Space Robinson Review: Feeling Lost in Space
The makers of Space Robinson: Hardcore Roguelike Adventure would like you to know that you are going to die. If the game's title wasn't enough to clue you in, the game's advertising copy is sure to drive that point home.
The first three sentences all contain the word "die" in them, and it features prominently throughout, SOMETIMES IN ALL CAPS. Although it may all feel a bit much, it is nothing if not fair preparation for the experience that awaits you when you first step into your lonely space marine's shoes.
There's Nobody to Hold Your Hand When You're Alone
It's not unusual for roguelike games to keep direct instructions and storytelling to a minimum, but Space Robinson takes this nearly to the extreme. After a bare minimum explanation, you are dropped into an abandoned space station. As you wander around, you'll find a variety of rooms with broken machinery, a hub asking you to deposit gems, and a teleporter.
If you visit a machine, it will tell you what you need to turn it on and gain its benefits, along with an explanation of how to find that magic item to get it going. Some clues are easy enough to deduce, even if the execution may prove somewhat less so. Others remain a total mystery to me still after many hours of play, and it's clear that this lack of clarity was a design choice, not an oversight.
You're similarly provided minimal guidance about what awaits you through the teleporter, or what you're building toward every time you clear a level and move on to the next stage of the level.
None of this is game-breaking by any stretch of the word. This isn't an Elder Scrolls game brimming with libraries of lore and countless mechanics to work through. Designers want you to dive in head-first and learn by dying, and if you do, you'll likely have the hang of it in short order.
If being dropped in with little explanation to go off sounds like a frustrating experience, however, this may not be the game for you.
Shootin' and Smashin'
If you know what a roguelike is, and you know what a shoot 'em up is, you pretty much know exactly what you're getting with Space Robinson. While there may not be anything particularly noteworthy which takes the genres and pushes them in a new direction, what it does deliver is thoroughly competent execution of the concepts. In turn, it leads to a perfectly enjoyable experience as you blast your way through one alien-infested zone after another.
Once you find your rhythm in Space Robinson, you'll know that shoot 'em up doesn't quite describe the game; one of the most essential tools at your disposal is the large wrench you can use to bash enemies to death. Many of the upgrades you'll discover on each level focus on making your melee attacks more productive, and some of the most OP builds you'll encounter involve stringing together several melee power-ups together.
By the time your wrench is freezing enemies it hits at the same time it launches out a spray of bullets with every swing, you may wonder why you're even bothering to carry a gun in the first place.
A Lot of Variety in a Little Space
While Space Robinson may not be the largest game you'll ever play, credit is due to the developers; their efforts to cram as much variety as possible into such a small framework stand out. Every stage is procedurally generated; each playthrough is about reacting in the moment. It's less about memorizing the optimal pattern of progression.
The game also throws a handful of different types of guns at you, as well as a selection of modifiers like automatic fire or bouncing shots. All of these combine to make for a diverse range of firepower.
Similarly, the enemies you face provide a refreshing amount of variety for a simple 2D-engine. While some levels introduce upgraded versions of prior enemies, as you progress from level to level, you'll also encounter new styles of enemies that present unique challenges.
What's more, every stage contains both day and night modes, and when the sun goes down, you're forced to reckon with a swarm of enemies that explode when killed. While hunkering down and waiting for daylight can often be the safest course, you always have to remain wary of getting hemmed in with enemies spawning on both sides of you. Even shooting your way out can be hazardous when every corpse becomes a bomb.
Finally, the game offers variety in the stages of each level. The first stage is a simple map crawl where you're dropped in at one teleporter and tasked with reaching a second. For stage two, its more of the same, but a mini-boss is added to the mix. Finally, in stage three, you must hold the fort against a series of enemy waves while your teleporter charges up. While they aren't vastly different, it still beats a simple "the same thing only more of it" approach to escalation.
- High-speed gameplay is action-packed
- Power-ups and modified weapons make each life different
- Three-tiered approach to each level provides variety
- Lack of guidance will not be for everyone
- Minimal development lowers longevity
- Controller problems caused frustration
My experience with Space Robinson was not perfect. The glacial pace and minimal effect of development mean that players who struggle with the gameplay early may have a hard time getting over the hill and finding their rhythm. My efforts to try the game using a gamepad were also for naught. The game kept my aiming cursor locked in one direction with minimal ability to move it, rendering it utterly useless despite attempting with both the PS4 and Xbox options the game lists as supported methods.
Forced to play on keyboard, I found the default key layout incredibly frustrating as it forced me to abandon movement anytime I wished to activate a teleporter or reload a weapon. Rebinding made the keys workable, if not exactly flawless.
At the end of the day, however, I enjoyed my time fighting through the game's procedurally generated levels. If you enjoy shoot 'em up games, there are much worse ways to spend a few hours than with Space Robinson: Hardcore Roguelike Adventure while playing your favorite band or podcast.
While it won't be something you're likely to pour 60 hours into, its affordable price tag makes that less of a concern. For less than a ticket to a movie, you'll get a few nights of fun and gun action.
[Note: A copy of Space Robinson: Hardcore Roguelike Adventure was provided by Good Old Games for the purpose of this review.]