For such a retro-focused studio, Retromite deserves some serious credit in the plot department! Their iOS debut doesn’t cast the player as a hero out to avenge their fallen parent, take down an empire, or save a hapless princess. In RobotRiot (Out Now, $1.99) the player guides a grungy, robotic repossession agent that disables ships from the inside out so its shadowy employer can tow them in as just compensation for unpaid debts.
As our hands-on preview subtly suggested, RobotRiot‘s level design is par excellence — although, if you consider the Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis “retro” platforms, you might be surprised at just how tough the platforming gets here. That is to say, there are some unforgiving exercises in footwork to be found within, but if you approach them with a challenge-ready attitude you’ll appreciate the design care that went into crafting them. Not since the likes of Mega Man 2 have I broken this much of a sweat over segments consisting entirely of narrow moving platforms and floating conveyor belts!
That’s not to say Retromite skimped on all modern conveniences, however. Lifelong platformer fans will appreciate strategically placed checkpoints, as well as the fact that the player’s robot doesn’t lose its momentum if it gets shot by an enemy or automated defense system in the middle of a critical jump.
Even more pleasing are RobotRiot’s four boss battles, which are unevenly distributed across its levels; one is encountered in the medium difficulty set, and the other three in the hard difficulty set. If the rest of the game left any doubt that RobotRiot is a love letter to the early console era, the rather tongue-in-cheek boss designs handily confirm it. Nostalgia aside, these are great breaks from the game’s toughest platforming segments, finally letting the player get major use out of that gun-firing button.
Despite all it has going in its favor, RobotRiot still has much room to grow and more depth to gain. Revisiting some of the classic NES platformers – say, the Mega Man, Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden series, or, getting more obscure, Journey to Silius and the G.I. Joe games – is very instructive here. In addition to great level design, these elder titles forced the player to budget lots of special weapons or switch among characters with varying properties. There are a smattering of quickly-spent powerups in RobotRiot but they don’t feel particularly critical to gameplay, which is probably reflective of how small a role combat plays outside of boss battles.
Lack of overall depth here seems as if it could be solved in content expansions, and it’s a much better problem to have than poor controls given the genre. RobotRiot‘s interface feels just sharp enough to handle all the intense platforming the player gets wrapped up in, though I think the virtual buttons could stand to be heightened just a tad. Out of the seven hundred times I must have hammered on that jump button, I failed once or twice on account of reaching too high for it.
RobotRiot features lots of smooth 16-bit era pixel art, which comes as a real breath of fresh air on a platform so dominated by hand-drawn graphics or 8-bit pixel art. The fact that all its levels are played out to a single chiptune is unfortunate, but it’s a full length and dynamic track that doesn’t get on one’s nerves at least!
As was the case with Mikrotie’s Treemaker, RobotRiot isn’t quite equipped for the content inflation that we’ve seen in the rock-bottom App Store price tier. At a mere twelve levels, RobotRiot should be good for two hours of uber platforming challenge, and maybe one if the player happens to be a swift-footed genre expert. The game’s mission structure appears readily expandable, however, so I’m betting on content expansion down the road.
iFanzine Verdict: An expertly designed platformer that captures the utterly tough-but-fair challenge of yesteryear’s greatest genre classics. On the downside, it falls short of the depth these games had outside of their platforming aspect, so consider its gameplay formula one with plenty of room to grow in updates or sequels.