Microbot is a futuristic twin-stick shooter published by Electronic Arts and currently available on the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. In the future, it seems humans don't have enough white blood cells in their bodies to fight off infections so they have to deploy a microbot into a patient's blood stream to destroy the source of a menacing virus. The game provides a visually stimulating experience, but lacks some diversity in its gameplay that holds it back from being a unique shooter.
The game is comprised of five levels with many subsections that each take place in different parts of the human body. As you navigate your way through veins, pulmonary tunnels, and even cerebral passages, you will have to fight your way through various robotic enemies and their defenses. You'll move your ship with the left stick and shoot with the right. It will feel like a space shoot 'em up taking place inside the human body. The controls are responsive, simple, and smooth.
Each level's structure is familiar and can tend to be somewhat repetitive after the first two levels. While the game provides mainly a shooter experience, there are also very basic puzzles that involve shooting switches to open doors. You will basically be destroying enemies as they deploy from their bases and making your way to the end of each sector. I wish the game would have included more unique experiences as you travel through the different sectors, but a lot of it is the same.
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When you defeat an enemy, it will sometimes drop parts that when enough are collected, give you new abilities for your ships such as shields and homing missiles. Your ship starts off with three nodules whose weapons and equipment can be changed at various sections throughout a level. The most engrossing part about the game is customizing your ship and giving it different abilities and power-ups. Each weapon can be upgraded too. This requires you to collect expendable atoms that are scattered along each sector and dropped by enemies after defeated. You can choose to equip your ship only with blasters, making it strong from all sides. Or you can choose to focus on speed and maneuverability by equipping it with boosters and steering paddles. The possibilities are truly endless and they allow you to play the game the way you want to.
Visually, the Microbot is stunning. You begin the game inside a syringe and are injected into someone's bloodstream. You will travel through veins, steer around capillaries, alveoli, neuron strands, and other microscopic anatomical structures that will make any biology textbook jealous. You'll also sometimes fight alongside the occasional white blood cell. But if you shoot it, it will treat you like an enemy too. Each level in the game has a unique color scheme, but you'll notice a constant stream of neon colors and vibrant lighting effects as you play. The ebbing of bodily fluids and the way red blood cells bump into each other is captured beautifully as well.
Adding to the experience, the game's music could be described as a mental soundtrack. The music sounds very new-age and mysterious and makes you feel like you're traveling in an unknown world. The music also gives the game a relaxed experience which is something you wouldn't expect from a shooter. I personally like the game's sound effects, especially the rhythmic thumping of your ship's blasters and the beating heart you hear when you pause the game.
While Microbot is very imaginative in design and concept, a lot of things could have been added to the game from keeping it from being too repetitive and stale. While there are interesting boss battles involving giant robotic viruses, the core of the game consists of navigating tunnels and shooting things. To extend the life of the game, Microbot offers local co-op that lets you and a friend play together on one screen. You can also test your patience on the challenge mode that gives you one life to survive enemy fire to rack up points on the leaderboards.
Based on the overall mood and feel of the game, Microbot had the potential to be so much more. Its music teases us into thinking we are playing an intellectual game, but the lack of puzzles and variety leaves us with a one-dimensional shooter that is very basic. Decent, short, but fun to play, Microbot will make you wish it had more to offer.