By Henry Badilla / June 26th, 2018
I have a confession to make – I love trading card games. I’ve been playing Magic: The Gathering for years, did some Yu-Gi-Oh! back in high school and even played the Pokemon TCG every now and then. I know I have a problem, and it has cost me a lot of money, but I’m already down this path, so there’s no salvation for me. And that brings us to today’s preview, Insane Robots. It was born from the idea of a table-top game but quickly evolved into some sort of digital card game, but without the collectible cards part, the deck building, no trading or buying expensive cards. Just pick a robot and play. The question is, if you strip so many elements from a traditional card game, is it still a card game?
The world of Insane Robots is the world of tomorrow, with robots doing all the work for humanity. However when a robot goes rogue and starts causing trouble they’re sent to the Arena to fight between themselves and entertain humanity. That’s where we meet Franklin, a robot who used to be a waiter and now finds himself in this predicament. With no memory of going rogue or why he’s there, he has to survive to find the answers. The version that I got to play didn’t have all the campaign available or the online components unlocked yet, so I can’t comment on the story as a whole or how does online work, but let me explain you mechanically how this game works.
First, battles are one on one, and you select your robot from a rooster of 22 characters, each with different passive abilities. To win you have to bring your opponent’s life to 0. To do so, you have to equip your robot with attack chips, this game’s version of cards. Attack chips vary from 1 to 5 damage, and you have to equip 2 in order to attack. Once you do, you have to spend 3 action points to attack your opponent and deal damage equal to the sum of your equipped attack chips. You start with one action point, and gain 1 additional point each turn. These are used to activate chips, draw new chips or attack. You can also equip defense chips to reduce the damage you receive, and like with attack, you need 2 to be able to block.
This is basically what the game is about, and it’s pretty straightforward, however there are many types of chips in addition to attack and defense. Hacking chips will either boost your stats or reduce the ones of your opponent. Swap chips will change one of your chips with one of your opponents. There are chips that deal damage directly and you can even mix certain chips to strengthen their effect or get new chips, at the cost of action points during your turn.
In general the concept is good, it’s easy to learn, and since you don’t have to select your chips the game is quick. And you don’t waste time learning the ins and outs of deck building, which I know can be boring for many people. However, since you always get a random selection of chips in each match, I feel that I’m fighting against the terrible chips I get and not the actions of my enemy.
For example, a perfect hand would be to start with 2 attack chips. On the first turn equip one attack chip, then the other chip on turn 2, by turn 3 you have 3 Action points so you can attack and win the match. I have done this against the AI and it’s easy. But instead you usually get 3 hacking chips on the first turn, so you have to waste your action points drawing chips or mixing the ones you have to get attack chips quicker than your opponent and attack for lethal damage as soon as possible. If you can’t then it will turn into a long and boring battle of reducing your opponent’s defenses, because attacking while their defense is higher is meaningless.
When you can build your own deck, you start working with probability. You have to determine what works, what doesn’t and build the deck so you can either get the cards that you need, or the cards that will help you survive. I understand it’s hard, and by the nature of the game if you build a deck with all Attack Chips it would be terrible, but the game feels more random than it should for a card game.
The other problem is that there is only one way to win the game, which is by damage. While there are some chips that deal damage directly, these are too few, so it’s not a valid strategy. In games like Pokemon you can poison your enemy and let them die by themselves for example, or in other card games you can force your opponent to draw all of his cards and lose for an empty deck. For Insane Robots there are no alternate strategies so each match feels the same.
In regards to content, the game’s campaign is divided into 8 tournaments, from which only 4 were available. In this mode you are locked in a map with 5 other robots and you have to move through the map fighting against them in turns. While sometimes they will defeat themselves, other times they will attack only you. In this mode you can find upgrades to your robot, like the ability to draw more attack chips, or that your chips deal more damage, alongside health upgrades which help mix things up a bit.
There is also a Quick Battle mode in which you fight against AI Controlled enemies, 2 Players Local that can be played with a single Controller or Mouse & Keyboard, and Online which I couldn’t test. It took me 3 hours to complete the 4 first Tournaments, but as each one becomes more difficult, I can imagine the time that it takes to complete them will increase as well.
From a graphics perspective I have no complaints. The 2D graphics are nice and the characters look funny. The effects during combat are simple but it’s easy to understand what’s happening. The music is really good, mainly the title theme is really catchy and I was happy every time I returned to the title menu to hear it again.
In conclusion I don’t think I am the right person for this game, but I appreciate what it’s trying to do. If you like card games but hate customization, deck building or complicated rules, Insane Robots may be for you. It feels like a puzzle game with a competitive twist that I can see some people enjoying. But if you’re like me and prefer to build your own deck, find alternative win conditions or complex strategies, then this may not be for you. Those that love a quick game that you can play during some downtime, this is a nice option to consider.
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