problem that the visuals do which is undershooting the target demographic. I am not saying that young kids can't appreciate RTS's, but for one as tough and fun as Robocalypse, even I know that they aren't the same people that watch Spongebob. The music is upbeat and whimsical, while occasionally a robotic lady-friend will tell you the status or your units on-screen. Other than those moments, there really isn't much voice acting either. Most dialogue is either delivered with grunts or moans or complete silence. It really is a shame too, because the units on the field sound charming, and it would have been cool to hear them talk to one another.


Gameplay:

Most RTS games have a epic story that brings the player to different areas and locales in an eternal struggle of historic proportions. Robocalypse doesn't even attempt to try for a serious tone and it pays off. Essentially, you play a nerd named Myron that works in a parts factory for Thermidoom Labs that (for some reason) makes toasters and military robots. You (the nerd) are in charge of programming the A.I. for some sort of super toaster until one day, the factory line accidentally places military A.I. in a toaster. The result is an overzealous sociopathic toaster bent on politely wiping humanity off of the face of the earth. I don't think the story bits were meant to make sense and that is part of the appeal, I suppose; the utter insanity of each situation.

As the nerd, you have to control armies of robots into battle while maintaining all of the other trappings that makes for a good RTS. Scavenger units hunt for resources to bring back to home base. Base uses those resources to build fodder drones that then need to be lead by a Hero robot which then in turn, gets healed by a Medic robot. That is just the basic setup, but Robocalypse does offer deeper gameplay than that. After a certain point in the story, you can upgrade any unit at will (provided you have the resources and factory) and the list of hero types is varied enough to make them all worthwhile at some point in the campaign.

One of the few downsides to Robocalypse is how short it is. 16 missions sounds like a lot, but they only take 10 - 20 minutes each so it flies by fairly quickly. The replay value comes from the multiplayer. Up to 4 people can play wirelessly on any of 18 maps available. If you don't have a friend to play with, this is also a great way to play through a quick skirmish without having to start Story Mode since you can create a game with 3 bots instead. Be careful though, while the cute visuals may trick you, the enemy is more vicious than they appear. Playing against 3 bots is downright tough. I never felt that it crossed into frustrating territory though and everything was balanced, I just wasn't using a good strategy.


Difficulty:

On that note, the single player campaign is short but sweet. There were times when I had to replay certain levels, but it just made me try harder to figure out the best way to approach the situation. There is one level in particular that I must have tried 3 or 4 times. At one point, you have to prevent the enemy robots from entering a cave and you lose the match if so many manage to get inside. At first, I tried to simply eliminate all of the bases that made more robots and I let too many get in the cave and failed. Then I tried to rush the cave right away and found that I was flanked on both sides and lost quickly. Finally, I found that a slow and steady defense toward the entrance was the most effective.

I found the A.I. to be clever and sometimes witty a large majority of the time. However, there were a few moments where I could stand behind them and kill an entire platoon of robots because they had their backs turned to me. It doesn't happen often, but I found it satisfying to be able to take them out quickly so I could concentrate on the main objective.


Game Mechanics:

If you asked me before playing Robocalypse if anyone could nail an RTS game on the DS with stylus control, I would tell you that no one except Nintendo could. The people over at Vogster Entertainment nailed it. They managed to balance a brilliant amount of stylus and button controls. Like Command & Conquer, the image on the screen is just a small part of the battle shown through a viewer on an overworld map. You use the D-pad to move the viewer around the map and tap on the units to issue commands. The tapping is streamlined and the simplicity is beautiful.

Tap a single unit and tap another point on the map to move them to that point. Set up a flag for a group of soldier robots to move en masse without worrying about leaving anyone behind. All of the flag commands stay on the screen for the duration of the fight, so if you need to clean it up a bit, simply tap the flag again to remove that command and issue a new one. It is so simple. I mentioned earlier that I think the target age for Robocalypse is a little low, but the controls were designed so that those kids could play it and it pays off greatly.

Robocalypse is an easy game to pick up and play. Deep enough to keep you playing and rewarding enough to make it seem like 2 hours just flew by. I think Tecmo and Vogster have made the best RTS on the platform and I want to see these mechanics put into a more age-appropriate story. Robocalypse is off-putting at first, but worth the time to see for yourself what kind of fight a renegade killer toaster-bot can put up.


-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

Sony PlayStation 3 Far Cry 2 Nintendo Wii Rubik's World

 
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