Mr. Robot is one of those games that would be tragically easy to miss amongst the never-ending onslaught of big name, big budget releases - okay, maybe not this month, but generally speaking - so picture a great big neon arrow pointing at Mr. Robot, blinking in all the colours of the rainbow and with the words "Buy This Now!" writ large upon it. Mr. Robot is fun, cheap (AU$31.70) and an effortless download away, so off you go. Go on. Prod-prod.
You need convincing, don't you? Fine...
Mr. Robot is an isometric puzzle-platformer, with CRPG-style combat. If you're at all familiar with golden oldie Head Over Heels then you'll be at least halfway to knowing what Mr. Robot is about. Basically, you're exploring a spaceship, one room at a time. Your objective in each room is to get to the other side (or occasionally to retrieve an object of some description) and continue your journey. Between you and the exit door you'll find large crates, small crates, electrified floors, homicidal robots, cranes, balls of flaming death, moving platforms, pools of electrified goo, walkways, spiked pits and a variety of other things that want to kill you.
Each room is a puzzle - just how the heck do you get across the pool of death, past the timed gate and up three stories to the exit with only two and a half crates? The solution is usually a matter of thinking things through, experimenting and sometimes just getting stuck in and seeing what happens. Success doesn't often hinge on nano-second timing and twitchiness, though there are some rooms that will have you alternately putting your head through the screen and cackling with glee, or maybe just going into an overwhelmed brain lock upon seeing all the whirling machineries of death laid out before you. Most rooms have at least a few crates scattered about and you're able to push (but never pull) these around into, hopefully, positions that'll let you jump and climb your way to freedom.
The rooms are so fiendishly constructed that a solution is rarely obvious on first glance, and the satisfaction that comes from slowly teasing apart the puzzle is a rare pleasure. Crucially, while Mr. Robot constantly flirts with becoming a frustrating exercise in gamepad hurling, it never crosses the line. This is a game that wants you to have fun, it encourages you to experiment and play. If you completely stuff up a room, you can reset and have another crack without penalty. Save points are scattered liberally around the place, so if you use up all your lives with ill-considered plummets into fiery deathpits, it's generally only a short walk back for another try. Moonpod has hit on the perfect combination of challenge and fun - you really do feel as if you're earning your progress though the game, but it's never a trial.
Every now and again you'll have to "ghost-hack" into a terminal, navigate across a maze-like circuit board and beat the daylights out of a colourful variety of computer-themed baddies. This happens with a Final Fantasy-style set up. You and your buddies line up one side of a psychedelic, Tron-influenced room, the bad guys on the other and you take turns whacking each other. You can unleash programs (spells, basically), use items (grenades, stat boosters, energy suckers and so on) or just go for a good, old fashioned smack in the head. It all makes for a good break from the puzzle solving and crate stacking though it is, perhaps, just a little too familiar and battles can drag on a bit sometimes.
For an indie game, Mr. Robot is remarkably attractive. Actually, forget the "for an indie game" bit - Mr. Robot scrubs up well next to pretty much anything. It's not a game that's trying to burn your eyes out with graphical wizardry, nor does it need to - the graphics are clean and clear, the multitude of robots are very well designed and beautifully animated and it all comes together just as it should. It isn't going to give the latest bump-mapped FPS a run for its money, but the last thing this kind of game needs is graphical clutter or anything that's going to hike the system requirements through the roof.
The sound does exactly what is required. Clunks, beeps, buzzes and bangs are all in abundance and clunk, beep, buzz and bang at the right time. While the music is nothing that'll have you pressing burnt copies into friends' hands with evangelical enthusiasm, it's also pleasant enough that you won't turn it off within seconds of firing up the game. Mr. Robot is also light enough on system resources that you'll have no trouble running your preferred media player in the background, effectively letting you provide your own soundtrack.
There are a lot of little things that take Mr. Robot from a good, dependable little puzzler into something a bit special. There's just the right amount of inertia, weight and air-control to Asimov (the hero of the game) to feel right. You can, at any time, get a full screen overview of the room you're trying to navigate, so there are no blind leaps into the unknown. There's a built-in achievements system that ranks you as a classic computer - are you a BBC Micro, a ZX81 or a C64? You can use a mouse, keyboard or gamepad and can switch between them at any time (though a gamepad is highly recommended). You can download new user-created adventures from within the game, there's an online leader board and, gosh, it's such an amiable game that you just want to give it a blokey punch on the shoulder and head down the pub.
There are, inevitably, minor niggles. It's sometimes too easy to nudge a crate out of place, which can necessitate resetting a whole room. You can't save when in combat, which can be annoying during some of the longer ghost-hacking phases. There are a few places - very few - where the locked perspective is a hindrance, making it difficult to judge exactly where things are or how they line up.
Look, if you really, really cannot stand this kind of game then fair enough. You'd be mad not to at least give the demo a go, but it must be said that Mr. Robot is not for everyone. It's not the most action packed game on the planet, it can be frustrating and it's not what you bought that spanky new DX10 video card for. It is, however, a shining example of the kind of gameplay that we didn't know we were missing until we played it. While it may have old-school sensibilities, Mr. Robot is a thoroughly modern bundle of fun.