Robotanika review: Reviving the coin-op shooter

Dawn Patrol Games has noticed a void of hardcore shooters in the iOS marketplace. It's a trend they hope to change with their debut iPad release, Robotanika. It's a fine showing for the Unreal Engine on Apple's bulky tablet and proves to be a decent, if slightly repetitive, experience.

The story of Robotanika follows Peaches, a robotic AI that resides on a planet rich with a rare element called Ka. She's the last survivor of her race, as the rest of her kind was wiped out after foolishly trying to fight off invading "Robits" (not robots, but "Robits." Pronounce it like Futurama's Dr. Zoidberg would). Armed with the essence of her dead brethren, Peaches is now ready to take the fight to the Robits with turrets and heavy artillery.


Robotanika attempts to revive the spirit of classic hardcore coin-op titles with a distinctly arcade-like presentation. Games are played over an isometric 3D perspective, with players controlling Peaches' turret along a slide pad on the bottom of the screen. There are three other weapons along the left side of the screen that utilize touch controls.

Peaches has several ways to dispatch her opposition and learning how to mix and match each weapon can be fun. However, while the touch mechanics are generally responsive, they get hampered by the isometric perspective. There's no way to tell where Peaches is firing. While it may appear that you're firing in the right spot, you're often shooting at nothing in particular, a problem I ran into several times during my time with the game. The touch controls for Peaches' other weapons don't help much, either, as it's easy to misfire. Precision is a major problem and leads to some premature deaths. And trust me, this is not a game where you want to die early, because that means you have to start from scratch.

Upgrades try and add a sense of variety, but the game still boils down to the essential formula of shooting at targets for several minutes at a time. Players that skillfully allocate upgrades can overpower the Robits, but will still have to work several minutes to progress through each level. The process can be a bit tiresome, made moreso by some bland environments. While I liked that aspects of the world gradually changed after a number of waves, it still wasn't a world that was pretty to look at.

It's admirable that Robotanika tries to relive an age gone by. However, games have moved away from this style for a reason. It's difficult to imagine anyone sticking with Robotanika for hours at a time to try and finish the game in one sitting. The difficulty level is punishing, which can be fine in a game of this type--except the harsh penalty of having to start from the beginning and go through the whole mundane process of the early levels doesn't offer a lot of incentive to return.

Robotanika is not a bad game by any means. In fact, it can be a lot of fun for the type of player that likes to rack up a high score. Dawn Patrol pulls off some impressive feats with the Unreal Engine, particularly the high number of on-screen enemies and their sophisticated AI. Unfortunately, the overall experience isn't quite so peachy, diluted by unflattering visuals, repetitive gameplay, and some imprecise firing mechanics.

This Robotanika review was based on an iPad version of the game provided by the developer.