One of my personal favorite apocalyptic theories concerns the robot uprising. And wouldn't you know it, Shoot Many Robots is here just in time to remind us of what a glorious end we could have faced at the unfeeling hands of machines gone mad. I can think of no better way to celebrate the end of the world. Actually, strike that, I can.
I wouldn't waste time looking for a plot in Shoot Many Robots. It says it all right in the title. Hordes of enemies stream from either side of the screen while you and up to three friends take them apart nut-by-nut across multiple levels of side-scrolling gameplay. Think of Metal Slug, Contra or any number of other two-dimensional, multiplayer shooters. Now, add to that a leveling system and some loot-drop mechanics and you've got Shoot Many Robots' entire strategy for overthrowing our mechanical overlords.
Unfortunately, it feels like developer Demiurge tried just a little too hard to borrow from those old classics – emphasis on the old. As the title promises, you will be doing a lot of shooting in Shoot Many Robots. In order to do this, you hold down one of the face buttons to fire while using the left analog stick to aim. The left analog stick is also used to navigate your character across the screen, meaning you can only fire in the same general direction that you're moving. Furthermore, the jump button is also mapped to a face button, meaning that hopping around enemies and their fire requires you to cease shooting altogether -- not the best idea when the entire screen is devoted to fulfilling the promise of 'many robots.' Characters can be locked in place by holding the left trigger, allowing them to fire in any direction, but the downside is that it leaves you vulnerable.
Meanwhile, some of the more damaging enemy fire can be deflected back toward the synthetic bad guys with a carefully timed melee attack. This tactic is practically mandatory for dealing with some of the more heavily armored opponents. However, this also requires pressing (you guessed it) yet another face button. As if that weren't enough, even more attacks must be shot out of the air. This requires a level of precision that Shoot Many Robots just doesn't seem to offer, and you may find yourself losing large chunks of health from attacks that you could have sworn you intercepted.
The sort of carpal gymnastics your right thumb will go through at any given moment can be astonishingly frustrating. It's difficult to enjoy yourself while constantly taking hits because you didn't happen to be born with three thumbs. A more elegant solution might have been to fire with the unused right analog stick while mapping the jump to the left trigger. In these, the final and greatest days of mankind, I would expect that developers would make full use of dual analog sticks. As it stands, however, Shoot Many Robots feels like a game that's been ported to the PSP and back again.
All of this might sound fairly esoteric in print, but trust me when I say that it makes an extinction event's worth of impact on the experience. Shooting should be fun when that's just about all you do, not frustrating and clumsy enough to make me yell at my poor TV.
Another compliment I can offer Shoot Many Robots is that it has a sense of humor.
The entire game is steeped in redneck culture and imagery: guns, beer, trucks and that ultimate truck-house hybrid, the RV. All of it is fair game for a good lampooning over the course of the campaign. It's not exactly the classiest humor in the world, but it all seems to be pretty good natured.
Mind you, the kind spirited nature of the humor is a bit of a letdown. When the jokes do push themselves over the top they really strike home, but otherwise it's mostly PG rated guffaws. That said, most people should at least find the aesthetic amusing, especially if they're playing with pals.
I can think of a lot of ways that I'd rather spend my final days on Earth than by playing Shoot Many Robots. The complicated controls and frustrating difficulty make Shoot Many Robots tough to enjoy on your own and only slightly less so in a group. If you're really craving the next Alien Hominid then this one might do for a quick fix. Otherwise, when the end comes, maybe Shoot Many Robots should be left behind.
This review is based on the final version of Shoot Many Robots for the Xbox 360, provided by Ubisoft.
Steven is a freelance video game review and features writer as well as the co-host of such podcasts as The SideQuest, The Lonely TARDIS and Suspended License. He is also the Senior Features Editor at SideQuesting.com. You can find him annoying his betters on Twitter as @StevenStrom.
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