|Developer||Flying Carpets Games|
|Publisher||Flying Carpets Games|
|Release Date||August 18, 2016|
Disclaimer: Review code provided
The Girl and the Robot is an action/adventure fairytale. An Ico-inspired game by way of an obvious love of Studio Ghibli. It casts you in the role of the titular Girl of the title. You’re trapped inside a room in a sky castle when a bird comes crashing into your room. After mending its leg and setting it free the old man, who seemingly owns the bird, lets you out of your imprisonment. You quickly meet the titular robot of the piece, acquire a necklace that lets you control him (sort of), and the pair embark on a journey to escape the castle.
Quite who the old man is, or why you’re there, or why there’s a fully functional robot in the midst of this fantasy world – or basically any of the other questions I had after playing The Girl and the Robot – are never really addressed. The story is told wordlessly, as the two protagonists make their way through the world. It’s quite touching to see their friendship develop through the course of the game, as they become closer and closer as they survive harsher and harsher challenges.
There is a lot of environmental storytelling going on in The Girl and the Robot, however. Paintings you find in various locations can be interacted with and focused on, and they give a glimpse into the history and backstory of the castle. But the main story, beyond trying to escape and the friendship that forms between The Girl and the Robot, is so minimalist that I barely noticed much happening. I can make some conjecture based on what was happening and the scenes that I saw.
It sets up a great atmosphere, though. Although the fidelity of the graphics themselves is quite basic, the art style looks nice. Even though everything throughout the game is generally covered in the same shade of brown-ish orange, each new location you come across in The Girl and the Robot is distinct. You get the feeling that every part of the castle serves a purpose, as opposed to it existing simply to form part of a video game. Plus there’s a lot of incidental storytelling happening in the environments, if you poke around a bit.
The Girl and the Robot also has some interesting twists on standard gameplay mechanics. Most of these come via the ability to switch control between The Girl and the Robot at will. Thanks to the magic pendant you find at the beginning of the game, you’re able to switch between the two characters. Both have different abilities that you’ll need to make use of to enact your escape attempt. The Robot has a shield, sword and bow to fight off the various other robots trying to stop you. The Girl can squeeze through small gaps and can jump across larger ones.
You’ll need to be switching back and forth to solve the various puzzles you’re going to encounter. There are some really interesting puzzles in The Girl and the Robot, with a big highlight being a gigantic maze that one character traverses while the other acts as a distant pathfinder from on high. Similarly, the games two boss fights make use of this character switching ability – both characters are needed for some part of these combat encounters in some fashion. In The Girl and the Robot teamwork is the ultimate survival strategy. Plus you can totally pick The Girl up and run around with her on your shoulders – which is the most adorable thing ever.
The game does not come without a share of problems, unfortunately – the biggest of which is the combat itself. You’ll be attacked at regular intervals by other robots who are standing guard throughout the castle grounds. Luckily, the protagonist robot comes well equipped to deal with the situation. Using either the shield or bow, however, plants The Robot firmly into the ground. As soon as you aim or go to block you’re unable to move or even turn, giving combat the feeling of being very clunky.
And that’s because, by and large, it is. At no point does combat every feel comfortable or natural. Blocking and countering is the primary strategy here, in fact thanks to the poor A.I. it’s the best viable strategy you’ve got. Blocking makes you invincible, and initiating a counter attack will rip through an enemy regardless of whether they have their own shield or not, which makes this tactic feel almost overpowered. Although the protagonists inability to block and move or turn at the same time makes larger groups of enemies unwieldy to actually fight, coming equipped with an overpowered move with guaranteed success softens that blow slightly.
The enemy A.I. is generally quite terrible. If you stray too far from where you found them, they’ll give up the chase/fight and start walking back to their starting point, ready to ambush you all over again. This can prove frustrating if you’re trying to lure them into a trap of some kind, but considering it lets you shoot them in the back without worrying about them fighting back, makes the whole thing seem rather cheap. You can do the same thing to them if you’ve spotted them around a corner before they’ve spotted you. I killed a few robots simply by sniping them from advantageous positions – even when they’re being pierced by volleys of arrows they refused to see what all the fuss was about.
The clunkiness found in The Girl and the Robot’s combat extends to its basic movement as well. It controls like your average third-person game, move with WASD and look around with the mouse. When you start running, however, you’re inexplicably unable to look up or down and you can’t sidestep any more. You basically become like a missile – heading forwards at top speed and damn everything else. The camera also has a serious problem with the many enclosed spaces in the game – a problem for both combat and general movement through the world.
The Girl and the Robot is a game that feels like it is best played with a controller – and I know that from being forced to play through the entire game using keyboard and mouse. For whatever reason the game has some issues with Xbox One controller compatibility. My attempts to play using one were met with the character constantly sidestepping to the left. A controller is necessary, though, as getting past the start menu can be difficult without a start button. And despite playing the whole game with keyboard and mouse, The Girl and the Robot still showed me every button prompt as though I was using a controller, leading to some experimentation to figure out the controls.
This technical issue can be ironed out with a patch, and I fully expect Flying Carpets are already working on it as we speak. In many ways The Girl and the Robot reminds me of last years Toren – a game which similarly had some really interesting and unique ideas about game design that were somewhat obscured by some poor design decisions and poorly implemented mechanics. The Girl and the Robot has some great ideas and I see a lot of potential in what Flying Carpets are trying to achieve here. While this game is held back by some of its game design, I’m interested to see where the developer goes next. With a little more work they could have a very special game on their hands indeed.
The Girl and the Robot, and indeed its developer Flying Carpets Games, has a great deal of potential. It’s shown in flashes throughout the course of this game – some of the ideas behind the way puzzles work is excellent, the whole mechanic of switching between the two title characters is implemented well throughout the run time, and the storytelling style and art are pretty good. The way the games core mechanics have been implemented aren’t too great however – both combat and movement in general feel really clunky, and there are some obvious ways to exploit the poorly programmed enemy AI. If you can look past these flaws there’s a pretty good game to be found in The Girl and the Robot, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Flying Carpets Games does next.
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