Reviews

MicroBot

Running full throttle into a throng of baddies is never, ever a good idea, as opposed to something like Geometry Wars, in which running full throttle into a throng of baddies is the only idea.


Publisher: Electronic Arts
Players: 1-2
Price: $10.00
Title: MicroBot
Platform: XBLA
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Developer: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 2010-12-29
URL

To say that MicroBot is disappointing is to be somewhat disingenuous; after all, it's hard to be disappointed in something you knew nothing about before playing. Here's the pre-game knowledge that I had going into my playthrough of MicroBot:

1. It is a dual-stick shooter.

2. The player controls a tiny robot fighting infection within the human body.

Other than a quick flash of "DUDE, they finally made a video game out of Innerspace," that's not much to go on.

Still, it's something, and at the very least, it's enough to conjure up some basic requirements of the game you think that you're going to be getting. Comparing the game you think that you're going to get to the game that you actually get yields few commonalities, however, and the ways in which MicroBot confounds even the meager expectations offered by its genre and primary conceit lead to its biggest failings.

One of the first things that the player is told to do in MicroBot is to ignore some of the organisms floating around. You can shoot them, sure, but it's a waste of time; you don't gain anything from taking the time to blow them away. They're just there, a part of the scenery that you can attack if you're feeling particularly aggressive and you can't wait the 30 seconds that it takes to get to an actual hostile enemy. No one will hold it against you -- you're playing a dual-stick shooter after all. Aggression is typically encouraged.

MicroBot is anything but typical, however. The reality of MicroBot is that the robot that the player happens to be piloting is constantly in liquid of some sort. What liquid it is, exactly, is never made perfectly clear, given that the clarity and the color changes depending on the environment, but it is definitely liquid. While this makes sense in terms of the game's conceit -- there aren't many long passages of air in the human body, after all -- the game's insistence on a physics system that makes the player feel as though the mechanism must paddle through the water is a questionable choice.

Piloting a ship through liquid means that the player absolutely must pay attention to the momentum of that ship. Unless player customizations devise a ship almost entirely equipped with propulsion mechanisms (a perfectly valid option in levels without a boss, actually), stopping and turning takes time. As such, running full throttle into a throng of baddies is never, ever a good idea, as opposed to something like Geometry Wars, in which running full throttle into a throng of baddies is the only idea. This is especially true if you fall into the all too appealing trap of outfitting your ship with all kinds of firepower, leaving room for only one or two measly fins or rotors -- speed your way into a pile of hostiles and you'll watch your ship get eaten alive.

This mechanic forces the player to progress cautiously, undoubtedly the intention of the developers. A side effect of such caution, however, is the replacement of excitement with a stressful sort of tension. Much time is spent inching along, waiting for an enemy to show up from offscreen just so that you can retreat and fire. In almost all cases, the enemies are finite, so it's a strategy that works; it just doesn't get you anywhere fast.

This would be fine, of course, if the excitement could have been replaced by some motivation to progress. This could have been as easy as giving the player a tour of the body from the inside. "Check it out, an EYEBALL," we could have said, however unrealistic happening upon a recognizable organ might be at such a scale. Unfortunately, MicroBot has taken the tack of making all of the environments look painfully similar to one another -- with little more than a palette swap to separate them. Yes, you spend four levels floating around in a watery red world, you beat a boss of some sort, and then you get to spend four levels floating around in a watery green world. And then a blue one. The environments are rendered beautifully, and some of the maps are quite well designed, but when supposedly different areas of the body look so similar to one another, it's difficult to maintain the excitement inspired by the idea of the game.

Upon review, it seems that even with a minimum of background knowledge it's difficult to escape the weight of expectations on our opinions of a game.

Perhaps if I had approached MicroBot wishing for something else -- say, a twin-stick companion to Flower, a game with which it shares similarities in pace as well as in its soundtrack -- perhaps my thoughts on the game would be different. Perhaps I could find some sense of relaxation in the languid pacing of the game, perhaps looking for the game’s not-all-that-well-hidden collectibles, the "buckyballs", would become the primary goal rather than some ambiguous desire for "excitement" via progression. More than anything, though, I wanted to like MicroBot. I don’t.

3

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image