Without doubt, space shooters are one category of games that could definitely use some revitalizing. Here to give the genre that much-needed shot in the arm (pun intended) is Microbot, an imaginative space shooter brought to us by Naked Sky Entertainment, the folks who brought us 2006's well-received action puzzler, RoboBlitz.
In Microbot, you control a tiny (some might even say “micro”) 'bot in a Fantastic Voyage-style adventure inside the human body. You're shot into the host via syringe and your job is to rectify a malfunction with other meant-to-be immune system boosting 'bots who have turned on their host and are now working with existing viruses and bacteria to destroy it. The game plays much like a traditional space shooter but with the simplest controls. Once inside the body, you direct the movement of the microbot with the L stick and fire its weapons with the R stick. You move like a mini submarine through the bloodstream, being occasionally buffeted about by the heart's ever-present pumping action.
Your task is twofold—to collect and to destroy. The game's collection system has several aspects; as you drift around, you'll see atoms—sparkly things that look like Christmas lights. You'll want to collect these when you see them because they replenish your health and can be used as currency to buy upgrades. You'll also encounter (mostly by destroying enemies) data fragments and you'll want to pick these up because if you gather enough of them, you'll unlock additional parts which can then be used to customize your microbot. Lastly, each level contains a molecule called a Buckyball (what the...?) and if you collect all twenty, you unlock a special reward.
Collection is fun but after all, your main job is to eliminate the naughty little 'bots that are destroying the host. You'll encounter torrents of these enemies, from outright 'bots to lumpy, hairy things you've only seen under a microscope. The range of enemies keeps things interesting; some are fast, some slow, some crash into you while some fire homing missiles or release poisonous gas. You'll have your work cut out for you trying to defeat them while collecting everything and exploring the large, maze-like levels.
Of course, you can often avoid combat entirely and zoom from one end of the level to the other but the patient and the curious are rewarded for exploring because the far corners of the levels often hold hidden troves of atoms which are essential for upgrading. Microbot's upgrade system allows you to customize your 'bot in four areas: Attack, Propulsion, Defense and Auxiliary. With atoms, you can buy things like better guns, homing missiles, melee weapons, shields, flagella (propellers) and area effect explosives. And as you progress through the game, your 'bot evolves, gaining more sides (and weapons) until it becomes a weensy, seven-sided, mechanical posy of death.
These days, it's amazing that so much entertainment can come from such a simple premise, but Microbot proves it can be done. Not only is each level different, but each sublevel presents an elegant progression of new challenges, including puzzles, environmental hazards and creative boss battles. What also helps is that the game's pacing and challenge level is just right—high enough to be rewarding but not so high that playing becomes a chore. Customization is a big part of the fun as well and you can spend quite some time trying out different combinations of weapons, defense and speed mechanisms in order to find your ideal 'bot. In addition to challenging the brain and the reflexes, Microbot offers a treat for both the eyes and ears. Its deftly handled environments offer plenty of variety as you travel through blood, bones, lungs and brain, and make clever use of scale and soft focus in the background to create depth. The sound too is really good, especially the trippy electronic music, which fits the setting perfectly and can actually become hypnotic. On top of all this, the game's replay value is substantial. You can play through Story mode or Challenge (survival) mode alone or with a friend and even replay levels to achieve better upgrades.
Microbot is one of the most creative “space” shooters seen in a while. The game's familiar yet mysterious setting and easily learned controls will suck you in immediately and its diversity, customization system and overall polish will keep you hooked. With the Story mode clocking in at around six hours and lots of replay value with the local co-op and online Challenge mode, Microbot is definitely worth its $9.99 asking price. Chalk one more win up for Naked Sky—we'll be looking ahead eagerly to their next release.