[Pretentious Refuse is a new weekly segment advocating excellent indie games that may be overlooked and/or otherwise dismissed as “low budget garbage” by “real” gamers.]
Humor and charm are aspects of videogames that are often overlooked, underappreciated, and poorly utilized. Most games these days attempt to forgo charm in favor of a dark motif and an overwrought, “srs business” storyline. That’s all well and good; there are plenty of great AAA games out there that are dark, epic, and moody, but still remain captivating and engrossing. Unfortunately, more often than not, charm and good-natured fun get lost somewhere along the way, which results in a game that’s dark for dark’s sake, and ultimately is neither very fun to play, nor very interesting. Games like Dante’s Inferno, Modern Warfare 2, and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow come to mind.
Way back in May a tiny little indie game called Puzzle Bots was released, and just became available on Steam a few weeks ago. A low budget affair, Puzzle Bots is a fairly easy point-and-click puzzle adventure game with low-resolution animation, low-quality audio that often skips between scenes, and gameplay that’s hardly inspired.
I would rather play Puzzle Bots than Dante’s Inferno, Modern Warfare 2, or Castlevania: Lords of Shadow anyday of the week.
Let’s start off with the basics: as previously said, Puzzle Bots is a point-and-click adventure game. Throughout the course of the game you’ll control five adorable little robots, each with unique abilities. Hero can pick up objects, Ultrabot can push objects, Kelvin can burn objects, and so on. With each robot’s abilities, your goal is to solve a certain puzzle that’s laid out for you in a bevy of colorful scenarios.
The game takes place entirely in Dr. Hugo’s Factory for Making Robots. Each of the robots is owned and developed by a specific individual inventor, each with their own quirky personalities. The protagonists are Zander and his tiny bot Hero, and through a series of coincidences and misfortunes, both stumble onto a dark secret that Dr. Hugo’s been hiding for years.
The premise and the gameplay may not sound too interesting, but what makes Puzzle Bots so fantastic is its charm, humor, and personality. The entire game is bathed in bright light and shiny colors, and the animation is quirky and simplistic, yet still pleasing to the eye. The character models all look a bit off (the eyes are a little buggy, the noses a bit odd looking), but it’s beneficial to the charm of the game; they’re all reminiscent of some 90’s cartoon that I’m not sure ever existed, but I’m pretty sure I enjoyed. The dialogue and writing in the game isn’t too witty or clever; it’s simply funny and light-hearted. Zander is your typical clueless genius manchild character, but the things he says don’t fail to put a smile on my face. It may not be “adult” humor with crude jokes and innuendo, but more family-oriented humor you might find in a classic children’s cartoon or a Pixar movie, and it totally works.
And while it’s expected that the humans have great personalities, the robots are also charismatic in their own right. While the bots only speak in beeps and boops, the supplementary subtitles display surprisingly well-developed personalities. The interactions and conversations between the adorable hunks of metal elicited many a chuckle from my mouth; for five fake characters who aren’t even saying anything recognizable, the chemistry was apparent and completely enhances the experience.
The puzzles themselves shouldn’t be dismissed as well. While the early levels can be pathetically easy, a few of the late-game puzzles were true headscratchers, often with very clever setups, and even more clever solutions. There’s a doll house puzzle in particular that involves the bots moving and rearranging various dolls; it really stands out as one of the more memorable levels of a videogame I’ve played this year just for the execution and ingenuity of it all.
Ultimately, that’s what makes Puzzle Bots shine above other, higher-budget, GOTY-bait games. The game lasts a scant 4.5 hours, and there’s pretty much no replay value whatsoever, but at the end of the day, the game has endeared itself to my heart and won’t easily be forgotten. A steal at only $5, it’s a product that has more heart than similar products that are ten times more expensive, and it’s a game I will whore out to no end and support until it gets the recognition it deserves. That’s much, much more than I can say for a game like Dante’s Inferno, which wasn’t a bad game at all, but a completely forgettable game that has already been cast out into oblivion by a considerable amount of gamers.
And really, I think that may be an even worse fate than being hated for all time.
Puzzle Bots is now available on Steam for the unbelievable price of $4.99. Grab it here.