This isometric auto-runner boasts a decent amount of content, easily able to justify its £8-£9 price tag – roughly double the price of Sometimes You’s previous titles. Once the tutorial world is out of the way you’re greeted by 125 stages spread across five worlds, including the occasional boss battle, plus unlockable characters all of which can be upgraded. The clean-cut presentation looks the part too; it’s a clear step up from the publisher’s previous games.
This only makes it all the more confusing to discover that Crashbots is deeply and inherently flawed, with some incredibly bizarre and frustrating design choices to blame. And here we were thinking it’s more important to make sure a game’s core basics are up to scratch before bulking up on content and making sure it looks fancy.
Crashbots’ concept is simple, and that’s perfectly acceptable. As a prototype robot, it’s your job to navigate hazard-filled obstacle courses by sprinting, sliding and using jetpacks proficiently, all while clearing the path ahead using purposely limited weaponry. New hazards are introduced often – surprisingly often, in fact – and each stage has three stars to collect, some of which are hidden away inside wooden boxes or contained with the few enemies that feature.
The idea is to make it to the end of each course before running out of energy. Problem is, the robot’s health bar and energy tank are one and the same. If it wasn’t already obvious why very few games tie two resources to a single gauge, you’ll soon learn why.
From the start of a course to the finishing line energy is constantly being drained, and if you take one too many hits chances are you won’t have enough juice to reach the goal, rendering all efforts from therein pointless. Sliding and using the jetpack aren’t evasive manoeuvres, you understand – they’re essential actions required to avoid the obstacles ahead.
The number of times our robot fell flat on his face just before the finishing line is untold, and all because we missed an energy pick up earlier on, or simply because we used the jetpack for a few seconds too long when navigating the last batch of hazards.
Although there are energy-boosting power-ups on each course, they’re occasionally hidden, paced in impossible to reach locations, or tucked away in boxes that require energy to destroy. In fewer words, you need energy to gain energy. This should have been a fun little auto-runner where your only goal is to stay alive. A three-hit death system would have worked perfectly. Instead, you’re constantly at war with this daft design decision.
Unbelievably, there are more complications. The physics engine is unpredictable – take a hit and you’re usually nudged back a few feet, as you would expect, but every so often you’re flung backwards. So far back, in fact, that the brief (one second) invincibility period ends and you then take a hit from whatever hazard you’ve been shoved into. Spinning pinwheels can deal several hits in quick succession, ending a run instantly, and on one instance we became trapped in a laser grid with no way out. The jetpack was supposed to be used here, but no room was provided to take off.
The collision detection throws a spanner in the words too – it’s so precise that it’s possible to step over smaller power-ups instead of collecting them. We should probably mention here that some trial and error is also required, as some wooden boxes contain booby traps. Learning what to use valuable energy reserves on is all part of the experience. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a shooter though, as it isn’t – trying to destroy everything in sight only drains energy faster.
In Crashbot’s defence, it isn’t a punishing experience. Frustrating, yes, but not too punishing. There are infinite retires, thus no penalty for failure and the courses are generally short. Keep on trying, and you will eventually reach the goal, albeit through gritted teeth.
If you have friends around often, then you may be able to scrape some entertainment out of Crashbots, taking turns to see who can overcome the trickier moment and claiming bragging rights for perfect runs. Share the burden and frustration, essentially. No, this isn’t a recommendation – it’s the only way we can imagine somebody squeezing enjoyment out of it.
Ultimately, and somewhat ironically given the test dummy premise, it’s yet another indie title that doesn’t appear to have been playtested by an outside team, launching with faults that the developers were clearly oblivious to. A little bit of player feedback would have gone a long way here.