Shoot Many Robots is as straightforward a game as its moniker suggests. Grab a crazy gun, choose a pair of stat-boosting pants, and side-scroll through hordes of nut-dropping mechanical monsters. Play the game with a similarly superficial mindset, and you’ll have a great time. But look more closely at the co-op mechanics, RPG elements, and competitive scoring structure, and there’s an even higher level of enjoyment to be had, turning what appears to be a goofy shoot ‘em up into a deep throwback experience that'll hook you.
Playing as P. Walter Tugnut, your quest to save the world after a robot apocalypse goes from zero to sixty faster than most sports cars, and stays there until you beg for mercy - or chill out inside your RV upgrading gear between missions. Demiurge Studios describes their first full game as “Borderlands meets Metal Slug,” and nothing could be more accurate. The numerical damage value of every single bullet is displayed, indicating just how effective (or ineffective) your weapons are against each enemy, and every defeated robot drops nuts along with the occasional power up, unlockable, or bag-o-loot. If too much time passes between your robot kills, your combo meter will drop along with your nut multiplier - and you’re really going to want those nuts.
Nuts serve as in-game currency, and aside from experience-based leveling, purchasing new gear is your only hope for survival as you progress and the difficulty ramps up. You begin with a simple SMG, but in no time you’ll be unlocking and buying a freeze ray or a launcher that shoots explosive gnomes. That’s right, weapons in Shoot Many Robots are as ridiculous as they are varied, and even after hours of play, you’ll still be shooting many robots in all new ways.
Above: Survival mode can get pretty intense
Character customization via pants, backpacks, and hats proves equally impressive (and goofy). For example, fairy wings allow you to glide, football helmets grant the ground-pound ability, and certain pants let you slide. Aside from the unique skills some gear provides, there are some major stat boosts. We’re not talking a measly four percent increase here and there -- we’re talking +60% bullet damage or two extra beers (which you, naturally, drink to regain health). It’s this significance that's inherent to each item that adds longevity and replayability, and, with three other players on screen, strategic variety.
Co-op (two-player local and up to four online) is a huge part of the appeal here, and we highly recommend it. Like Gearbox's shooter, disparities in experience levels eventually even out, as weaker players can do some serious boosting playing alongside a few level 50 pros. Nuts gather into a shared pool and loot is differentiated, so there’s not a lot of opportunistic maneuvering to ruin the flow of an intense battle. Granted, your performances are tallied at the end and nuts are then distributed accordingly, but this only spurs you to play your best and work towards the common cause (shooting many robots).
Strategy plays an important role in co-op, especially on hard and insane mode. If every player equips the same shotgun, things turn into a struggle, but a combination of a sniper, rifleman, and grenade-launching brute can win out against even the worst odds. Even dying can’t stop you, as a quick revive from a buddy will get you back in the action.
Above: Variety is the key to victory
It may sound too good to be true so far, but Shoot Many Robots does make its fair share of concessions. Its art style is cel-shaded, but whereas most games use this technique to increase aesthetic appeal without having to create detailed textures, it's rather ugly here. Textures are blurry and character models have jagged outlines. Shrink this game down to the size of an iPhone screen, and it would look fine, but on an HDTV, it’s dangerously close to looking like a PS2 game.
Then there’s repetition and recycling, which run rampant throughout Shoot Many Robots. This post-apocalyptic world features 14 “adventures,” each consisting of three to five levels. However, each level takes place in one of only about six different environments. Bosses and (especially) music are also generously reused. While these factors aren’t deal-breakers when you’re mowing through hundreds of bots with some pals, boredom can prevail sooner than it has any right to, given the robust gameplay.
Above: Having trouble with a mini-boss? Invite some friends!
Despite some drawbacks, Shoot Many Robots is a lot of streamlined fun -- even more so when playing with or competing against friends. There’s an accessibility to the gameplay mechanics that will appeal to dabblers, and the variety of gear, numerous leaderboards, and late-game difficulty cry out to a hardcore fanbase that enjoys those classically sadistic shoot-em-ups. Demiurge Studios has shown that it's got a team that knows exactly how to engineer a good time, and its first full game is a fantastic debut.