When I was first given the chance to review The Girl and the Robot, I had no idea what the game was. Chances are that you have no idea what it is either. A small Montreal (mostly) made game, it had a successful Kickstarter campaign in November 2013, receiving $38,033 from its backers. When you compare that amount to how much other more well known games have received, it’s not much, and unfortunately it shows in the game’s design: pleasant but ancient looking graphics, some technical issues, minimalistic soundtrack, sometimes rough controls. It truly feels like a low budget production. Even though I jumped on the opportunity to review it, as I loved what I saw of the game in trailers and screenshots, I didn’t expect The Girl and The Robot to be very good. I was proved wrong, however. This game ended up being very impressive, and has a ton of heart.
You’ve Seen Something Like This Before
The Girl and the Robot is a puzzle game, meaning that the crux of the gameplay is centered around puzzle solving. It’s very similar to the PS2 classic ICO. You control two characters: a little girl, and a robot. You can swap between them freely, and they have different characteristics. The little girl cannot defend herself, but she is quick of feet, is small so she can crawl in tight tunnels, and can jump. The robot is bulkier and slower (unless he has no armor on, then he’s quite fast, but fragile), and can fight with both sword and bow. He cannot jump, nor can he crouch. So, in simple terms, the girl goes around and looks for switches and the like, while the robot defends her, or scouts ahead.
It’s a classic formula: it has worked well before, and it works well here. A lot of the puzzles require both characters, especially later on when the game gets more complex and involved. The robot can take a few hits, and his armor acts as a lifebar of sorts: the more hits he takes, the less armor he has on, and if he gets hit with no armor on, he explodes. The same design applies to every enemy in the game, which is a nice touch. The little girl can heal the robot, if she can get to him. The girl gets captured the moment an enemy touches her, however.
First Impressions Aren’t Everything
The Girl and the Robot doesn’t make a good first impression, sadly. The early game is extremely simple, to a fault. I expected it to be short, and thus figured the first hour or two would be all there was: simple, yellow graphics, very unengaging puzzles and easy enemies. It also has some issues with controller support. When I first launched the game, I went with the mouse and keyboard. But for some reason I was unable to get past the intro screen with the flashing words “Press start to play.” None of the buttons seemed to work. So I alt-tabbed out of the game, force closed it, and tried again. This time things worked, but all of the prompts in the game were showing me Xbox style buttons rather than M&K keys. So I thought “Okay, this game is meant to be played with a controller, I get it” so I promptly plugged in my Xbox One controller.
But then, for some reason my character was constantly walking to the left, an issue the devs acknowledged on the game’s Steam discussion forums. I was unable to make the controller work like it should, so I unplugged it and went with the M&K again. I had to guess which buttons on the keyboard did what, but I managed. But even with that, I had to be careful to not go into the escape menu, as I was often unable to get out of it. Still, I survived these issues.
A Story That Won’t Be Winning Any Awards
The Girl and the Robot starts out with a nice little cutscene that doesn’t make much sense. A little girl is stuck in a room, and all of a sudden a wounded bird drops in. She nurses it back to health and releases it back into the ‘wild’. The bird flies back to its owner, who seems to be an old man who lives basically right next where she is kept captive. He notices the bandages on the bird’s leg, goes “Where does that come from?” and then “Oh, I bet it’s from that little girl, the one that’s been trapped in that room for years!” Our good mister then decides to finally end her torment, and release her.
The Old Man Was Actually A Douche in Disguise!
What the hell?! Are you telling me that this ‘good samaritan’ has been well aware of the little girl’s predicament, could see her easily from his place, and had the power to release her from her cage whenever he wanted!? I saw the intro a few times, and it never makes any sense. I can already imagine his thought process “Oh my, now she’s helped your leg little bird, so I’m forced to release her. Otherwise I’d owe her, and that can’t be. No, a favor owes a favor. I will free her tomorrow.” He must be Donald Trump’s dad or something. What a douche. Not only that but it seems like the old man and her are the only inhabitants of wherever they are, and her prison seems to be floating in mid-air.
The game decidedly likes to keep its storyline vague, and small clues throughout the game hints at what might have happened. You probably shouldn’t be thinking too hard about the game’s storyline.
Old School Boss Fights? Sign Me Up!
The early game being rough, I was already imagining the kind of review I would be writing: a lukewarm one, at best. That is, until I reached the first boss fight. I don’t want to go into it in too much detail, as it would spoil it, but it really brought me back to the days of my youth. In the late 80’s and 90’s, back when dying was a learning opportunity rather than punishment. There was also a timing aspect to the battle that I enjoyed; you have a short window of time to act, and if you miss it, it’s game over. I thoroughly enjoyed that boss fight. I figured this would be the end of the game, but it wasn’t. And the rest? Oh boy.
This Is What Dreams Are Made Of
The devs really went wild after that. There’s this huge multi-layered section where the girl and the robot have to split up, with the girl going in the upper parts of the level, with the robot staying down below. There are a ton of enemies everywhere, including what I like to call ‘exploders’, enemies that run at you and explode in your face. Luckily you are controlling the robot who can take a few hits and dish out the damage. Still, this level really shows you the game’s full potential. At one point I realized that I could use the little girl’s vantage point to see down below at the maze, and thus spot enemies and pathways for the robot. I was very excited when I realized that.
I remember one time when I saw an exploder peeking around one corner, shot an arrow at it, which made it explode. Well the little bastard was hanging out with three of his buddies, who all promptly detonated. I let out a big whoop when that happened. And then, the game throws a fast one at you: they switch the robot and the girl’s positions. The robot is the one that’s chilling all the way up there, and you’re forced to walk through mazes filled with dangerous enemies using the very vulnerable girl. Genius.
Dying Is a Positive Thing, Don’t You Know.
The second half of the game goes from awesome to even more awesome. From bridges that only the Robot can see but the girl needs to cross, to situations where she is being chased by robots and you have to destroy them before they reach her, the game becomes a more exciting, and sometimes stressful, roller coaster. I’ve played a lot of games over the last 30 years, and it’s rare that one can get me going like this one did. That quality stays until the end of the game, with another solid boss fight. I think I died 25 times during that fight, mostly because of my own gaming tendencies, which are impulsive and reactive, almost suicidal. But when I forced myself to calm down and look at the situation, the solution became very obvious to me.
You Like Puzzle Games? Knock Yourself Out.
It’s impressive that I liked this puzzle game as much as I did, because I’m not a big fan of the genre. I like games that have puzzle solving element like adventure games (the Zelda series, most third-person games), but less so games where puzzle solving is the whole point. My enjoyment of The Girl and the Robot is a nice surprise. I’ve read in a few reviews that the game is short, but I disagree. I found it quite long for a 10$ indie game, and expected it to be shorter than it is.
So who would enjoy this? I feel like parents might really enjoy this game, mostly because of the relationship between the robot and the girl. Kids would also love it; I would have gone back to this game again and again when I was younger. And obviously, if you love puzzle games, this is right up your alley. With its cheap price, it’s an easy recommendation if you fall into any of these categories. Have fun!
DISCLAIMER: The Girl and the Robot PC review copy provided by Flying Carpets. The opinions expressed in the article above have not be affected by, dictated or edited in any way by Flying Carpets. For more information please see Girls on Games’ Code of Journalistic Ethics.