Thursday, March 15, 2012

Robofish (XBLIG): "High Quality Shmup Gaming!"

If you have been following me on Twitter these past few weeks you have likely seen me have my meltdowns about the decline of the gaming industry, and the decline of the quality of video games in general. I have voiced my opinions many times on these matters, and I'm about at my breaking point. I was literally about to give up hope on video games until I got 'Robofish' for review. I'm not saying this to endorse 'Sparkrift (the developer)', or anything like that. I mention it simply, because I found a glimmer of hope in Sparkrift's game. I have finally found a developer who knows how to treat their customers right. I have played 'Robofish' for a good while at this point, and I can tell you that this indie game is top quality on many levels. The game is a dream come true in some regards. I don't want to go overboard with the praise though, so I shall continue on with my review.

Robofish is a game that doesn't really have story going on (that I know of?). The game is basically centered around a robotic/cyborg fish that shoots beams, and other weapons at other underwater creatures. The concept is simple, but very complex at the same time. The game definitely excels in the customization department, and this is where the complexity comes in. In fact I have never in my career as a gamer seen a shmup (shoot'em up) with so many customization options. You can customize everything from the Robofish you pilot to the shots, and effects that are used in the game. Aside from customization the game also offers to very important game modes that are necessary for a shmup to really be successful. The two gameplay modes that are included in 'Robofish' are a campaign, and a survival mode.

There are three different difficulty (Calm Waters = Easy, Swelling Seas = Medium, Assaulting Ocean = Hard) settings in both the campaign, and survival modes. Before you begin either mode you will have to choose one, and the increase in difficulty is definitely noticeable. You'll find that the campaign mode in 'Robofish' is exactly as it sounds. It is an objective based mode in which you must make it to the end alive, and destroy all of the enemy sea creatures in the process. You are given one life in which to complete the various levels/worlds in the campaign mode. If you die within a level you have to start over. There is a set number of worlds within the campaign mode that are divided into four different sub-levels each. After you complete a level your stats for that level will be shown (max combo, max kills, score, pearls collected ...). It is possible to get a "No Hit" reward within the campaign levels. There will be a gold star placed by the level's selection image if you are successful in making it through without getting hit. I have done this myself, so it is possible.

The survival mode in 'Robofish' is also exactly as it sounds. It plays out in a similar over-the-top vertical scrolling view as the campaign mode. The goal in this mode is to survive for as long as you can. As you progress further up the screen the enemies will become more numerous, and harder to kill. The only way you're going to survive for an extended amount of time is to upgrade your Robofish. You can do this with the pearls that you collect from fallen enemies. There is a shop menu within 'Robofish' that allows you to purchase various customizations (Weapon Icons, Weapon Graphics, Damage Effects, Robofish Skins, Spread Types, Factory Upgrades, Special Items, Hit Effects, Robofish Upgrades) which can make your Robofish survive longer, and deal more damage. After purchasing your shop items you can put them to use in the 'Factory' menu. Within the factory menu you can customize the angle at which your shots are fired, the pattern/movement in which they are shot, as well as the position from where your shots fire.

Setting up your Robofish requires a lot of dedicated time, and attention to detail. To begin with you will need to pick a weapon icon from within the factory menu. After that you will be required to assign the available weapons to your Robofish via a diagram. There are details about each weapon within the diagram's menus that you can access to further effect the gameplay. Such details include the Movement, Range, Firing Rate, and Move Speed. You will also find that you can alter certain effects of your shots (Hit Effect 1 & 2, Projectile GFX, Damage Effect, Projectile Color) if you have purchased the necessary items from the shop. As you are setting up all of your customizations you'll also have to pay attention to the temperature gauge. The temp gauge fills up with each customization option you use. If it overheats you will be unable to save your setup. Otherwise you do have the option of saving multiple weapon setups within the game. Aside from these options you will also be able to test out your new weapons with a visual display of how the shot works in real-time. These are all good tools to use if you want to make your weapon/s as effective as possible.

The graphics in 'Robofish' are brilliant. I would honestly say that they are some of the best graphics I've seen in an XBLIG title in a while. The game features some very cool background water effects that accent the overall theme of the game, and seem to be multi-layered. It also has some really neat enemy designs that look as if they were inspired by neon signs. There are also a wide variety of different enemy types (Whales, Shrimp, Piranha, Octopi ...) that each have their own unique design, and attack patterns/animations. The music within 'Robofish' is also something to behold. It has a serene/calming quality about it at times, and a more intense sound when boss fights are engaged. I found no lag during my playthrough of 'Robofish' which is also definitely a plus.

The controls in 'Robofish' are easy to pick up on, and are what you'd expect from a dual thumbstick shmup. You will control the Robofish with the (Left Thumbstick), and shoot/aim with the (Right Thumbstick). Like most shmups 'Robofish' also has a desperation item that helps you get out of those tight situations. These special items range from an Octo Grenade, to a Nuke/Maelstrom weapon that clears out certain fish types on the screen. To access the item menu you'll have to press, and hold the (Right Bumper) and select the desired special item with the (Right Thumbstick). This only works if you have purchased special items from the shop. In order to launch/use your special item/s you'll need to press the (Right Trigger), or the (B) button. You can switch between four different weapon setups via the (D.Pad) as well. If you wish to switch back to the previous weapon you merely press the (Right Bumper). To toggle the HUD display all you need to do is press the (Y) button. That pretty much sums up the controls. As complicated as I may have made it sound, it isn't.

It's time for my verdict! I found so many great things going on with 'Robofish'. The graphics were amazing, and the soundtrack was equally as interesting. The fact that there's a serious amount of customization options really puts this indie in league with the better shmups on the Xbox LIVE marketplace. I found that the actual movement within the game felt as if you were actually moving through water. It's a cool detail that adds to the overall quality of the game. One big thing I noticed as I played through the more busy/intense stages was that there seemed to be no significant frame rate slow downs. This is something that I often run into in XBLIG shmups that have a lot of onscreen action taking place. I was definitely glad to not find that issue in 'Robofish'. If there is one complaint I have with 'Robofish' (and I do) it's that there is no leaderboard within the game. I was hoping that there would be an online leaderboard, so that I could gain bragging rights if I were to score top place. Unfortunately there's also no local leaderboards. I'm not sure the game even keeps track of the survival mode scores? I do realize that the campaign scores are kept track of within the campaign menus though. In conclusion I still believe that 'Robofish' is worth every cent/msp. If 'Sparkrift' could remedy the online leaderboard issue then this game would be Boss!

*NOTE* "'Robofish' has a seizure warning at the start of the game, and it definitely warrants it. If you have epilepsy, or are prone to having seizures you need to avoid this game. "

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