Developer: Naked Sky / Publisher: EA / ESRB: Everyone (Animated Blood, Mild Fantasy Violence)
Dual-stick shooters like Geometry Wars defined the downloadable console game space since day one. There is something to be said about the simplistic controls and addictive gameplay that combine to be instantly accessible to gamers of all stripes, abilities, and interests be they blowing up squares and diamonds in Geometry Wars or huge alien bugs in Alien Breed. EA’s newest title for Xbox Live Arcade comes in the form of a twin-stick shooter called MicroBot, which puts you in the cockpit of a microscopic ship that is transplanted into a human body. This Fantastic Voyage/Innerspace premise (you can stream them both instantly on Neflix!) isn’t particularly new, but the tranquil streams of a person’s body provide an original take for a well-trodden gameplay formula
After you take control of your tiny robotic ship and get injected into your human host, you’ll find that MicroBot handles just as you’d expect: the left analog stick controls your movement and the right stick controls where you shoot. As you progress through the game you gain points to upgrade your ship. Upgrade stations scattered throughout each of the five worlds grant you different weapons like a fast shooting gun or a lance for ramming enemies, as well as armor bonuses to increase your ship’s overall health. You can even enlist the aid of white blood cells in certain levels, engaging the body’s natural defense system to batter enemies to death. Enemies you face are other robotic ships originally implanted in the body to aid in the defense against infection but have since turned rogue. If you die on your mission a checkpoint system ensures you won’t have to repeat all of your hard work, as they are spread out generously in each level. Blasting your way through waves of enemies is fun and handles very well, but it just gets too repetitive. Level design is generally the same save for different colored backgrounds and the location inside the body you are traversing, and there isn’t much variety in combat outside of how you customize your ship. Better use of bodily functions and blood flow could have created more dynamic action sequences but as it is you might find MicroBot a bit bland after the first few hours.
Local multiplayer is available from the very first level, allowing you and a partner to command separate ships to take on your diminutive adversaries. No online multiplayer is included in the package save for leaderboards. Progressing through the game unlocks a challenge mode for each world, tasking you with achieving a high score instead of just blazing through the level. Overall, the game takes around six hours to play through with challenges and leaderboards adding more replay value for those looking.
Sound and Graphics
While the gameplay can get a bit bland, that’s not the case for the mood. A soft yet dramatic theme plays over each level, somehow feeling appropriate for a game taking place in a human body. Never too loud or overbearing, the music in MicroBot adds greatly to the overall experience for the player and the soundtrack stays consistent the entire game. Graphically the game looks elegant, from the flowing of cells and organisms in each stage to the pumping and movement of objects in the foreground and background. Your movement through each level is very fluid (no pun intended) and really creates the illusion that you are actually floating through someone’s bloodstream. The music and sound effects blend splendidly with the colors and graphics, making for a unique cinematic experience.
Using both sticks to move and fire independently is a formula that has worked for many games in the past and is no exception here: MicroBot handles like a dual-stick shooter should handle. Fighting the currents of the bloodstream can be a tough task for your tiny ship, so thankfully a handy grappling hook attached to your ship can be used by pressing the left or right triggers. Upgrading your ship’s thrusters changes how you manipulate your vessel in the bodily fluids and finding a groove that works for you is easy. Changing your weapons from fast shooting machine guns to homing missiles or even highly destructive bombs gives you even more creative freedom to mold a ship to your exact liking so you can play exactly as you want. Navigating the tight corridors and open spaces of the human body is made comfortable by sharp controls.
MicroBot does not do anything revolutionary within the twin-stick shooter genre, but manages to inject some creativity into an otherwise standard class of games. Traveling in the bloodstream and destroying robotic bacteria with a friend is fun. The tight controls and customizability of your ship help to enhance gameplay to your liking while a great soundtrack helps to improve the overall mood of the game. Repetitious levels, lack of online multiplayer, and a somewhat easy difficulty keep this game from being excellent, but on the whole MicroBot is enjoyable. Shooter enthusiasts will find the customization of the ship and the overall gameplay enjoyable but there isn’t much unique content here to recommend the game to everyone.