“Alright, time to pick out a new game to play! Anything’s good for this week, I’m not picky… but, you know what I’ve really had enough of for a little while? Robots. I’m tired of robots right now. I just wrote that whole Let’s Play about space-faring robot Europeans, I’ve got robots coming out of my damn ears. And then Borderlands 2, and the Pre-Sequel… ugh, so much Claptrap. Yeah, I think I could really go for something that doesn’t have any robots, whatsoever.”
“Oh, hello, what’s this in my library? A ‘procedural stealth game’ by 2D Array. And it’s called… ‘No TTHE Robots‘? Well, that’s a weird name. Must be some acronym I don’t understand. But no robots is no robots. To the Steam shortcut!”
(Disclaimer: I may be using this fancy tale to hide the more boring reality of ‘hey, a game I don’t know, let’s launch it without looking’. Or maybe I’m not! For all you know, this is exactly the way I came to play Not The Robots. Accept this amazing canon I present, or don’t; it’s all your choice.)
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low. Mechanical, medium.)
(Game source: Bought it myself.)
Not The Robots opens up on… a small grey drinking bird. Wearing an Abraham Lincoln hat, and matching hair. It dips up and down into a glass of water, as drinking birds are wont to do, and talks to me in text all the while.
“Oh, hello there. You seem to be new around here. Let me tell you something nice.” What is it, Abirdham Lincoln?
“However,” the bird continues, “the game itself levels up, instead of the player…”
I’m not sure how any of this is meaningfully different from ‘this game gets more difficult as you play’, but eh. Whatever makes Not The Robots feel good about itself.
Little Bird (for that is its name) waxes on a little more, about how all levels are randomly generated and about how there’s ‘no rush’. But hey, bird, listen: I’m in kind of a rush. Can we get to a title screen already?
Exploring the World’s Greyest Title Screen, I find relatively little that stands out. Options, you know how they are: a respectable set of rebindable controls, decent graphical settings with funny names, and a giant bomb icon that allows me to erase all my zero progress. Wow, I haven’t seen giant bombs used as a metaphor for save file destruction since the last time I played Wario Land. And now I feel like playing Wario Land again. Did Wario Land have robots in it? I’m forced to false-remember that it doesn’t. So that’s a plus.
There’s nothing else on this screen, as far as I can tell. Graphics, Options, Quit. Again, not even a rad credits dungeon off the side. So I guess I have nowhere to go but forward.
And so forward I will go.
When the grey splash clears, I find myself… well, inside of a curious place. It was accurate to that degree, I won’t mind admitting. I think I’m looking at a cutout of a skyscraper floor? A particularly thin skyscraper, given that it doesn’t look much bigger than my own tiny studio. It’s stuffed full of bookcases and old CRT monitors, for some reason, and a big black-looking glass tube threads from the bottom all the way to the top.
It’s hard to see on screenshots, but there’s this persistent grainy effect overlaid on the visuals. This, combined with the red text on the top left, makes me think that I’m supposed to interpret this scene as ‘me looking through a security camera’. Kind of a weird security camera, given that it’s about three meters outside the actual building and it can somehow see through walls, but eh.
Eventually, growing bored of doing camera laps around the building, I do as I’m told by the red text and hit the Spacebar. When I do, two things immediately happen. One, the grainy filter — green grainy filter, apparently — falls away. And two, from the bottom of the long glass tube, an elevator rises. It hits the current floor, and the glass tube rises up, to reveal…
…is that a telepresence robot?
I hit the WASD keys, and my little robots moves around. Swaying like the top-heavy ball-balanced monitor spike that it is, but never quite tipping over. I roll it around the level, learning the controls as I do. WASD move. Left Shift causes it to duck, folding in on itself to form the most adorable trashcan-looking baby robot. And Spacebar…
Getting close to a piece of furniture marks it, with diagonal green lines. And when I press Space, my robot… eats the furniture, I guess? The item gets transformed into a black-and-red cloud, somehow, and then that cloud is drawn into my little roll-y dude. And then, ticks are added to a progress bar in the lower right… which is labeled ‘Food’.
I’m a furniture-eating telepresence robot, then. That’s what this game is about? I… I’m not entirely sure how to joke about this. Was this game the result of a game jam? Or some other game development process that involves adding random phrases together? Were manatees involved?
I roll through the level with abandon, hitting Spacebar over and over — and then holding it down, when I figure out that works too — and just hoovering up the furniture clouds. Eventually, my Food bar fills, and both my robot and the elevator start blinking in bright green. And, hey, I recognize obvious signs when I see then: time for me to go be somewhere else.
The elevator raises me up to the next floor. And once there, I find…
…Well, for one, I find a laser. Multiple lasers, in fact: one, two… is that three, in the corner? Also, why the hell are there lasers in this office building?
The lasers present an interesting conundrum: furniture blocks their deadly beams, but I need to eat that furniture to continue. Will I eventually be stuck in this square room, unable to avoid the ruinous deadly laser fire? …No, it turns out that’s not the case: the lasers actually have a maximum range, and a pretty short one at that, so I’m easily able to skirt around the edges and avoid any and all harm. Whew. Threat: handled.
This second floor also introduces two varieties of giant coloured box. When I eat the blue box, I’m rewarded with what appears to be an activated ability: ‘invisibility’, it reads, neatly slotting into the open square in the top left corner I hadn’t really been paying attention to. I can activate it with a left mouse button click, draining its charge from 100% to 0% and turning me invisible until I move again. Eating more furniture after that works towards refilling the charge, and my food bar.
The second box, the red box, is actually locked at the start. It doesn’t switch to its green opened state until I eat enough furniture to move on. After that, I can eat it to gain a ‘Scanner’. Whatever that is.
Furniture eaten, I roll back to my elevator. This time, the elevator takes me down, not up… out of Building 1, which I’ve apparently cleared, and to the west, onto Building Two.
The second building holds an interesting new threat: ‘sentries’, little floating head-like robots that wander the walled-off corridors of this new building. Not The Robots specifically warns me not to let this level’s one sentry see me, but I’m unconvinced. What’s the little dude gonna do? Glower at me menacingly?
I press Spacebar to call up my elevator as the sentry moves away from it. My robot pops out, and gleefully starts eating furniture. And then, without warning, the sentry just turns around, doing a no-warning 180.
It spots me. I can tell, because a red alarm light on it starts blinking, and because its movement becomes wild and erratic. And also, because an actual bullets gun pops out of its head, and it starts shooting me with it.
I very quickly learn the value of ducking and hiding behind un-eating furniture, as the sentry seemingly randomly starts hunting for me. Luckily, with the floor divvied up the way it is, I can give it the slip into a room packed with furniture, eat all the stuff, and then run to the elevator and skedaddle before it catches up. Whew!
The second floor of this building has two sentries.
I’m a little more wise to their tricks, and the two Health boxes I find on this floor do help. As does the new Sprint power, which I’ve swapped for the slow-charging Invisibility. But still, the name of the game is always and forevermore ‘eating my own hiding places’. It doesn’t take long for both of them to spot me. Still, I manage to escape: with more health than I had, but less health than I could have had. Onto building three!
Building Three doubles down on the lasers, and also adds repeated-interval death floors. Nifty. It also decides to skimp on the guards, however, which means I’m back in carefully-planning-my-approach mode.
Which is good, because Building Three also adds a secondary victory mechanic: a sequence of floor buttons that I need to press in the correct order.
I’d like to say that Building Three is more difficult than Building Two, but that’s honestly just not true. Without the sentries, and with the predictable nature of the lasers and the zappy floors, there’s just very little that can go wrong. I do get zapped on several occasions, because sometimes I just don’t pay enough attention. But overall, I actually leave this entire building with more health, power, and score than I started. Not a bad haul, if I do say so myself. And all the furniture I could eat!
That’s probably why Building Four opens up with this warning…
…and why this building combines sequence floor buttons, death floors, lasers, and sentries.
To no-one’s surprise, I don’t actually make it out of this one.
For my efforts, at the end, I am rewarded with… stuff. Score blocks count through a variety of ever-widening progress bars. Six solid blocks for six completed floors, that gets me the ‘Freebie’ item. Three smaller blocks, for the three floors I cleared without taking damage. And one long ‘multiplier’ line, upping my score just that little farther, nets me the ‘first set of challenge levels’. Woo.
Back on the title screen, my suite of options has significantly expanded. I can do another campaign, if I want, with the added option of fine-tuning my difficulty in three levels. I can do an Operation, which… as far as I can tell, is supposed to be something like a mini-campaign? And obviously, Challenges speak for themselves. This game does have a very strong roguelike-puzzle-feel, after all.
Alright! I’m going to try all these new things. Campaigns, Operations, Challenges, the whole nine yards. Check back with you once I’ve eaten all the furniture.