I recently felt like playing a different type of game and opted for Monobot, a puzzle platforming game with a unique twist in the way it tells its story. The question is, does it deliver? In some aspects it does, but not so much in others. The game has a visual design which is stunning. The graphics almost look hand drawn and the backgrounds feel natural with it being interwind, so it feels like the world around you is huge. The character himself is quite a cute little droid as far as droids go. You wake up with next to no knowledge about what’s happening and your instinct is to escape, only to discover this has happened thousands of times before. The aim for you is to break the cycle. The environment will try and kill you along with hostile robots that hunt you throughout. As you’re progressing, you will have to solve puzzles (this is where the frustration begins!). I’ll hold my hands up as I’m not generally very good at puzzles anyway, but the margin for error in this is very unforgiving! Everything needs to be precise to the point of frustration.
The design of the puzzles themselves are brilliant and in that aspect, I can’t fault Monobot’s developer at all. We don’t want games to hold our hands too much, however we also want games to be accessible to as many people as possible, so a hint system would of been a massive help for someone like me. Alternatively, if the game knows you have been stuck for a certain amount of time, maybe even a clue. The other aspect that makes puzzles frustrating is how slowly Monobot moves. Considering he is a robot that’s on one wheel, he doesn’t feel that mobile. There is one section you have to move a block and get past an enemy robot. The precision for this was very high – enough for the developer to have to address the timing window.
There isn’t much your droid can do. He has no way of defending himself as everything is based on him solving the puzzle and running away. His abilities consist of a magnet and the ability to swap his position via a teleporting device, so he can swap himself with lighter objects, e.g. a box. This is intertwined in the puzzles, however the frustration returns as if you’re out by even a millimetre, it can cause you to die or restart the puzzle. This is something that happens throughout the game. Monobot itself isn’t that long. Steam clocks me at 10 hours however I reckon a skilled puzzler, or if the precision was toned down, you could halve that. Regarding the game’s story, well it’s flat, which is a shame as the world clearly has a lot of depth from its visuals and potential to be expended upon. The details are told by documents if you find them and some very brief cut scenes. The next downside for me is that nothing is voiced. I don’t mind silent game characters, providing we get very polished emotional work so we can interpret the story in that way. It doesn’t do this so it ends up leaving too much to ponder by the end credits.
The gameplay, whilst frustrating, can also be fun. When you manage to resolve a puzzle, you do feel a sense of achievement in doing so. The abilities once strung together are also enjoyable. Some sections have low gravity and that leads to more fun with the jumping when required. Adding that to the magnet allowing you to swing further creates some good sections. It just needs more balance so you get more of the exciting parts and less frustration. The part where I’d say the game is forgiving is with checkpoints. Should you fail, you’re sent back possibly a few minutes at most, so you don’t have to replay large sections over and over. This is key for me as it did ease some of the annoyance when I failed a puzzle or an enemy robot killed me. By Monobot’s end I had mixed emotions as there was parts I enjoyed, but it felt too fleeting. Its story didn’t deliver for me and (minor spoilers) I broke the cycle and I saved myself and a human. Why was it all important? Who knows, as I didn’t see why any of it was being done in the first place. I will come back to it and go over the documents I found and look for ones I have missed, but I shouldn’t need to do that to get a conclusion that’s satisfying.
A Steam review copy of Monobot was provided by DreamSmith Studio’s PR team, and the game is available now for around £10.