To make a card battler stand out these days, you've really got to pull out all the bells and whistles. You've got to beat Hearthstone, for one, and all the other excellent twists on a popular formula. That Playniac's excellent Insane Robots does this and more is a feat in itself, and one of the reasons I've found myself thoroughly enjoying every single moment of it so much.
Halfway through my first tutorial battle, I was aching to be let loose so I could wreak havoc on some enemy robots. It's a simple yet satisfying card game, and one that should appeal to a wide variety of audiences. Why don't they make more games like this, anyway?
Meet Franklin, the robot hero you'll be playing as (at least, until you can swap out your robot later on.) One strange day, he finds himself with his memory having been wiped clean. As punishment for some sort of misdeed, he's been sentenced to fight other robots to the death across various unique arenas in "tournaments." What did Franklin do? Why's he in so much trouble? You'll have to help him unravel all these mysteries as you help the confused robot destroy all the other robots standing in the way of unraveling the secrets behind the crazy tournaments you find yourself dealing with.
The entirety of the game finds you duking it out with the "insane" robots the title refers to, across different terrain as part of the aforementioned tournaments. There's a grid of hexagonal squares that you'll seek out other robots on as you advance across each map. There's a set number of moves allotted to you for each turn, though you can do more than just move over to enemies.
You can stop at stores to purchase helpful items, stumble upon goodies out in the field, or plan strategies before you match up with a robot. When you reach a robot or one makes its way over to you, you'll engage in a heated robo-battle, which takes you to a different screen entirely. I quite like the effect, as it seems like the entire world is going away at that point, and nothing matters but the battle at hand.
Perhaps the greatest thing about Insane Robots’ combat is the fact that, even if it’s your first time playing, it feels instantly accessible and familiar. As you jump right into battle, you feel like you've been here before, but it still offers a rush of excitement and adrenaline every time. Both you and your enemy begin with various empty circuits. Your goal is to fill these circuits with "chips" to complete them, which takes energy. If you want to land an attack or mount a defense, you have to draw the corresponding cards to complete the circuit and then aim to attack or defend, or play specialty cards if your number of energy points allows it.
If you have nothing else, you might want to play a specialty card. For instance, you might want to play a "glitch," which can reduce your opponent's defense or attack rating, or raise your own. These are tricky, since you can have them played on you as well. Sometimes, it's more prudent to use them to beef up your own stats, but others it might be better to reduce the other robot's attack rating just so you don't go out in a blaze of glory too early in the game. You never know when defeat might be waiting right around the corner. It's best to get to know the Insane Robots game of numbers, especially if you want to make any kind of stand against the enemies, which will only scale upward in difficulty as you continue on.
For your attack to succeed, your attack rating has to simply be higher than whatever your opponent has cooking for its defense rating. It's a delicate ballet of burgeoning numbers, where you need to raise your attack and lower your opponent's defense, or vice versa, as you raise your own defense while your opponent works on bolstering their attacks. To maintain these numbers, you might for instance want to utilize a "lock" tile on one of your own attack or defense chips, so that way your opponent can't glitch you out and lower your attack or defense. You can do the same to yourself, though a glitch in your favor might find you receiving higher defense ratings or attack power.
It's all in how you decide to use them. There are various different specialty cards that perform much in the same manner, and it's a lot of fun getting to know them and figuring out how to utilize them in battle. One of my only complaints comes from the fact that occasionally the tournaments themselves can feel a little bit barebones, as well as the fact that there do seem to be quite a few times where the game needs to show you a loading screen before getting you right into the action once more.
Movin' On Up
Completing the tournaments you find yourself thrown into isn't all bad, though, at least not for you. For Franklin, it probably starts grating on the nerves. You'll earn goodies like additional robots and other various types of items that can help you in your quest going forward. You'll get plenty of money, too, so you can purchase helpful upgrades that make things a little less frustrating, and can even turn the tides of battle in a direction you may not have been expecting.
While mechanically the game is sound, it's also stellar in the presentation department as well. Each robot draws from an apparent well of creativity, and they're all given robotic voices that helps them to talk trash before a fight begins. Both the art style and hilarious insults swapped between your robot-enemies are charming, and well worth the entry price, even if you're not into battling with a bunch of mentally unstable machines.
With online matches and plenty of ways to challenge yourself with your various robo-strategies, there's tons to love here. It's not without its small problems, both of which I found fairly insignificant, however. One of my only complaints comes from the fact that occasionally the tournaments themselves can feel a little bit barebones, as well as the fact that there do seem to be quite a few times where the game needs to show you a loading screen before getting you right into the action once more.
Aside from that, however, Insane Robots is one of the closest things to perfect I've seen in quite some time when it comes to card battlers, and I can't wait to see more from Playniac. They say the Tetris Effect happens when you start seeing Tetris blocks everywhere, but I'm starting to see Insane Robots chips and circuitry wherever I go. Does that mean I'm addicted?