Sun 16 May 2010
Puzzle games are hot. Professor Layton, Scribblenauts, World of Goo, even Bejeweled, they’re all making headlines, and rightly so. Puzzle games offer a way to escape from the normal world, where bosses, spouses, parents and others make life miserable, to a world where diabolical puzzles make your life miserable instead. But that’s about the only entertainment they offer. A puzzle book by Sam Loyd, no matter how entertaining, just isn’t the same as a novel by Jules Verne. Similarly, a puzzle game can’t replace the profound entertainment that’s offered by a traditional adventure game… or can it?
Enter Puzzle Bots. Puzzle Bots is an ambitious venture, in that it tries to marry two genres that, although related, at first glance appear not to have very much in common: puzzle games and adventure games. While adventure games do have puzzles, and at times even incorporate traditional, ‘puzzly’, puzzles (such as sliding puzzles and mathematical riddles), they tend to lean heavily on a story element. And that’s something that puzzle games are often lacking in; Puzzle Bots tries to remedy that, by pouring a story sauce over a decidedly ‘puzzly’ puzzler. Does that make it more attractive though? Let’s find out.
When I fired up the game, I was greeted by an introduction screen that featured a catchy title tune, and an introductory cut scene. So far, so good. The presence of other cut scenes throughout the game betrays that this is no ordinary puzzle game. A grand story unfolds while you, the player, guide your robots to success. I’ll come back later to the story element, and the extent to which it works; for now I’ll focus on the main ingredient: the puzzles.
Although humans play a big role in the story, the stars of this game are the titular puzzle bots, which are tiny robots conceived by human scientists. There are five different robots, introduced to you gradually over the course of the game, each having their own specialities. For instance, Hero, the first robot you’ll meet, has picking up and combining items as his forte. If that sounds familiar, you’re right: it’s the tried-and-true mechanic we all know and love from adventure games.
These specialities make for some interesting, Day of the Tentacle style switching between characters, which becomes especially challenging once you have unlocked all five robots. Sometimes these specialities have been taken to questionable extremes though. There’s one robot, Ultrabot, who specializes in pushing and pulling things, and he does it quite well. So well, in fact, that you can only use him to push a button, a feat that would appear to be none too difficult for a handy robot like Hero. Overall though, the individual skills are used to great effect. One example of this is Kelvin, a robot who specializes in setting things on fire. The twist is that he can use this skill not only to burn things, but also to fix broken wires. I would have liked to have seen even more variety in the puzzles though, because some concepts are used multiple times (like the mentioned fixing of broken wires, and crossing gaps by moving objects over them).
As clever as the puzzles are, there are some things in the game that could have done with a bit more polish. For instance, switching between robots can be rather tedious, and in most levels you need to get each robot to the exit individually. If you left one robot all the way to the left, and the exit is several screens to the right, get ready for a short trip. Combine this with the fact that the screen does not auto-scroll, and sometimes controlling your bots can be just a bit vexatious. There are also some errors in the subtitles, but that’s something you see in almost every game that’s released these days, and a discussion about our manhandling of language far transcends the scope of this review, so I’ll let that slide. Another thing about subtitles: because the robots speak in an indiscernible language, you’ll need to pay special attention to the subtitles when they speak, or you might miss something. These are all minor annoyances though, and they don’t weigh up to the fun I’ve had playing this game.
That fun is largely due to the great charm that Puzzle Bots exudes. The bright, stylized graphics give the game great visual appeal, and the backgrounds have little touches and visual gags, telling that a great attention to detail went into their creation. The characters all have plenty of personality. Not just the humans that you meet in the cut scenes have strong personalities, but the robots themselves are also more solid characters than you might expect beforehand. Their forays into the human world make for some very funny situations, because they often don’t really understand what is going on, interpreting the human world from their own, often limited, perspective. The game made me laugh on several occasions, which is quite a rare feat for a puzzle game.
Now, we still need to figure out if giving story such a prominent place works in a puzzle game. To be honest, I found the plot in Puzzle Bots a bit on the flimsy side and the romance story a bit cheesy, but the quality of the dialogues makes up for that. Taking it to a more abstract level, Puzzle Bots ultimately shows that, yes, you can definitely combine the puzzle and adventure genres and end up with something that’s more than the sum of its parts. That’s probably the most promising thing I’ll take out of the experience. As for the game itself, it’s an entertaining enough experience, and well worth checking out – whether you’re a fan of adventure games or puzzle games, or both. I just hope the sequel will be longer. Actually, I just hope there will be a sequel.
Jan’s Score: 4/5 starks
About The Author
Jan Jacob Mekes (aka Haggis) is a Bachelor of Arts in History at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. He is also a big fan of adventure games – author and co-author of several game related blogs. You can find more of his work at Haggis Mag and here.