It's no surprise that a marketable family film's prime for the videogame picking, and usually the result is a generic, unimaginative affair. Especially on the handheld platforms where the development budgets and schedules are far below what's given to the console teams. The Game Boy Advance is brimming with these generic, licensed game designs, but unfortunately this disease has crossed over and infected the other Nintendo handheld system, simply because it was quick and easy to do. Robots
is a completely unspectacular and dull game experience on both the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS; Sierra did double duty with the blandness by allowing the same boring game on two systems.
The game follows a similar version of the plot offered in the upcoming CG flick from the Ice Age studios. In the film, and ultimately the game, Rodney Copperbottom moves into the rough and ready big city to sell his new invention to benefit all of robot-kind, but stumbles upon an evil plot that could reduce him to scrap metal. It's hard to gauge how successful this story is in motion, considering the game's been released a few weeks before the theatrical launch of the film. But the game does nothing to advertise how creative the flick could be, because this design is bland as white bread.
For the game version of Robots, Griptonite has created an extensive action adventure that's much heavier on the adventuring than it is in the action. It's a side-scrolling environment at a tipped perspective, which allows designers to create much more 3D level designs. It follows the Castlevania book by offering a gridded map to show where players are and in which direction they can jump into the next sector of the map. But even with focus on combat with a variety of upgradeable weapons, the areas are surprisingly sparse in enemies to battle, which is an element that becomes even more prominent when you see just how roomy and spread out many of the locations on the map can be. Much of the game is spent simply walking from location A to B with rarely any interaction with enemies that are out to do you harm. When these situations do occur, the combat engine used for battle is incredibly wonky with poor hit detection and loose focus on individual weapon effects. It just doesn't work half the time.
As sort of an intermission between the platforming elements, the developers include a series of challenges based on the movie's idea of a transport system. In the game, it's a race through a halfpipe, trying to cross the finish line as quickly as possible by weaving between slower moving traffic, picking up power-ups, and zipping along boost strips. But even these levels feel unbelievably rushed through development, never really offering a sense of fun or accomplishment after the challenge is over, more like the developers created some "busy work" to extend the adventure for as long as possible.
I'd like to coin a new phrase that will most likely be used in the future of the Nintendo DS: "GBA Plus." Robots for the Nintendo DS is essentially the exact same game that's released on the Game Boy Advance. The DS version's been enhanced slightly from the GBA edition, sliding HUD and map items down to the lower screen for touch-sensitive control. The DS version also features minimal 3D effects in the menus, as well as a full 3D environment of the half-pipe transport mini-game compared to the GBA's rendered sprite-based environment. There's also a "doodle" function on the overworld map that's good for jotting down notes for when you stumble upon items or characters you need to return to in the future; unfortunately, your notes don't save to cartridge, which makes this function almost useless if you plan to play in shifts. Coincidentally, the development team that worked on Robots is also the studio responsible for the DS' other "GBA Plus" game, The Sims: Urbz in the City; in the days where handheld budgets are razor thin, "GBA Plus" games will become a much more frequent element to the DS library. Shame that Robots wasn't a very good GBA title to begin with, and the touch-screen and dual-screen elements don't do anything to make it any more fun.
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