Indie Wonderland: A Robot Named Fight

A few hours in

It is now: Several hours later, and I’ve learned some interesting things about A Robot Named Fight in the intervening time. For instance: It has a wobbly, uneven difficulty curve. After that first terrible attempt, my second attempt actually went swimmingly: I defeated no less than three bosses and went all the way down from the surface, past a ruined city, into an ancient factory of some sort, only dying after entering some sort of perpetual-damage hot room. The next four or five attempts quickly plateaued at a similar level: I was doing alright, but couldn’t quite get the power and skill level required to thrive. It wasn’t until I learned of a poorly-told secret that I got better again.

But get better I *did*.

I have now fought off The Megabeast one (1) time. It’s obvious A Robot Named Fight expects me to do so multiple times, both in the way the end-game scoring is set up — I haven’t yet encountered the Megabeast Core — and in the way the outro cutscene literally says ‘more robots must take up the mantle of Fight’. Whether or not this will actually happen is up for debate, but that’s as much an indication of A Robot Named Fight‘s quality as it is a fun callback to 2017’s endless, relentless flood of must-play high-quality video games.

As for that aforementioned quality: A Robot Named Fight is a pretty okay video game. It’s particularly impressive for the way it blends Metroidvania design with roguelike procedural generation, and manages to build on that with decent platforming and combat, viscerally interesting enemies, and a ‘continually’-expanding set of cool items and upgrades. The controls are a little, and player guidance could be better, particularly in relation to one design decision that… But we’ll get to that. Overall, though, I had a good enough time.

This is literally all I will comment about the game’s quality of writing.

I’m hesitant to harp too much about A Robot Named Fight‘s level generation, because I don’t want to make sound like a glorified tech demo. But all the same, I wouldn’t do it justice if I didn’t mention at least one more time how neatly this weird idea works. Each run, each gameworld, is basically a procedurally generated Metroidvania. On the immediately level, this means that rooms of different sizes and layouts are tied together into something like a coherent whole. That’s not the impressive part: Flinthook [review link] did a similar thing, to similar effect. What makes A Robot Named Fight impressive is that on a broader level, this generated gameworld manages to exude a Metroidvania feel. Meaning…

Well, go back to the previous page and read my first run again. It felt like the most natural thing in the world for me to run into special locked doors early on. And when I took the one remaining path and found a powerup, I knew intuitively that that would help me get through one of them. And it did. And while moving through the world, I kept looking out for another powerup, trying to keep in the back of my (absent) mind that there was this other door I had yet to crack. It’s a simple story, but also the basic essence of Metroidvania: The world is large and locked-off, and every movement or combat tool you find lets you get to places you weren’t able to reach before.

Every A Robot Named Fight generates stories like that. Maybe you’re blocked by a meat door, and you find a flamethrower to burn through. Maybe there’s a door with a switch hidden in a wall, that the railgun can reach. Or the flamethrower. Or maybe a throwing axe. This one room has a giant pillar in the middle, while the other one has a one-square-high passageway; Can you say ‘double jump and slide-dash are in my immediate future’? Play A Robot Named Fight for long enough, and you’ll start to see the patterns, as with every procedurally generated game. But in isolation, every world works as a simple Metroidvania. There’s always a critical path, with blocked passages you’ll need to get through, and optional side paths with upgrades and weapons that make it easier for you stay alive — if you care about that sort of thing.

I turned into a spider in this run. It was a cool run.

The model actually has more longevity than you’d think. Part of this is a clever overlapping approach to powerups. You’d think that it would get boring to have to find the flamethrower every time you see a meat door, but guess what: For every obstacle, there are multiple powerups that fulfill the key function. Maybe you’ll find a flamethrower, or maybe you’ll find a flame-charged shot. Or maybe you’ll get the heat-shell, which releases a burst of fire every time you’re hit. Exploding doors respond to rockets and grenades both, wall switches can be tagged by anything that ignores wall collision — that sort of thing. There’s already room for interesting variety from the outset, but then A Robot Named Fight adds to it by incorporating a Binding Of Isaac-style system of random unlockables: Reach certain milestones in the game, such as beating bosses or reaching levels or other probably achievement-related stuff, and an entirely new thing is added into the mix. And incorporated into the level design, too: My last run, the upgrade that finally got me to the Megabeast was the InfiniJump, a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin upgrade I’d gained in the third-or-so run.

“Wait, does that mean…” Yes, it does mean that.

Doubling back on the level design real quick, one final thing that makes A Robot Named Fight feel more like a hand-designed game is the way verticality works into the environmental storytelling. The intro tells you to ‘go into the depths of the earth, and retrieve the artifacts of war’, and then you actually do so. In my experience, the final artifact you find on the bottom of the final level is always exactly what you needed to open that one door or cross that one obstacle all the way up top. And then you make your way back, and… But let’s not spoil everything. It’s cool, is what it is.

And hey, the equipment is also just fun in gameplay terms. Upgrades basically come in four categories. Some upgrade your basic shot: One upgrade makes it electric, another turns it into exploding missiles, another still splits your shot on impact. And these all stack, both functionally and visually.

The titular robot Fight, seen here shooting electrified missiles with menacing aura that split into smaller missiles on impact.

Other upgrades instead give you new weapons: Some replace your main weapon with (e.g.) a flamethrower or a railgun, to switch in and out at leisure, while others are very Castlevania-esque sub-weapons that you deploy at will. I’ve only found one of the latter: ‘Energy Axes’, which are just… space throwing axes, okay, they can’t all be winners. Both types of weapons draw from an energy pool that slowly replenishes over time, or quickly if defeated enemies drop energy orbs, and they all have interestingly different enough applications that it’s worth grabbing them now and again instead only relying on your main attack. Well, until you get the railgun, which instantly kills almost all enemies in a straight line through walls; bit of a different power level, that one. And finally, there are your passive upgrades: A shell against heat damage, a slide, a double jump, or friendly orbs of power that follow you around. Some of them shoot enemies. Some of them…

Ey, buzz orb!

Of course, your guns and tools are only as good as the enemies and obstacles you fight them with .A Robot Named Fight has an okay showing in this department. Biggest draw are the enemy designs, which all use the base concept of ‘weird meat monster’ to interesting effect. You’ve seen one or two already, but think of things like: Floating orb of mouths, that splits into smaller mouth, or floating orb of eyes, that shoots homing blasts. Charging flesh blob with a hardened back. Wall-mounted mouth that vomits up streams of acid. Conglomerate multi-bird. There are even a few flesh-infected robots, for that extra shock of body (shell?) horror. They’re appropriately varied and disgusting, and all explode into copious blood and giblets on death, which… You know what, maybe that’s not much of a bonus if gratuitous nonsense gore doesn’t make you laugh. It feels fitting for the setting, that’s my defense.

And then there are the bosses, which tend to be normal enemy designs scaled up to 11 — both in visual terms and in gameplay.

The gameplay is hampered a little by somewhat-floaty controls. They basically work fine: Running and ducking and jumping and shooting generally go off sans hitch. But A Robot Named Fight puts some degree of emphasis on its directional aiming, which you can achieve either with the right analog stick (or mouse), or by using buttons to lock in shot angles. This… works better in theory than in practice. Using the analog stick to aim is finicky, and just as often caused me to crouch when I wanted to aim down. Not a great deal-breaker, particularly with how generous A Robot Named Fight is with its health, but it always felt shitty when it happened. The LB and RB buttons are a more reliable alternative; They’re also an alternative I couldn’t quite get right, as my brain kept flipping expectations of what button did what depending on my robot’s facing. This might 100% be a Jarenth Issue, but damnit, I wanted LB to aim up when looking left and aim down when looking right. I don’t know why! Either way, it’s not a great problem; just enough for me to mention the gameplay wasn’t 100% Smooth McPlay, but not otherwise a deal-breaker.

In fact, nothing in A Robot Named Fight is really a deal-breaker, inasmuch that whether or not you’ll like this game depends much more strongly on whether or not you like robots and meat and Metroidvanias than it does on raw controller gamefeel. All the same, if I had to identify one thing that I’d qualify for that position the most…

You know, it’s kind of funny when A Robot Named Fight‘s ‘tutorial’ is a dying robot that yells at you to push buttons, for the love of SteelGod. It is, I chuckled. But I also hoped that this would be followed up at some point with actual player guidance. And from my phrasing I’m sure you can tell where this is going.

There is a lot of operational stuff in A Robot Named Fight that goes unexplained. Different guns and different effects on different doors, I can accept that. Having to learn sub-weapons through trial and error, fair enough. That the Hot Suit saves you from the Hot Damage in the Hot Zone, alright. But then there are things like… You find Archaic Scrap during play. What is that? What does it do, how do you use it? What are the rules? Until the first time you run across a crafter NPC, who can turn different colours of scrap into guns, orbs, upgrades, and maps, A Robot Named Fight is totally silent on the issue. In fact, it’s still silent afterwards: What I just told you is way more explanation than you can otherwise hope to get. Similarly, it’s totally unclear when certain map symbols mean, what some orbs do, and what it means when you step into one of those glass tubes and the game makes a big deal out of it, but then nothing happens. Not even a quick popup. It’s frustrating.

Hello? Mods? Anyone?

This is most obvious in…

You know what? This next bit is going to be a little heavy on the mechanical spoilers. It’s the kind of spoilers I would have liked; I was genuinely close to quitting the game before I figured this out. But all the same, if you want the ‘intended’ experience, feel free to read ahead. The offending bit is sandwiched between the next two images.

The spike-back beasties will guide your way to safety.

So, here’s the thing. There are stat upgrades in A Robot Named Fight: Health, Energy, Speed, Attack Speed, Attack Damage, the works. You can sometimes find these in side passages and the like, so far, so Metroidvania. But by far the lion’s share of these upgrades (as well as most of the scrap you need to buy fancy items) is hidden inside walls. Which is to say: Some walls have blocks that are actually destructible, and hitting these with an attack will reveal the upgrade. You’d think these would be rare, and/or obviously marked, but they’re neither: Wall upgrades are super well hidden and inexplicably everywhere. I really dislike this as a decision, because you need these upgrades: With only your starting health, speed, and damage, you really can’t hope to compete in the later levels or against the later bosses. Which means — unless you know the trick — that you’re essentially looking at the fun downtime activity of shooting every flat surface in the game.

But here’s the thing: The game recognizes that this is shitty and bad design, and actually gives you the tools you need to actively hunt these upgrades down. In the form of the Explore Orb, which just points them out, but even more directly than that: They’re on the map. Seriously! Look at the screenshot below, which serves as the bookend to the spoiler section — the people who skipped this have no idea. See how most of the play area on the map is green? With big white blotches to represent doors, and red areas to foreshadow bosses? And then there are some areas with small white dots, and some areas where the white dots are inside white squares.

Those are upgrade areas. The white square-dots indicate that there’s an upgrade hidden somewhere on that particular piece of screen. And once you find them, the square disappears, leaving only the dot as a marker for what was. This is such vital information! I’m not exaggerating here: Knowing how to look for hidden upgrades turns the A Robot Named Fight experience from a frustrating pixel-hunt fest into… Well it still involves shooting everything, but at least with a little more direction. It’s not a great design decision either way, but understanding where ot look downgrades the annoyance from ‘lethal’ to ‘manageable’.

A Robot Named Fight never outright tells you this.

“…and that’s why we should’a gone *left* at Albuquerque.”

Final thoughts

Hey, if you skipped the spoiler bit: Welcome back! I guess we’re in the tail end of the review now! Good thing that thing you skipped was in no way my most meaningful piece of criticism; can you imagine?

At any rate, A Robot Named Fight is decent fun. It’s technologically very impressive, which earns it brownie points right out the gate, and then translates that technology into a perfectly cromulent giblet-heavy Metroidvania experience. Controls are sometimes a little wonky, but apart from the one piece of criticism it’s mostly a fine experience. I promise you that’s not intended as damning with faint praise: It’s honestly just fine! If you enjoy collecting everything, or fighting giant meat horrors, or just testing your mettle (or metal) against procedural generation, A Robot Named Fight delivers all that and more in a neat, shiny package.

Just be sure to bring a metal detector.

<< Back to page 1.

Jarenth is not a meat sympathizer; why would you even make a ridiculous allegation like that? Just because he’s made of meat himself… The nerve, honestly. Apologize on Twitter or discuss the weaknessess of all robot defenses with him — just for fun, of course — on Steam. And if you dig Indie Wonderland and Ninja Blues in general, why not consider supporting our Patreon campaign? Meat monsters hate it if you do that, I promise.

One comment

  1. A procedurally generated roguelike that actually implements the metroidvania backtracking system? That does sound cool, I wonder if the devs have any talks about how they built that system.

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