I’m sure you’re all quite familiar with Adult Swim’s smash hit Robot Unicorn Attack, the 2010 web game which – thanks to simple gameplay, coupled with total absurdity – took the world quickly by storm. With artwork that looked like something from a Lisa Frank notebook – and the accompanying cheesy music track of Erasure’s Always – grown men everywhere were happily leading a robotic unicorn towards the goal of endlessly smashing crystalline stars, and thus everyone’s wishes came true. It was inevitable that eventually a cash-in sequel would be produced, and – while various spinoffs have already occurred – fast forward three years later and we are finally faced with just that: Robot Unicorn Attack 2 (out now, free).
Much the same as the iOS version of its predecessor before it, Robot Unicorn Attack 2 gives you a jump button on the lower left-hand side of the screen and a dash button over on the right. The unicorn is also still capable of performing a double-jump in the air – leaving behind a rainbow trail in its wake – as well as air dashing, which enables further air-jumping afterwards. You will still die in a fiery explosion, watching as your unicorn’s decapitated head flies towards the screen, each and every time you so much as barely nick any part of the scenery. You will also still collect robotic pixies – and furthermore smash through crystalline stars – in order to raise your score during each of your three life lives, although the inner-workings of the combo system have changed drastically.
It used to be in the original title that the act of chain-collecting pixies or stars, without missing any of them along the way, would increment a multiplier on each successive pick up. Here each star and pixie are worth precisely the same value no matter how many of them you perfectly gather in a row, this time your multiplier only goes up whenever you jump through one of the new floating rainbow rings. This boost – however – ends the exact moment your metallic hooves touch down upon terra firma, which in turn leads us to the biggest new game play mechanic in Robot Unicorn Attack 2: the ability to have wings.
When wings have been equipped you will be able to fly by holding down on the jump button once you’ve already first leapt into the air, with your unicorn constantly gliding upwards for as long as you hold the button (maintaining a constant altitude requires carefully controlled taps). Using these you will have a far more sane time of trying to pass through multiple rings without touching the ground along the way, making it so that stars are actually worth something when you smash them. The catch is that the wings only kick in after your horse reaches maximum velocity, which can take a while, and the sudden switch in jumping mechanics will more often than not lead to an accidental death.
Other than the traditional method of running face first into any random bit of the game’s floating rock structures, Robot Unicorn Attack 2 has also introduced an all new way for players to die. Scattered about the levels – if you last long enough – are rock golems with crystalline star faces, whom will quickly fire an instant death beam upon the unicorn should they acquire a straight line of sight. Of course, getting the drop on these bizarre giants first – done by dashing through them before they can launch their solar beam – will result in massive points being earned by the player.
So far this is probably all sounding to be positively excellent, and yet – to use an oddly appropriate expression – all is not exactly “rainbows and unicorns” in this freemium based sequel. As with any freemium title there is a currency system in Robot Unicorn Attack 2 that you can slowly accrue throughout the game, or – more realistically – acquire through endless volumes of IAPs. Sans IAPs these little blue gems are collected in one of two ways: by grabbing them from the game world, where they appear in very limited quantities, or by completing special objectives.
If you complete enough of these objectives your level will go up, which – while also unlocking new game play features – will reward you with a far greater quantity of gems than you could collect during dozens of runs. Early on – so long as you’re the slightest bit good at the game – you’ll be getting level ups nearly everything single play through, giving you the mistaken impression that these gems will flow freely. That’s why it is at this moment – while it still seems as if the good times of incoming gems will never end – that Robot Unicorn Attack 2 is going to heavily push you to start using it’s most diabolical new gameplay mechanic: the boosters.
We’ve got boosters to get you up to flight speed more quickly, we’ve got boosters to attract gems towards your unicorn, we’ve got boosters to make you auto smash the first star you fail to correctly dash into, we’ve got boosters that let you jump three times in a row, we’ve got all sorts of various ability enhancing boosters. All of these boosters – of which you may use up to three per session – cost gems to activate, and specifically they require a renewed quantum of gems each and every you start a new play session. Early on these expensive boosters might not seem so important, but later you’re going to be dealing with challenges that ask you to do things such as smash twenty hyper dangerous giants in a single run.
So you might be wondering why you’d care at all about the acquisition of these gems that you’ll be using primarily to acquire the boosters needed to tackle the challenges that pay off far fewer gems than what you’ll spend completing them. It’s certainly a valid thought, except that these gems are also used to buy a slew of new parts – such as the aforementioned wings – that can be used to customize your unicorn’s abilities and appearance in a variety of ways. Since collecting these gems through challenges is largely a losing proposition, the only way you’re normally going to acquire these extra expensive parts – sans using IAPs – will be to slowly grind for the scant few gems you can find on the ground during your sessions.
The fact of the matter is, unless you have a hidden penchant for dressing up mechanical unicorns that must be slaked, you’d be far better served just purchasing the original game for $0.99. It will give you gameplay where you’re not competing with high scores controlled by people who constantly dump large volumes of disposable cash on IAPs, or at least have somehow turned the experience into a bizarre meta-game about min-maxing free gem acquisition, and will further give you access to the original’s superior scoring mechanic. It will also give you access to Erasure’s Always from the start, as the only way you’re going to have one of the most iconic parts of original Robot Unicorn Attack this time around is to purchase it separately.
Yes – you heard me correctly – you don’t get to listen to the iconic song that helped make Robot Unicorn Attack the magically absurd experience that launched it to stardom, or even any other songs, at all. Due to the licensing fees involved in acquiring music, they were not able to affordably include any good tunes for the game this time around while also offering it for free (even though we’ve just covered that Robot Unicorn Attack 2 is really anything but free). I can respect that idea, and – had the game not went down the dark side of the freemium path – I would have gladly electively opted into buying musical tracks for my robotic unicorn jaunts. Besides, and let’s be honest here, who here doesn’t wish they could have used Limahl’s NeverEnding Story Theme – one of the purchasable soundtrack options – to play the original classic with?
Oh, and I guess I would be remiss if I didn’t also find time here to discuss Robot Unicorn Attack 2’s all new massively competitive feature entitled: “Team Rainbow Vs. Team Inferno”. The idea is that each day you can choose to be part of either the heroic Team Rainbow – or the villainous Team Inferno – and fight for the fate of the universe by seeing which side can smash more stars in 24 hours, with everyone on the winning team earning free gems. While I think this feature was designed to encourage people to buy a ton of boosters to help their side win, Team Inferno ended up having so many more players on it that they win by default each and every day (which in turn has encouraged most of Team Rainbow to defect).
Anyways, all of the aforementioned gameplay and IAP matters aside, it perhaps pains me the most to admit that Robot Unicorn Attack 2 is actually a mind blowingly beautiful game to behold. All of the scenery is so positively lush and vibrant, filled with tiny fluidly animated details, such that it now looks like a Lisa Frank notebook had sex with a heavy metal album cover. Truly, I would have gladly bought this for a cash up front fee – even though I already have the original – if the only change to the formula had been the addition of these new breathtaking visuals (I particularly liked the alternate ice planet).
What made the original Robot Unicorn Attack so special is that it was a positively absurd gaming experience – gloriously throwing together mismatched elements – and filled with addictive, yet simple, mechanics. I am pretty sure even Adult Swim themself never fully realized the massive success they were about to launch, as none of their previous flash titles had ever performed nearly so well. So now that we’re three years later – and the corporate overlords are much wiser to the franchise’s value – we are left with nothing but a product of pure greed, and non-stop ads popping up everywhere. The end result is that the once majestic rainbow trails of frolicking robot unicorns, smashing every crystalline star in their path, are sadly nowhere near as bright or cheerful as they used to be.
While astoundingly more beautiful than the original Robot Unicorn Attack, we are ultimately left with a sequel that is now entirely about extorting players into using IAP options as much as possible. The addition of the optional flight system is interesting, but it seems largely added to justify the sequel’s newly implemented ring based multiplier setup (which seems added only to thwart people from getting anywhere based on skill alone). While the option to play with Limahl’s NeverEnding Story Theme in the background is definitely an epic addition, not even it could save Robot Unicorn Attack 2 from being something entirely other than what we’ve all wished for.