EA’s latest downloadable title for XBLA and PSN takes the dual-stick shooter genre to some very tiny places that you haven't seen before.
What’s It About?
MicroBot begins with the microscopic robot under your control being injected into a subject’s body at MicroHexen Research, where previous iterations of this revolutionary medical technology have turned against their makers and are working with the viruses they were created to fight. You're tasked with ridding this body of those foreign invaders as things become increasingly more alien as the “infection” gets worse and worse. I had to resort to outside sources to get some actual details on the story since I could only gleam details like the worsening infection and that my Microbot had to stop it, which were only presented during annoying pop-ups on the bottom of the screen that you end up skipping to continue playing the game.
The action is your basic dual-stick shooter with one main difference, the appendages on your ship that are swappable at specific upgrade points in each level. These appendages can be upgraded with the currency that you pick up throughout the game. You can make a ship with all movement appendages to move around quickly without any way to fight back or a ship with all weapons that moves very slowly, so it’s up to you to make the most efficient build as you get more options throughout the campaign. Since the appendages are spaced evenly around your ship’s body, only the appendages that could physically fire in the direction that you’re aiming will fire, so placement also has a little effect on your ship’s performance.
Why Should I Care?
The appendages do help MicroBot play differently enough to set itself apart from the myriad of shooters that have swarmed onto PSN and XBLA over the past few years. The strategy of unlocking new appendages, upgrading them, and figuring out the best builds that you can make is an interesting way to handle ability progression so that you try new things. The environment is also a great setting at first, as the way the look of the environment with blood flowing through the level and pushing you around is a great visual treat. As you play more, the visual repetition and lack of real progression in level design just makes it feel like you’re replaying the first few areas over and over again but with a different color scheme until an interesting last area. That makes it hard to keep playing for more than 30 minutes at a time because of the tedious nature of the level design.
The main issues with MicroBot’s level design are the lack of consistent rules and how it affects the pacing of the game. The main way that enemies enter the level are these drop pods that pop out of the artery walls that you’re supposed to destroy to stop them from spawning, but about half of these pods or more are invincible and will just spawn enemies until the game deems that you have had enough. That is a part of the general design that turns the levels into a series of rooms where you enter a room, kill all of the enemies in the room, and then proceed to the next room, which is why the terrible checkpoints that only happen every two or three rooms is another aspect that kills the pace of the game. That just leads to a general change of play style where you inch forward so that you don’t set off too many spawn triggers in the level and get overwhelmed easily, which also feeds into the tedious aspects that lead to a bunch of very short sessions to get through the game.
One of the more interesting aspects of the terrible checkpoint system is that if you’re playing in co-op, MicroBot has much, much more forgiving checkpoints. As long as one player is still alive, the other will just respawn about ten seconds later and makes the campaign a much more enjoyable experience with a second player in tow. That doesn’t really excuse the poorly-balanced single-player campaign that most players would play through first, but at least one part of MicroBot can more enjoyable for the whole campaign.
Why Is It Worth My Time and Money?
Microbot's interesting premise, setting, and mechanics are undermined by several issues that cause the game to be more of a tedious chore than an enjoyable experience. The only way that MicroBot is really recommendable is to pairs of friends that are looking for a local or online co-op shooter on XBLA or PSN to play together, though you might as well wait for a sale since you’re only getting it for half of the game for $10 at that point. Anybody else should have plenty of other quality single-player shooter options on their respective download services to make this an easy skip.