Often I come across games that are trying to emulate the style of older games by using pixel art, chiptune soundtracks, and other retro-like devices to capture that old school look, sound, etc. Rarely do I come across a game that feels so genuinely retro that it could have been something straight out of my childhood. Robbotto is one of those rare, genuinely retro games—for all the good and bad that entails.
Robbotto is a platformer that reminds me heavily of the classic NES game Bubble Bobble. I have to warn you: I adore Bubble Bobble, and even recently played it when I finally got my hands on an NES Classic. Robbotto is strinkingly similar: each level is a single screen, and falling or walking out of that screen loops you back to the ceiling or other side of the room, respectively. Enemies are even defeated in a similar two-step fashion, and all enemies must be defeated in order to continue. The movement is even similarly floaty. If there was such a thing as a Bubble Bobble clone, this is it.
In Robbotto you play as Robb in single player, or Robb and Otto in couch co-op. Apparently you are two maintenance robots on a space freighter that are tasked with disabling the other robots that have run amok. To do this, you must first zap an enemy with your electrical beam, and then spray them down with water to short them out. You must also navigate the hazards in each level, while avoiding enemy’s touch or their projectiles. Things start off simple enough, as they usually do, but Robbotto doesn’t shy away from difficulty.
There are three difficulty modes you can play Robbotto in: normal, which gives you unlimited continues; hard, which gives you five continues; and extreme, which gives you none. Normal is obviously the most forgiving mode, but even then it’s not a cakewalk. You only have three hearts per continue, but once you use them up, your current level resets. I found myself repeatedly attempting some of the later levels before I could finally move on.
The types of enemies in Robbotto are surprisingly varied, and do a lot to keep it from getting overly monotonous. Some enemies shoot projectiles, others hop around aimlessly or chase you. And since you have to pacify every enemy on a level to continue, the types of enemies that avoid your attacks can be just as difficult as those who actively seek to destroy you. Every 10 of the 100 levels there is a boss encounter, with these being some of my favorite moments in Robbotto. Each boss is unique, with their own movesets, and way of being defeated.
Robbotto is not perfect, but even being a modern game, it’s so genuinely retro it’s hard to judge it harshly, though it’s not immune to criticism. Robbotto has an extremely weak art style. While it’s colorful, it’s not very visually appealing. Robb and Otto both look like blobs whose animations are lost in their blocky shapes. Most enemies and environments look uninspired at best, and confusing at worst. It does have a surprisingly good chiptune soundtrack, though, full of music that rarely felt repetitive and was always surprising. I’d actually listen to it outside of the game.
Besides the lacking art style, there aren’t many things to complain about in this simple game. The controls feel a little floaty, but are appropriately retro—though they can feel frustrating at times. You can only score once a level is completed and you get a chance to run over the bodies of the disabled robots. Sometimes getting these bits is impossible due to the layout of the level, or the location of the exit. It’s not a big deal, but it’s odd that they decided to score players like that.
Robbotto captures that retro feel in an extremely effective way. This might not appeal to all, but if you grew up with any love for Bubble Bobble, or similar single screen platformers, I totally recommend Robbotto.
Robbotto will be available tomorrow on Nintendo Switch and Steam.