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A rather ominous-looking spaceship has parked right over Earth, and wherever it came from, the transit time was spent putting together an army of mean little robots. Fortunately for us, a Blue Robo with a mechanical heart of gold has booted up just in the nick of time with plans to stop the invasion. It’s one against many, so it’ll take all the player’s smarts to keep this RoboHero (Free to Try, $1.99 as IAP) from landing in the scrap heap! Bravado Waffle Studios has spent plenty of time polishing their debut title – a fascinating mashup of Turn-Based Strategy and logic puzzle – since last October’s interview and it shows.

Theme and gameplay mesh so well in RoboHero, it’s downright uncanny. When you stop and think about it, turn-based strategy games break from reality a bit when they interleave planning and execution phases — but when you’re dealing with military drones that need to pause, re-evaluate, and calculate their next course of action, it makes all the sense. Execution phases last 15 “beats” here, so the player programs that many actions into Robo before turning it loose. The game’s AI does likewise for enemy units. The string of commands includes movement, turning, idling, dipping into inventory to switch weapons, and firing. This is all executed exactly as it should be: ghost images trace out Robo’s future path step by step, keeping the player well informed of where Robo’s starting out and where it will end up once it’s given the go-ahead.

Enemy plans are hidden from the player’s eyes, which certainly begs the question of how the player is supposed to land a shot or reliably avoid enemies. Just the thought of it might be exasperating to new players, but the key is to remember that everything on the field is a robot. Enemies are glorified, armored algorithms packing heat, and that means their behavior can be learned and predicted. Automated defenses leave themselves open to attack at set intervals or move in easily observed patterns, while tougher enemies operate on assumptions that take some insight to figure out and exploit. The player may opt to let Robo sit still for a turn or two so he or she can observe, but direct assistance comes in the form of level previews and the option to take a bona fide look into the future, the latter of which can be used a limited number of times per level in the single player campaign.

RoboHero’s 30-level campaign introduces gameplay elements and ramps up the challenge at just the right pace. There are no difficulty settings in the campaign but even when the going gets tough, RoboHero feels approachable. Novice players can scrape by if they play cautiously and lay down way more firepower than needed, at the cost of level performance ratings. Each level assigns the player a certain number of credits to spend on special weapons and armor at the outset, so replaying a level with a different toolset can spell the difference between victory and defeat. Wall-penetrating flamethrowers, rapid-fire machineguns, and even area-clearing nukes feature among the wide array of weapons veterans can field to clear a level quickly, while new players might rather splurge on armors that increase Robo’s endurance to enemy fire. Destructible blocks round out the player’s options by changing the behavior of free-roaming enemies in predictable ways or, if they happen to be explosive, taking foes out indirectly.

While campaign levels ask the player to complete a healthy range of objectives, merciless elimination is always the name of the game in Arena and Multiplayer modes. These play identically to the campaign with two major exceptions. First, enemy AI settings are on tap, with computer-controlled opponents serving as wildcards in a multiplayer game. Second, the fun isn’t over when the player’s robot gets knocked out: in an ongoing act of revenge, he or she gets to lay bombs on the field until a winner emerges! With the computer and fellow players all doing this at the same time, battles that would otherwise threaten to go on forever are brought to swift conclusion.

RoboHero’s interface is, in a word, perfect. The game always knows whether you mean to tap out movement commands or just pan the battlefield around, and the player can back out of however many planned actions he or she likes during the programming phase. I had to look far and wide to find anything worth nitpicking, but there are two things Bravado Waffle could improve in updates. For one, the shop system appears to be a strictly one-way affair: you can’t drop an expensive nuke once it’s purchased and buy some armor with freed credits. A sale button would be a great addition for convenience’s sake. Also, it’s not clear to the player whether good performance brings any rewards; there’s no transferring credits from one level to the next or other obvious perks. It’s also worth noting that Multiplayer mode features only hotseat games at present — no online multiplayer yet.

Games presented from a top-down perspective often have their work cut out for them in serving up memorable aesthetics, but Bravado Waffle make the most of it with floor cutaways that reveal gorgeous hand-drawn backdrops, as well as a story presented with vivid art stills during the campaign. RoboHero is no slouch in the music department either, its soundtrack ranging from the soothing to the ominous — always with a suitably mechanical edge.

iFanzine Verdict: Bravado Waffle impresses with an incredibly well polished debut! Whether you’re a TBS fan, appreciate a good logic puzzler, or just on the lookout for a game with hearty depth and lots of challenge, you owe it to yourself to give RoboHero a free spin; odds are you’ll want to go the whole distance.

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