Once upon a time, in an era where arcades were the verdant breeding grounds of gaming’s next big thing, there was a little game called Bubble Bobble. This cutesy platformer from Taito followed the adventures of Bob and Bub, a pair of diminutive dragons who used the power of bubbles to dispatch their enemies in adorable fashion.
It became a seminal platforming blueprint in its own right, and that mixture of single-screen mayhem and the one-two punch of its enemy takedowns spawned many a clone in the years that followed. Over 30 years on, the indie-made Robbotto is less of a soulless clone and more of an open-hearted love letter to a golden age of simple yet addictive arcade coin-‘em-ups.
Playable solo or in local co-op, you step into the shoes of Robb and/or Otto, a pair of maintenance droids working on a starship cruising through space. However, when the ship passes through a magnetic storm all the other robots onboard malfunction and, naturally, turn maliciously haywire. Safely protected in the shield generator room, the robotic duo must now traverse over 100 single-screen levels and get those pesky bots back under control.
The neat twist here is Robb and Otto aren’t here to destroy their fellow machines, but disable them. They’re more Wall-E than T-1000, so they don’t have access to an arsenal of weapons. Instead, they can fire a spark over a short distance and spray a light fountain of water. One hit of your spark will shock a foe, while a spray of water will disable them entirely. Much like Bubble Bobble’s bubble and spike jump combo, your offensive tools never change but the enemies you encounter will, forcing you to adapt to each one’s movement pattern and projectiles.
With 20 different enemy types to tackle - and ten unique bosses to take down individually every ten levels - Robbotto walks a line between pure frustration and glorious victory as you use nothing more than skill and a dash of luck to defeat single-screen levels filled with deadly chaos. The game mostly manages to avoid straying into deep pits of needless over-complication, although its difficulty curve does steep sharply early on. It’s true to its arcade roots in that sense, but it might alienate some players looking for more of a sedate puzzle/platform experience.
Since you only have three lives to your name (with the chance to replace any that you've lost by hitting certain score milestones), developer JMJ Interactive has made the wise move to include a save system that protects your progress after completing each level. You’ll lose your score, but you can pick up right where you left off as fight your way to the final level. Considering just how many challenging level layouts and enemy combinations you’ll encounter, you’ll soon be thankful for a save feature over a dwindling number of continues.
Things are certainly a little more forgiving when played together in co-op. Working great in both tabletop mode via split Joy-Cons or on your TV in docked mode, Robbotto’s two-step takedown method gets even more rewarding when one player stuns while another sprays in short windows of opportunity. It’s just a shame, however, that you can only save one campaign run at a time. Should you want to start playing co-op with a friend, you’ll need to delete whichever save is currently stored.
Support for multiple saves seems an obvious solution, but even the use of drop-in/drop-out co-op would have helped bridge the gap between either play type. It doesn’t render the game unplayable by any stretch of the imagination, but it removes any sense of casual ‘pick-up-and-play’ fun if you’re looking to play co-op with a friend while simultaneously progressing through the ‘story’ on your own.
Still, whether you choose to play solo or with a mate, there’s still plenty to do with that lengthy Adventure mode, and an extra Boss Rush mode that sets you the gauntlet of facing its ten big bads in a row. Add in local leaderboard support (because any arcade-inspired title worth its salt wouldn’t ship without a high score tracker - although it's odd this one doesn’t support any form of online leaderboard) and you’ve got a fun little trip into gaming’s glorious past.
While it’s as much a tribute act to Bubble Bobble as it is a game in its own right, Robbotto still manages to offer a fun trip down retro memory lane. The simple chiptunes will have you longing to dust off your Commodore 64 or ZX Spectrum, while its 20 enemy types (and ten bosses) do a decent job of keeping you on your toes as the difficulty starts to ramp up. It’s just a shame starting a co-op campaign will wipe your single-player progress and vice-versa. It’s a bizarrely backwards issue in an otherwise positive retro celebration.