QCF: A Robot Named Fight

hat was once a niche sub-genre that was only romanticized by its rabid cult-following, has now gradually begun to spill into the mainstream of the independent video game scene—Metroidvania games are available on just about every system at this point, to the point where the style is bordering on stagnation.

In an intriguing twist, however, similar to the Nuzlocke challenges that have swept numerous play-throughs of the Pokémon series, the iconic games that pioneered the formula, like Super Metroid, and Castlevania Aria of Sorrow, are now getting modded with the “randomizer” treatment. This modification works to alter the order and location of key upgrades and items in their core game, forcing an entirely new Meta into the gameplay for players to tackle.

One developer by the name of Matt Bittner took notice of the trend, and took it upon himself to push the concept to an entirely different level; developing a Metroidvania adventure that would not only randomize items, upgrades, but the map layout itself, in a manner that’s similar to roguelike dungeon crawler titles. His efforts led to producing an ambitious pixelated tribute to the genre called A Robot Named Fight, releasing for Steam and Nintendo Switch, and while the release does make good on its premise, its execution leaves a lot to be desired.

There are many aspects about Bittner’s premier that are needlessly frustrating but the most egregious of its offenses is the lack of identity that it offers behind the “gore-porn” aesthetic that it fervently pushes. In spite of the innovative approach that A Robot Named Fight offers to the familiar gameplay, a large majority of its fundamentals and presentation lean far too heavily upon the Nintendo classic that it brazenly muses. Nearly every Metroid-specific convention you can think of, there’s likely a thinly-veiled analog for it in this game; Morph Ball? Check. Armor Upgrades to withstand intense atmospheres?—Check. A component that dramatically increases the height of a jump?—Double check—the contrasts quickly becomes too numerous to disassociate, blurring the lines between memorializing its inspiration, and counterfeiting it.

Despite the overpowering presence of Metroid influence on display, there are some unique elements in A Robot Named Fight that do set it apart from the franchise that inspired it. Certain items like the jet-pack and Flame-thrower weapon definitely deliver on the sense of empowerment that you’d expect out of newly unearthed upgrades offered from these sorts of ventures, and the manner in which they alter the various dynamics of traversal and combat are easily some of the game’s most successful innovations.

In terms of presentation, the gross and macabre viscera of the game’s twisted approach to the sci-fi setting of the game isn’t as charming as it was in other titles from the nineties that did it better, like Alien Crush, or Splatterhouse.

To its credit, there are some unique designs that are genuinely eerie, especially with the detail of animation and aftereffects that are given to the sprite work. It’s just too bad that these intriguing touches are ultimately undercut by a listless art-direction that reduces the game into looking like it had an uninspired “David Cronenberg” paint job slapped all over it. To complicate the shortcomings of the presentation even further, the audio design is even more lackluster in terms of its inconsistent, and hackneyed production value.

Just to be clear, the composition of the soundtrack is great, and honestly the biggest highlight the game has to offer—the major flaws lie with the sound effects, with nearly each and every one sounding like they were ripped from the most generic soundboard found off of some freeware database online. The juxtaposition between the engrossingly haunting soundtrack and the laughably bad cartoon bleep or bloop sound effects is disheartening to the say the least, hurting an already struggling aesthetic all the more.

Much of the challenge of the gameplay is based all around the rougelite mechanics, and while there are moments where this concept delivers on its potential, the execution of the dynamic is erratic at best, and considerably disappointing at worst.

The sensation of discovery is in full effect, and there’s undeniable charm in finding a new upgrade during your run, even when it’s one that you’ve encountered in a previous run, but the experience is unavoidably impaired by the randomization of the map layout, and how poorly structured the layout of the world’s ever-changing routes are. Finding a hidden destructible wall, or floor isn’t just a curious fork in the road here—it’s an essential way of travel that makes up what seems like two-thirds of the map’s navigational options. Surveying the next path to take is less about analyzing the area, and more about hugging your gunfire against every nook and cranny on screen in hopes of a doorway exploding open.

Granted, it’s no secret that the point of randomizing the map is to maximize that “luck of the draw” effect on each loadout generated for a run, but when the follow-through is as clumsy as it is in A Robot Named Fight, then it ends up a being a concept that would be better left unexplored.

This bloody romp isn’t awful by any means, but it’s certainly isn’t as good as it could be, and it’s unfortunately memorable for all of the wrong reasons, especially when there several other alternatives to scratch that Metroidvania itch. If you’re looking for something that changes up the formula as drastically as Bittner’s side-scroller then feel free to give it a shot, just be sure to keep your expectations low.

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