Is a MicroBot right for me?
The twin-stick shooter genre is not one that I'm intimately familiar with, though the concept is cool. I've missed out on the phenomena of such games as Geometry Wars, Asteroids, and PixelJunk Shooter. But the screenshots and descriptions for those kinds of games fulfill my desire for wild escapades and shenanigans just perfectly. So when given the opportunity to play EA's MicroBot, I figured, what the hell, why not?
[image1]MicroBot is your standard twin-stick shooter; you control your "character" (vehicle? ship?) with the left joystick, and control your weapons (and the direction they fire in) with the right. Waves of enemies attempt to kill you, while you attempt to kill them - the concept is fairly simple and has an enjoyable pick-up-and-play quality. The "story" behind it is that your titular vehicle, the MicroBot, is a cure for some vaguely defined disease that causes evil nanobots to kill you from the inside out; you control a good nanobot (with pretty awesome guns o' doom) that's been injected into your bloodstream, and fight off the waves of the aforementioned evil nanobots. It is, in short, a more violent form of Honey I Shrunk The Audience or maybe Fantastic Voyage or Innerspace. [Or the Body Wars ride at Epcot Center. ~Ed.]
Where MicroBot sets itself apart from the crowds, though, are in level design, character progression, and customization. As you defeat waves of enemies, special power-ups can be unlocked through killing and collecting pieces of specific enemies. When given the opportunity (by visiting special upgrade zones), you may assign individual weapons and special items to locations on your MicroBot, drastically changing its performance and how it plays - think almost like Spore, and assigning "arms" (ha ha, subtle pun) to slots.
In my short time running through the game, I added a propeller to adjust my movement, two seeker-missile arms, two machine gun arms, and a "hydro nuke" capable of both destroying and pushing away enemies. One particularly fun ability is the "co-op link", which when playing with two players, allows one player to automatically buff the other's firing speed and damage, and with a press of a button, forge a sort of laser garrote between the two ships that destroys anything passing between them.
[image2]As mentioned previously, your MicroBot fights through the human body, which makes for a naturally wide range of levels. But these levels are more than just skins and pretty backgrounds (and believe you me, they look incredibly nice). The "bone" level, for example, has you piloting through gaps in marrow and changes the usually "open area" levels into tight, claustrophobic corridors with shards of bone ready to blow up my ship at a moment's notice. On the flip side, there are levels with vast, open spaces filled with blood and other fluids, whose very stream-like movements make it feel as though you're fighting in the middle of some living ocean, whose currents need as much attention as your enemies.
The game is good, simple fun. Were it to come out right now, I would certainly recommend buying it. That being said, what impressed me was the staff. Whereas most of the designers wore business suits at the EA event, the MicroBot staff wore lab coats and mad-scientist glasses. While other designers asked me to sit down and play their game in the way they wanted me to play, the MicroBot staff offered me silly, dorky little pamphlets, and just let me fiddle around with the game. They had the look of lost little puppies searching for love. I got the general impression that this game was not a job to these guys, but a work of passion; you could see it in their eyes, hear it in their voice, watch it play across their face as they talked to me about some particular feature.
Given that MicroBot is still in development, that passion is an important element to consider - it tells me that, if nothing else, the developers will put their everything into making an awesome game. They will struggle to make this thing as perfect as it can be, and it will be better for that. As it stands, the game I played looked ready enough to make a nice chunk of change right now. I have no doubt, though, that those working on it will push it away from "good enough" and towards "totally kick ass".