This could very easily be the shortest review I’ve ever written. Ready? Here we go: Shoot Many Robots is a game in which you shoot a lot of robots. That’s it. That’s all the information you need to decide whether or not it’s worth your time and money. Off you pop.
Still here? Oh, fine. I admit that there’s a bit more to it than that, like, ooh: while you spend pretty much the entire game wandering from the left of the screen to the right while shooting a truly astonishing number of robots (certainly “many”; possibly even lots), there are an equally astonishing number of weapons and equipment pieces, all of which interact in interesting ways, and the ability to go back and retry past levels means you can go earn cash and gather equipment whenever or however you like, or improve on past performances to unlock later levels. It’s hard to get “stuck.”
This also helps keep the game compelling. It’s a system fairly similar to that used in Outrun 2006, in that almost everything you do will result in new toys. Die six in times in a level, and you’re just racking up experience points. Redo a previous level, and the randomised drops mean that you’ll probably unlock at least one new gun or piece of equipment.
But we’ll talk about those in a minute, because first we should probably discuss the actual shooting. At first glance, this is a side-scrolling shooter reminiscent of Contra or Metal Slug, but it’s based more around over-the-top chaos than precision play. By and large you’re getting swarmed by enemies, big and small, and shooting constantly results in a cathartic waves of explosions, damage numbers, and sprays of nuts (the game’s currency). You’ve got a reasonably large health bar, a supply of beer to top it up, and regular checkpoints to restock your ammo and alcohol levels. Interestingly, this isn’t a twin-stick shooter; the left stick controls movement and aiming while the left trigger can lock you in place for precision shooting, and a face button shoots, which might sound a little odd but it works reasonably well.
You’ve also got multiple ways of fighting. Aside from your two weapons – and, yes, we’ll get to those shortly – you can punch, which knocks enemies away and also returns any red rockets fired at you back to sender. You can also float in mid-air, perform an aerial stomp, or slide into your opponents to send them flying.
At least, you can with the right pieces of equipment. Other than your two weapons (a primary weapon with infinite ammo, and a more powerful secondary weapon with limited ammo) you can also equip three pieces of gear: one each for your head, chest, and legs.
These pieces of equipment massively alter the way you play. You can’t slide unless you have something equipped that “lets” you slide – be it a hockey mask on your face, or kneepads on your legs, or a boombox on your back. If you want to float, then you’ll need a jetpack, or a propeller beanie, or a grass skirt. It all makes sense in a weird pseudo-logic sense.
Which is the other thing about this game I want to impress upon you before we get into the nitty-gritty of the equipment and experience system: this is an amusing game. It’s not generally laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s got that sort of light-hearted sense about it that makes everything seem a little brighter, and it throws so many jokes at you in equipment descriptions and loading screens that, even if most fall flat on their faces, a few will catch you off guard. I can’t think of another game that claims an All-American rifle raises your “Patriotism” stat by 15%.
Alright, yes, now we’ll discuss the guns. The first thing to know is this: there are lots of them, to the extent that “hundreds” might not be much of an exaggeration. They range from pistols, sniper rifles, machine guns, and shotguns, through to flamethrowers, rocket launchers, miniguns, ice beams, pet carriers loaded with explosives…
Each of these has subdivisions of their own. Each rifle or sub-machine gun will have a few superior versions, and variations with different stats. This one does more damage, while this one has better accuracy, and this one shoots through enemies, giving you the chance to hit more than one foe with each bullet.
All of this, of course, ties into the rest of the equipment. Maybe you’ve just bought a new flamethrower, but it’s not proving effective because it’s not doing enough damage. But then, if you equip this hat then you’ll get critical hits more often, and this chest ups the base damage for all weapons and gives you extra jump height, and then with this leg-piece you can float so that you won’t even need to go near the enemies…
The equipment is lumbered with a slightly cynical (but acceptable) micro-transaction system, and while that’s usually a four-letter word, I’m not all that upset about how it’s been employed here. In short: you can spend your Microsoft Points to either buy nuts with which to buy equipment, or to purchase item unlocks. It’s cynical simply because getting new equipment is a big draw, and it’s very, very tempting to shell out real money when you’re a few nuts short of a new gun. It’s acceptable because, frankly, grinding is very rarely a barrier to success. It’s easy to get more nuts, and the game throws unlocks at you at such a rapid rate that there’ll always be something new and shiny available. This isn’t a case of having to shell out money to succeed, or to avoid lengthy amounts of grinding, unless there’s a particular item you really, desperately want.
In general, finding ways to use the equipment system in order to break the game in your favour (however temporarily) is fun. You don’t have to do it – I’d wager that, if you’re skilled enough at side-on action, you can get through just about any situation in the game by simply using whatever new equipment you’ve unlocked – but if you’re into that sort of thing, it’s a fascinating meta-game that reminds me more than a little of Diablo’s loot-hoarding sensibilities. In a good way.
I say almost any situation, because one of the few things about Shoot Many Robots that may give you pause is its difficulty. The campaign is divided up into three divisions of difficulty – Normal, Hard, and Insane – and while most solo players should be able to clear Normal without hitting too many snags, Hard is aptly named, and only the best will be able to conquer Insane without support from buddies in co-op. There’s a huge amount of content in each section so even if you “stop” at Normal you’re unlikely to feel short-changed, but be aware that tackling the higher difficulties will likely require assistance.
And while most of the aesthetics are fine, with solid sound effects and music that ranges from wailing rock to the sort of string-plucking that makes you wonder if Stevie Ray Vaughn or Ry Cooder had a hand in this, I’m also not entirely enamoured of the game’s art style… to the extent that I almost want to call it drab. It’s Borderlands-chic, I suppose, but not as nice. While there are some bright colours, it’s all very “wasteland”, and it doesn’t have the artistic vision of something like I Am Alive to create beauty in its bareness. It hardly matters when the screen erupts into full-blown chaos, as it so often does, but you could be forgiven for looking at the screenshots accompanying this review and going “That looks ugly.”
But if there’s one thing most gamers seem able to agree on, it’s that graphics don’t make the game. Shoot Many Robots is a wonderfully chaotic arcade blaster with enough big numbers and big explosions to please fans of carnage, with shooting that – while not as tight or precise as Contra – certainly demands a fair amount of skill as players get further in, all married to an unlock system that’ll keep you playing long enough to get that far and enough silliness to keep you smirking.