STAFF REVIEW of Insane Robots (Xbox One)

Friday, July 27, 2018.
by Adam Dileva

Insane Robots Box art I keep telling myself I would stop judging a book by its cover, well, a game by its cover, but I still find myself unknowingly doing it at times. When Insane Robots arrived to review, I checked out some of the screenshots and assumed it would just be another forgettable indie title that I wouldn’t even remember playing in a week. Luckily, I can admit my mistakes and be pleasantly surprised when I’m proven wrong. Don’t let insane Robots’ cute demeanor fool you, there’s some fantastic gameplay within for anyone yearning for a card battle type of game with some deep strategy and addictive gameplay.

Starting out as a basic robot named Franklin, you are sentenced to death for simply “asking questions”. By whom or what, that’s a different question that you’ll uncover during your journey. Any robot that is perceived to be malfunctioning is labeled as insane, forced to battle against other insane robots, hence the title. The plot is interesting enough and sets a decent framework as to why you’re battling other robots in an almost battle royale type of setting.

You’ll eventually learn about “The Kernal”, who is apparently the one behind all of this, so it’s up to you to battle your way as a sole survivor to take down this mysterious foe. Even though the story is paper thin, it’s not a problem, as the gameplay itself does more than enough to carry the rest of the experience on its shoulders. The campaign will take you a handful of hours, and there’s plenty of replay value, so the price of admission is well worth it.

I’ve dabbled in card battler games before, such as Hearthstone, Gwent and others, but they usually have a high barrier of entry, as they are usually quite deep and involved from the get-go, and can be quite intimidating to delve into head first. I expected the same with Insane Robots initially, but after a handful of hours, I kept wanting to do just one more tournament.

You traverse on a hexagonal grid, and as you explore the map you’ll come across money pickups, mini-quests and of course, other insane robots to fight. You are only able to move a certain amount of spaces per turn, as are the enemy robots, and as you land on another robot, you’ll begin a battle. You’ll also come across shops where you can buy upgrades, health replenishments, and more, to help outfit your robot into a powerhouse fighting machine of death, for a cost of course.

When you begin a battle, you’ll take turn-based moves where you’re going to need to plan out the best strategy with the hand you are given. Even though I’ve labelled it a card battler, I guess technically it deals you chips, you know, to match the robot aesthetic. Your deck will be randomized every time, so there’s no need to build that ‘perfect deck’, which is great, as it keeps the randomness and challenge ongoing. You’ll need to outfit your chips in a way that allows you to simply deplete the enemy’s health to zero to win. Sounds simple, but it becomes much more challenging and deeply strategic the further you progress.

Setting up your attack and defense numbers is simple at first, as you need to slot both attack or defense areas with a chip for it to take effect. The value of each chip is randomized as it goes into your deck, but there’s a smart system in place that allows you to bolster your stats, or deplete theirs. So, simply slot two attack chips into your robot and you’ll have the combined value usable as your offence. The same goes for defense, as you gain those bonus shield points if you slot two chips, gaining the combined total of both.

It costs energy to slot in chips though, and each turn you have a limited amount, so there’s a very important resource management in play that you need to be aware of at all times. At first it comes down to simple math, as you will damage the enemy with your attack number, as long as you have the resources to do so (it takes three energy to launch an attack) and your offence is of a higher value than their defense. So, it becomes a cat and mouse game of balancing keeping your offense and defense up, but also trying to whittle away your opponent’s health. These are where the hacking and other special chips come into play.

There’s a number of special chips that can instantly alter the outcome of a battle and have to be utilized in specific ways to be very powerful and useful. You begin with basic hack chips, allowing you to boost your attack or defense chips that are slotted, or decrease the enemy robot’s numbers. Swap chips allow you to do just that, swapping your chip with the corresponding enemy’s chip, to boost yours and decrease theirs. There are also lock cards, allowing you to lock a specific chip so it’s unhackable and can't be swapped by your enemy, or used to break their locked chips. You can see there’s a ton of strategy in play, depending on what your play style is more geared towards, and how you react to theirs.

Certain chips can also be combined with others, for an energy cost of course, allowing you to combine a weak card with another to boost it to full power, or make an uber hack, etc. Again, when the best time to create the super cards, place them, attack, or stack up on defense, all depends on the situation and battle. There’s a surprising amount of depth given there’s only 20+ different chips.

When you finally defeat your enemy you’ll gain money, which can then be used to buy upgrades and other items to enhance your robot. Each battle allows you to earn a certain amount of cash, based on how your battle played out, and you can earn another larger bonus at the end of the tournament when every robot is defeated if you’re victorious. Some of the upgrades are permanent and extremely useful, like a lower cost on certain chips, maximum health and more, so it’s worthwhile grinding for some money simply for the upgrades. Factor in that you can unlock a bunch of different robots, each with their own perks, and there’s a ton of value and replayability within.

Other than Campaign, there is Quick Battle, simply placing you against a certain enemy, each becoming progressively harder, but it’s with a default robot, not the one you’ve powered up through your campaign spoils. There is also local co-op battle, as well as online, which I was excited to try out. Sadly, every single time I’ve attempted, I’ve haven't been able to find a successful match, not even once. So, while it’s great that online battles are included, unless you have a friend that also purchases the game, good luck finding a match. I’m not sure if it’s a server issue, or simply a lack of people playing online at the time though, but luckily the campaign is broad enough to keep your interest for quite some time.

Visually, Insane Robots is quite colorful and has a great comic based art style to the robots, making them extremely adorable. Each robot looks completely unique and has its own personality, each of which includes their own smack talk during battles as well. The soundtrack is just as good colorful, adding some beats to each battle, upping the intensity.

My only real complaints are the lack of community playing online, as described above, and the overly heavy loading screens. The loading screens don’t take long, but they happen quite frequently, but they can also basically be skipped, so I’m not sure why they are even included at all.

Insane Robots is an amazing example of how to ease players into a genre without demanding too much of a learning curve, yet also being deep enough to satisfy the players that want to strategize at a much higher level. A bunch of smaller ideas come together to make a great experience, one you’d be insane to pass by.

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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