Bad Bots is an indie shooter-platformer for the PC via Steam. Indie creator, Vanni Del Moral (Pointfiveprojects) developed the game. The developer’s prior games include I Gun Zombies, Battle High & Battle High 2, and the Hive. Vanni Del Moral’s current release did relatively well at the 2012 IndiePub competition earning an honorable mention. Much like Vanni Del Moral’s other games, Bad Bots features a distinctive 2D aesthetic and art style that contributes to the developer’s unified look. Featuring thousands of angry robots, can Bad Bots provide enough gunning action to captivate gamers or does it run out of ammunition too quickly?
The story does a fine job of setting up ideas and the history for this sci-fi world. What hurts that story is that there is no intriguing spin put on these well traveled sci-fi tropes. There exists very obvious story beats that try to do something interesting, but fall flat because they have been done better elsewhere. While it is awesome that the game tries to add a story to two genres that often ignore them or go through the motions, there is not enough depth of story here to draw the player into the events. The story could work really well even with the tried and true elements, but the gameplay does nothing to feed into it. Running and gunning through a ship full of killer robots does not add any significant depth to the story. Bad Bots tries something with its story, which is commendable.
There are two main gameplay elements at play in Bad Bots. One is the shooter aspect and the other is the platforming elements. At the core is a simple control scheme, which optimizes melee attacks and shooting. The control scheme works extremely well for one of the two elements, but needs some fine tuning for the other. The shooter elements work well with the control scheme moving around the rooms and aiming is intuitive. Shooting bots or swinging an ax at them is responsive and works. Even in rooms crawling with tons of robots, the combat still has a kick to it that makes for a fun experience. One draw back is that there is no way to dodge, which would help to add some depth in certain situations especially when the robots box the player into a corner. During the boss fights there is a tendency, in part due to the lack of evasive moves for it to be merely about luck and holding down the trigger then hoping that the war of attrition with bullets works out in the player’s favor.
The game’s difficulty has a solid pacing to it for the most part, there is a decent amount of power-ups and items littered throughout the game to keep players alive even though dense rooms of enemies. Occasionally, there will be a huge spike where the difficulty ramps up quickly making for some tense moments. They are not unmanageable, but do make a noticeable change in the flow and pacing of combat. Then there are the platforming sections, which suffer greatly from the controls. Due to the directional buttons and the jump button residing in the same key/button set-up, the platforming controls are imprecise. This leads to the actual platforming sections being a terrible act of trial and error until the gap is bridged or reaching a tough ledge. If it was possible to assign jump to a separate button, the platforming sections could work a little better.
Artistically, the game channels a retro style with panache. While certain indie games are definitely influenced by the art style and philosophy of the SNES, Bad Bots seems to be more influenced by the early SEGA sense and style. There is a great look to the game, everything has an edge and an attitude that pops during gameplay. Graphically, the game has a distinct point of view and style. Unfortunately, the game has issues when running in full screen. Because the action is fast paced and frenetic, the game has a problem keeping up with everything going on when entered in full screen. There is a tendency for frame rate issues when running in full screen that hinders the experience. Minimizing to a tiled view gets rid of this problem, but then the detail put into the game cannot be fully appreciated. Which is a shame because the game is visually pleasing.
Bad Bots succeeds in channeling the retro style it aims for, but unfortunately it falls into some of the flaws and pit falls that those early games also encountered. The story really makes a play at creating something, but falls a little short in executing the ideas in a compelling way. Gameplay is fun, but the controls do not offer enough options to add an extra dimension to combat and the platforming sections are hurt badly by the controls. Graphically, the game is successful in creating a solid art style with personality, but there are frame rate issues that hurts how smooth those graphics look in motion. Ultimately, Bad Bots is worth a look for anyone interested in a fun throwback to an earlier style of video games that tries something, even if it does not always pull it off.