[Review] I, AI – Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: Sometimes You
  • Publisher: Sometimes You
  • Release date: 09/12/2020
  • Price: £8.99 / $9.99
  • Review code provided by Sometimes You

Introducing: I, AI Switch Review

When I was little, I remember asking my dad what his favorite video game was (since he was the one who introduced me to games). He told me, Galaga. At the time, my little 6 year old brain was utterly baffled that he did not see the majesty of my favorite game, Ape Escape. As I got older I learned to understand the concept of people having different tastes and that, hey, Galaga was pretty good! While I never developed the skill for a ship shooter game like my dad did, it is that fondness that made I, AI catch my eye. Could this be the spaceship shooter for the modern age that I was looking for?

Zap Zap!

I, AI is a game where the story is taking a backseat, but the fact that there is a story to back up the gameplay at all is always something to be appreciated. You play as an AI who was in some kind of lab before gaining just enough sentience to realize that it could escape. So it does! Hijacking a space ship in order to blast through anything that gets in your way, the goal becomes to make it through space to a jump point that can be used to get further away and, presumably, to freedom.

It’s thin, but it’s something and it does justify the campaign of the game and that’s really about all that you need. A little sympathy for the little ship that we’re in charge of can go a long way after all. Even if I wasn’t thinking much about this while I was playing the game itself. The story is helped by a few still images that are put up when these infrequent story segments happen. These are beautifully done and I did appreciate getting to see them each time that I had the chance to.

Rooty Tooty Point ‘N Shooty

That leaves the gameplay to take center stage for some good old shooting action. Each level that you enter scrolls automatically as you move forward through the actually fairly occupied void of space and take out anyone that gets in your way. There are actually a lot of enemies that you can just dodge around and not bother shooting, but doing so means that you’re not going to get as many of these little blue chips that are used for upgrading your ship. So, there’s some incentive to put yourself in a little more danger than you might have otherwise. You can go to the hanger and upgrade your ship whenever you finish a stage or die. Dying does take away a portion of the chips that you collected, but not all of them, so you are still able to make some headway towards the upgrades you really want, even if you fail in the process.

Levels don’t have checkpoints at all, so each time you make a go of it, you’re going to have to run the entire thing in one shot, and these levels can get pretty lengthy. Thankfully there is an upgrade to be purchased that allows for a resurrection should you fail, but it’s pricy at the start of the game so you won’t be getting it until things get really dicy out there. However, there are plenty of other upgrades to look at in the meantime, such as beefing up your guns a little more, giving your upgrades some extra punch, or making your little ship more durable.

In Space No One Can Hear You…

While I found upgrading my ship to be satisfying, I can’t say that that feeling extended to the entire game as there were little frustrations that just kept building up the more that I played. For instance, there’s not really any instructions to be found here. I don’t need the game to tell me the reasons that I should watch out for certain enemies or that moving one of the sticks is going to move my ship, but I would have at least hoped the game would tell me which button shoots on the first level (It’s R by the way). Button instructions for each of the powerups are displayed to one side of the screen along with how many charges that powerup has, so the fact that I had to figure out how to shoot for myself was just a little strange.

Then again this might be common controls for this type of game that I just didn’t know, but it is generally a good idea to make sure that the least experienced players at least have basic understanding. Not to say that the controls are anything complicated at all, they’re fairly simple once you have an understanding of them.

Either way, you just might as well tape that shoot button down because you’re going to want to be shooting all the time. Even the game knows this, since there’s an option to enable automatic shooting of your primary weapon in the options. This is great not only as an accessibility feature for those who might have weaknesses in their hands that prevent them from holding buttons as long as these stages are, but just for anyone who intends to to go into this game for a long play session. I, in fact, turned this on after I had been playing for a while and it actually revealed to me how I was just finding this game kind of bland when it came to playing itself. 

While I like the upgrade system that the game offered and the feeling of progression, the moment to moment gameplay wasn’t the most exciting in the world to me. Sure there are some moments that can get appropriately bullethell, with you having to dodge quite a lot of rockets coming your way, but all you’re really doing is moving your ship around and choosing what powerups to use and when. It’s not even like certain types of ship are weaker to certain powerups to give strategy to the endeavor. If you don’t react right, you’re dead, and while this might be fun for some, it just started to lose me after a while. Even if the dodging and weaving of some of the bosses were fun, those bosses weren’t very memorable and failure against them would mean having to play the whole lengthy stage over again.

Swirling Galaxies

The visuals got pretty repetitive too. There’s not a whole lot of variation of colors to be found, just lots of browns and grays, though this does make the projectiles stand out, it can make the game feel like it’s the same thing over and over. As the level scrolls, there will be different sorts of machinery or mechanical devices that you fly over, but it was just that, machinery and devices. There was nothing that ever seemed to give any world-building to what purpose it served. Perhaps the most frustrating part of the visuals for me, though, was the asteroids.

Occasionally, there will be large space rocks in a level that serve as a barrier for your weapons until either you dodge around them or hit them enough times that they are destroyed. The problem comes in that these rocks are not very visually distinct from asteroids that may be part of the background. So when those two overlap, it gets confusing as to what is an obstacle and what isn’t. There are some enemies that blend in a little to the machinery, sure, but those tend to move to make their presence known. The only way to tell with these rocks is either to bump into them or shoot them, which can be a distraction when dealing with other enemies.

This is one of those games that I found myself having to mute. Not because the sound was particularly awful or anything, though it wasn’t very exciting either, but more because the sound was just plain repetitive. Since you’re doing the same thing a lot, you’re going to hear the same blaster sounds and sounds of enemies blowing up repeated to the point of insanity. It’s part and parcel of the genre, I know, but when I wasn’t losing anything gameplay wise from putting things on mute, it was just a little better to play while listening to a podcast or my own music. It didn’t help that the shooting of your ship is the dinkiest little clicking noise I’ve ever heard used for a spaceship.

Engaging Landing Gear

At first, I had a lot of fun with I, AI, but the longer I played the more it wore on me. The lack of anything to be found other than the main campaign and settings didn’t help either, since there was nothing else that I could do to break my play sessions up. It’s a little disappointing, but that’s what happens. I’m sure that there is someone out there who might enjoy it and what you get for the price isn’t bad, it’s just not one that I was particularly excited to dedicate myself to.

Pros

  • Satisfying progression system
  • Ability to toggle on an auto-shoot

Cons

  • The gameplay can feel repetitive
  • Repetitive and uninspiring visuals
  • Points where obstacles and backgrounds are hard to distinguish

Verdict

While this title might be fun at first, once the cracks start showing you’ll tire pretty quick. It’s not awful, just a touch sub-par.

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