Puzzle Bots ReviewJoe Shaffer
Today I'm going to divulge one of my greatest secrets. I bray on and on about macho games like Final Fight and Bloody Wolf, and how I love playing such titles while eating a bloody steak and downing an extra stout dark brew. Heck, some might actually buy this nonsense and think I'm a tough guy who despises rom-coms and roots for carnivores while watching nature programs. Contrary to what you might believe, though, I have a soft spot for all things adorable. I can think of no better follow up to a session of manly, 16-bit crime fighting than watching YouTube videos of beagle puppies playing or mother cats embracing their nightmare-racked kittens. Now and then I'll even indulge in a lighthearted game like Puzzle Bots to aid in cleansing the old palate and drawing out a few idle giggles.
For me, it was initially difficult to remain in a sour mood while playing Puzzle Bots. It lulled me with its simple flash video-like presentation and whimsical plot that begged me to kick back and take it easy. This made surviving the inane cutscenes starring characters who ranged from boring to mildly annoying possible. It also gave each stage, in which I commanded up to five bots, a genuine homebrew feel, complete with hand drawn environments and choppy animation. Everything about the game so exuded cuteness and tameness that I found it difficult to truly dislike the game when the experience went south.
Adorable though it was, Puzzle Bots was not able to hold my interest. Mostly, this had to do with the game's basic setup. Each stage offered a different puzzle that involved interacting with objects in the surrounding area, similar to a point-and-click graphic adventure. Each bot could only execute one specific action, like carrying, burning, or pushing, which led to a lot of simple solutions for certain problems. For instance, I bumped into a few areas that involved using a flat object as a bridge or pushing a climbable object to reach a loftier platform. Both of these are incredibly common scenarios, and have been so overused in any game featuring puzzles that they require virtually no thought.
At first, though, I wasn't bothered that most of the puzzles could be completed by my seven-year-old nephew, because the game begged me to relax. Besides, it was cute. However, there comes a point in innocent titles where the effects of the cuteness wear off. With adorable games of yore like Adventures of Lolo or Chip 'N Dale Rescue Rangers, this is when the game stopped trying to melt you with its charm and the claws came out. While those games maintained an innocent presentation in their latter acts, they were also ruthless in drawing blood and bathing in your frustrated tears. They were heartless and challenging, despite being marketed to children, because their developers realized that cute presentation and "relaxing" gameplay were not enough maintain a solid experience. I wish I could say that Puzzle Bots eventually dropped the sweet act and tore my face off with tough puzzles, but it never crossed that line.
I waded through several mundane scenarios, expecting those claws to come out. In the interim, I pushed many a block, bombed many a cracked wall, and burned many a flammable object, but seldom engaged in anything that required complex actions or an astute level of thinking. Part of the problem is that most of the solutions are obvious. Even an idiot can figure out use a key on a door or place a fly-shaped stone next to a fly-eating frog. Anyone who's played any video games pretty much ever knows that cracked walls can be destroyed with bombs, flat objects make effective bridges, and that wires must be connected in order for electronic devices to operate. Each of these situations can be solved with a few basic clicks, and appear repeatedly throughout the game, and are rarely presented in a more thought-provoking way.
In a way, Puzzle Bots doesn't play like a puzzle game, but like a simplified point-and-click adventure. The main reason I say this is that I solved most of the puzzles by clicking on arbitrary items or set pieces and without actually thinking or trying. All I did was click on a bot and check out what it could interact with, putting no thought whatsoever into what end I had to achieve and what objects I had to work with. By performing the bare minimum of interaction and not actually engaging in the game, I was able to advance through most of it. Gameplay like this is not what I would associate with a well made puzzle game, or even a decent point-and-click adventure for that matter.
I suppose some will correct me and say that this game was intended to be "relaxing," and therefore easy and mindless, but then I could make that argument about any game that refuses to engage its players. I really don't see why a game can't be both engaging and relaxing. (Hell, there's a laundry list of turn-based RPGs I could recommend that easily fit both criteria.) The main reason I play video games is for their interactive aspect. To demean that would mean creating a video game that goes against the basic principle of gaming.
This doesn't mean I absolutely hate Puzzle Bots, though. I am bored to tears by it, sure, but it still possesses the imagination and charm that a cute, lighthearted title should. I suppose I'm mentioning this because I don't want readers to think I'm bullying this game for being adorable or kid-friendly. As a huge Mario fan, I'm honestly not bothered by such aspects. But when a game refuses to engage me in its cuteness, that's when the gloves come off and scathing words appear on my monitor, especially when a game pretty much advertises engaging gameplay in its title.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.