When a robotic virus ravages a human body, only an aggressive robotic hero can battle through the bloodstream and purge the infection at the source. It's a beguiling setting for a shooter- but Microbot doesn't do itself any favours with its choice of genre.
Gameplay-wise, Microbot is a solid... wait for it... twinstick shooter. Xbox Live and PSN are glutted with similar experiences, and Naked Sky certainly haven't broken any new ground. Rather than the manic 'bullet hell' species, Microbot is more of a linear garden variety; peppered with plenty of mid-sized arenas and a few basic little puzzles along the way. Enemy cells and micro-organisms attack in small swarms that respawn from disgusting cancerous growths that need to be excised before moving on to the next arena- possibly with a switch or simple mechanism blocking the way. Rinse and repeat. This might sound insultingly basic to us veteran gamers, but Microbot has a fair few clever tricks sliding around beneath its skin.
As you complete levels and kill opponents, your robot gains hardpoints that can be equipped with a dizzying array of firepower. Each turret can be improved several times by spending collectable resources, and you'll soon be surprised at how powerful your plucky little robot soon becomes. In an interesting twist, both weaponry and locomotive methods can be upgraded/deployed- meaning that you can choose exactly how your Microbot gets around. Hell, you can stick propellers on every hardpoint if you really want to. The upgrade system is incredibly addictive and intuitive- and it persists between levels if you need to nip back and replay earlier stages for extra experience.
Microbot is an absolute feast for the eyes, but the graphics pale in comparison to the art direction. Every enemy, background and obstacle has been designed to fully reflect and embrace the unique- and often disgusting- setting. Veins and arteries squirt the Microbot around in bursts of plasma. Red blood cells pop when accidentally hit in a firefight. Any number of pumping, throbbing tubes shift unmentionable substances around the background. Sound design is equally impressive; with an ever-present heartbeat and disgusting selection of squishy squirts constantly reminding you that you're inside a living organism. From the moment you're injected into the bloodstream via a (seemingly) gargantuan syringe, the coherence of the vision is absolutely astounding.
Unfortunately a few major shortcomings stop Microbot from entering the big leagues. SHMUPS live or die on how responsive they are... and Microbot is as clunky as they come. Even when upgraded, manipulating the little blighter is unbearably sluggish, which is exacerbated by the fact that each turret hardpoint has a very limited firing angle. This makes dealing with multiple respawning enemies much more difficult than it ought to be.
Which leads us nicely onto the next point: the pacing and difficulty curve are absolutely bizarre. Long sections of tedious travelling (providing little in the way of resistance) are suddenly followed by intense arenas packed with swarms of durable enemies- but often not with a checkpoint. Finally, it's worth noting that the action doesn't really do the art direction justice. The visuals are unmistakeably biological- but the shooting and light puzzle solving could be taking place anywhere. It's a shame that the gameplay doesn't take advantage of the unique setting.
- Great graphics and coherent art design
- Persistent upgrades are incredibly addictive
- Solid, capable twinstick gameplay
- Cumbersome movement (made bearable with heavy upgrades)
- Uneven difficulty curve and pacing
- Repetitive action with over-reliance on spawners
The Short Version: Microbot is a capable twinstick shooter that doesn't make the most of its exciting premise. Flawless art direction, stunning visuals and plenty of value await those who are brave enough to enter the human body... but be aware that this game isn't entirely healthy.