- Developer: Orbit Studio
- Publisher: Super.com
- Release Date: 12/05/21
- Price: £16.99 / $19.99
- Review code provided by Super.com
Introducing: Retro Machina Review for Nintendo Switch
Retro Machina will instantly appeal to fans of the science fiction genre. Uncovering the secrets of the dystopian world and learning how the hubris of mankind has ultimately lead to its own destruction, drew comparisons in my mind to epic sci-fi masterpieces from literature (Day of the Triffids, Nineteen-Eighty-Four), movies (Jurassic Park, Terminator 2), and video games (Bioshock, Fallout) alike. It’s not all doom and gloom however. There’s also plenty of references to more hopeful narratives that centre around the premise of an artificial lifeform trying to understand what it means to be human. Think: I Robot, Short Circuit, WALL-E, AI, The Iron Giant and Star Trek: The Next Generation. A versatile hacking mechanic, engaging story and eerie soundtrack all work to the benefit of this game, but it is not without its faults. Read on to discover if these are the droids you are looking for in our review of Retro Machina.
Rise of the Machines
In Retro Machina, you take on the role of a generic, nameless, robot working on the assembly line in the glass-domed city of Endeavor. You and your fellow automatons are tasked with maintaining the city, presumably for the use of humans who are mysteriously absent. The game begins as you develop a sense of sentience that presents itself as a malfunction. The AI overlord quickly recognises this imperfection as a threat and discards you to the outskirts of the city. From this point onwards, your mission is to somehow repair the malfunction, whilst progressing through the remains of the human civilisation that once inhabited the planet, so that you might be able to return to the assembly line. Along the way, you will uncover the mystery of what caused the human population to vanish and come to understand, your newfound humanity. Your quest is made all the more difficult because all of the robotic denizens, that once served humans in some capacity, have developed murderous adaptations to survive and are now running amok. Fortunately, our intrepid little explorer has the unique ability to take control of any machine it encounters for the purpose of combat or to explore unreachable new areas.
Hack to the Future
The ability to hack nearly every automaton you encounter is central to progression within the game. I found it incredibly satisfying, when thrown into an arena of bad guys, to take control of the most intimidating foe and use its incredible abilities to grind the others into submission, all while hanging back and not taking a scratch. I could then relinquish control and smash the hapless thing to bits with my wrench before it knew what had happened. As Bastila Shan off of Knights of the Old Republic once put it, “What greater weapon is there than to turn an enemy to your cause?”
I must say that there were times when I found it to be quite tricky to select the correct enemy to control, especially in the heat of battle. With practice however I did get better at this, and it wasn’t long before I was in compete control of the battlefield. That is not to say however that every enemy encounter was easy. Far from it in fact. When I didn’t succeed however, it typically felt like it was my fault rather than that of the game.
Moving the player character around is handled using the left control stick as you’d expect. The right control stick is used to move whatever automaton you are currently in control of. There will therefore be moments when you will be required to move both characters around the screen independently, using two sticks at once. The old metaphor of rubbing your tummy while patting your head comes to mind here. Again, with a little practice, this soon becomes second nature and you’ll be running rings around your assailants in no time, laughing manically as you do so.
If you don’t GOSUB a program loop, you’ll never get a subroutine
The game comprises of a series of environmental puzzles that must be navigated by taking control of the robotic inhabitants and making use of their key abilities. There are a number of ideas which are reused multiple times (e.g. move tiny robot onto switch that will lower barrier so that I can move beyond it) but occasionally a puzzle did have me scratching my head for a little while, experimenting with this and that, until I came upon the solution naturally.
Littered throughout the world you will come across pickups that will aid you in some shape or form. There are literal keys which must be collected to unlock doors and gain access to new areas. You will also discover upgrades that can be applied to boost to stats such as your health, attack, control and energy based abilities. My favourite pickups however, have to be the pieces of artwork and diary entries of the ill-fated human inhabitants of the planet. It is through these nuggets of information that you piece together the narrative of what happened to their society to result in their almost complete eradication. I am not normally one for poring over text based backstory in a game, but I found the plot of this game to be so engaging that I made an exception here.
From time to time, you will be required to engage in combat with your foes which is very basic. There is no blocking mechanic for you or your enemies. No special type of attacks that certain enemies may be more or less susceptible to. Just whack enemies with your wrench, avoid their attacks with a well timed roll, and hope for the best. There is of course, the aforementioned hacking ability as well as some more powerful attacks that draw from an energy pool, but I would be lying if I said that combat was anything more than satisfactory in this game.
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe
The game is presented from an isometric perspective, which works very well for the most part. The art style is based upon that fantastic 1950’s science fiction B movie era that dared to imagine what the far future might be like. Think, Forbidden Planet or The Day The Earth Stood Still. It’s a depiction that fans of Fallout will instantly recognise and be drawn to. Robots are assembled from old fashioned gears and valves, computer monitors give off a faint green glow and artefacts left behind by people have that charming 50’s Americana vibe. What I am not particularly fond of is the incredibly small text when reading lines of dialog or journal entries. These are difficult to read in handheld mode and next to impossible to see when playing docked and sitting far away from the television.
The soundtrack to this game is absolutely outstanding. It complements the melancholy feel of the game wonderfully delivering a unsettling sense of foreboding. It puts me in mind of some of the more memorable prog rock beats from Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, which is about the highest compliment I can give.
Malfunction! Does not compute!
Unfortunately there are several frustrating faults in this game that soured the experience for me slightly. The game did completely crash on me once during my playthrough which meant I lost a couple of minutes of progress – no big deal, but enough to warrant some concern. Far more irritating however are the ridiculously long load times that accompany every transition from one room to the next. From a graphics point of view, the game is not pushing the Switch to its limits by any stretch of the imagination. The fact that I am being forced to endure loading screens, of 20 seconds or more, every time I step through a doorway is something of a mystery.
For a game that is based largely around exploration, the in-game map leaves a lot to be desired. Firstly, bringing up the map is overly complicated, requiring potentially three button presses to navigate through the menu. This might seem like a minor issue, but the regularity with which I needed to bring up the map to find my way around the labyrinthine overworld made this process more irritating than it should have been. Furthermore, the map itself is not particularly detailed and the player icon is so large that it obscures a good portion of the features that are represented.
Lastly, there were times when I found the level of challenge during combat to be far too difficult. Tackling the first boss, for example, took me around 15 attempts before I got the better of him. Now I’m not saying that games shouldn’t be hard but it would have been nice if the game included a difficulty option within the menu so that I could adjust the level of challenge by myself.
Conclusion: Domo Arigato Mr Roboto
Retro Machina is a clever and thought provoking, but occasionally frustrating experience. I fell in love with the story almost immediately and the futuristic/retro inspired aesthetic is, without a doubt, one of my all time favourite genres. Taking control of a mechanical assailant and then using them to wreak havoc upon all those who would dare to oppose you never gets old. It’s just a shame that some irritating quirks, like the ridiculously small text and the boredom inducing load times, detract from an otherwise enjoyable experience.
- Fantastic art direction and soundtrack
- Ingenious hacking mechanic adds variety to combat and exploration
- Engrossing storyline that kept me engaged from start to finish
- Difficult to read text and map
- Unreasonably long and frequent loading times