With a title like RoboBlitz, you would expect this Naked Sky Entertainment game to be some kind of amalgamation of an Isaac Asimov story and a futuristic Dallas Cowboys. But sorry football fans; there isn't a pigskin in sight in this Xbox Live Arcade-distributed action adventure for the 360, which is actually about a good robot battling evil robots that are attempting to take over a space station. That's no loss, however, because the cutesy premise is the foundation for a catchy arcade experience blending puzzle solving with action. Control problems and an abbreviated length remind you that this isn't quite a full game (even though it is pretty expensive at 1,200 points), although it's still easily the most ambitious game released for the 360 via XBL so far.
It's certainly unique, too. You play Blitz, the robot guard of a space station under attack by a pirate gang called the MegaNOED. Your only hope at keeping your circuits in place and sending these dastardly villains away without any booty is the space cannon, a gun emplacement that has to be fired up by visiting the station's six sections and solving 19 levels of puzzles. The bad-guy robots of MegaNOED also battle your attempts to get the big gun readied and fired every step of the way, so this isn't simply a case of plugging in power cords and pulling a trigger.
Nothing here is revolutionary, although the game does a nice job of mixing puzzles with blasting bad guys. Most of the puzzles are straightforward and always involve either getting something for the cannon or fussing with gears, electronics, and the like to power it up and ready it to go bang. So you collect metal junk and enemy robots to toss into a grinder that recycles scrap into ammo. You realign mirrors to reflect lasers and open doors. You dodge pistoning pillars that can crush Blitz as flat as a circuit board. You jump from one whirling gear to another over spike-filled pits. You fire up conveyer belts and move boxes around. All in all, the game plays like a grab bag of classic 3D platform challenges.
Some of this is vaguely irritating busywork, and it's just ridiculous that a space station's sole means of defending itself is a robot jumping through hoops for a few hours. But the puzzles are interesting if not inventive and generally not too difficult, and you're kept hopping by flying and rolling pirate-scout robots. At times the game goes into full-blown third-person shooter mode, with brief stretches where you gun down baddies with the EMP rifle, plasma gun, and other weapons that your robotic buddy Karl makes for you when you give him enough of the upgradium power-ups lying around levels. Most of the shooting is of the basic have-at-'em sort, although the bosses at the end of each section of the ship are very tough and require a gimmick or two to defeat.
Control problems and a general awkwardness take some of the shine off the gameplay. Although a certain amount of mechanical clumsiness is to be expected--after all, you're playing a cross between R2-D2 and Tom Servo from Mystery Science Theater 3000--the controls remind you that you're playing a ham-fisted robot, not a supercommando with the agility of a Romanian gymnast typically found in action games. Although Naked Sky has obviously taken pains to make the in-game physics as realistic as possible by using Ageia's PhysX technology, you frequently run into ramps that you can't get up without a flying start and junk that is too heavy to carry when moving forward so you have to drag it in reverse. These moments do make RoboBlitz feel more authentic, but they also seem too true-to-life for a game that's otherwise very simple.
Also, there are some rough spots when it comes to getting around. Corridors often seem too narrow, so you spend a fair bit of time bouncing Blitz into walls. A fair number of objects are just a smidgen too big to be carried through doorways and halls, which at first seems kind of funny but soon gets aggravating. The camera too often and too quickly defaults to first-person mode when shoved into a corner, which can cause you to lose your equilibrium (and maybe even your lunch). Most of all, though, Blitz's arms are entirely too short, making it tricky to pick up objects without slamming into them and pushing them farther away. As you have to pick up a lot of objects over the course of the game, this gets frustrating fast.
But at least you get to gawk at a lot of pretty scenery while you're booting junk around. Even though RoboBlitz is a short budget game, it was built with the Unreal 3 engine and is quite pleasing to look at--especially compared to what else is available for the XBL Arcade. It's amazing that Naked Sky was able to cram so much into an XBL game. All surfaces have great detail and depth, apparently due to the new engine's use of procedural texture technology (also a reason why the developers were able to get so much into just a 50MB download). There isn't a great deal of variety here in the space station's rooms and corridors, although every setting has an authentic, industrial sci-fi look and different colored lighting effects.
Robots are nifty and distinct, too. Both Blitz and Karl have a lot of personality, largely because they look both high-tech and like something that a kid made out of egg cartons and Styrofoam cups. Enemy bots are cartoonish, as well, and most come with jack-o'-lantern-style grimaces that leave you no doubt that they're the bad guys. Music is on the lighter side, as well, and can best be described as a techno take on old-time platform soundtracks. It's deeply derivative but perfect for this style of game and somewhat evocative of the great tunes in the original Sonic the Hedgehog games.
The one big catch is that RoboBlitz is short. You can zip through the solo game in four or five hours, over one or two sittings (give or take an hour or two depending on how you fare against the bosses). And when you're done, you're done, unless you want to try the tougher master technician difficulty setting, as there are no multiplayer options and no extra goodies (although Naked Sky is planning to add multiplayer support and additional XBL-downloadable content in the near future). Still, this is a catchy old-fashioned arcade game with a fresh new look, so ultimately its higher-than-average XBL Arcade price tag feels worth it.