Mix one part turn-based strategy with one part card battling, and what do you get? Insane Robots takes these two gameplay styles and merges them into an interesting tactical experience.
The story of Insane Robots focuses around Franklin, a robot who has been deemed as malfunctioning because he asked questions. As a result, he is sent to the arenas to fight other malfunctioning robots to the death. You soon meet Spark, a diamond-like being who claims that you asked him to erase your memories as a part of some plan. When asked about the plan, Spark states that he can only tell you about the request to do so, and that more would be revealed later. With how much was available in the demo, not much of the plan was explained beyond learning that you aren’t the first robot to fight for it. This leaves me more curious about what exactly is going on, and I can’t wait to learn the truth down the line.
There are two main forms of gameplay: traversing the map, and the actual battles. The maps are environments that are broken up into hexagonal pieces. Your robot can move a specified number of spaces each turn. After you move, you can choose to attack an enemy robot if they are on an adjacent space, or you can interact with a shop if you land on one. Each map has 6 robots, including the player, moving around and preparing to fight. The AI opponents will fight each other as well, so some of them may eliminate each other before you encounter them.
Sometimes you will see question marks hovering above spaces to indicate that something is hidden there. If you move to those spots, then you could find parts or events. The parts can be used for upgrades in the shops, including boosts to certain cards, increased health, more augment slots, and more. The events are an interesting addition because a message pops up describing a situation and then you get to make a decision. For example, you might find a bunker to explore; you can choose to venture in and possibly obtain something extra, or you can ignore it and not take the chance of something bad happening. I didn’t have any regrettable exploring choices, but it seems like there is the chance of getting hurt as a result. From my time with the demo, I’d say it’s well worth having your robot look into things.
Now, the actual battles are where the bulk of the game takes place. The fights are turn based and make use of cards. Each robot has two attack slots, two defence slots, and a boost slot. They also have a hand that can contain a plethora of card types. Both fighters start with three cards, and you are given the opportunity to swap out any of your cards before the match begins if you want. You could end up with something better, or unfortunately get something worse, so it’s a roll of the dice essentially. In order to place a card into a slot, you must use energy, which is shown in the bottom left. You start with two energy, and at the beginning of each turn, you start with one more than you did the previous turn. In other words, if you start with two on one turn, then next turn you start with three, and the following turn you’ll start with four, and so on. Any remaining energy doesn’t carry over to later turns, so using everything you have is recommended.
Most cards have meters that have between one and five bars filled; the more bars filled, the better the effect is. When placing cards into attack and defence slots, the numbers won’t become concrete until both slots of either section is filled. For example, if you have a four in one attack slot, and a two in the other, your attack will be six. Also, if you have a five in one defence slot, but no card in the other slot, then the defence stays at zero. You need to complete the circuit with two cards or the cards don’t matter. Once you have two attack cards in place, you need to use three energy to attack your opponent. Subtracting the target’s defence from the incoming attack value determines the damage done to the target. If the attack is lower than the target’s defence, then the attack completely fails, so make sure you have the advantage first. Also, once you have attacked, the attack cards disappear and you must build a new attack power.
The variety of card effects alongside needing to manage energy usage forces you to think strategically as you play, which is the best aspect of Insane Robots. Besides the attack and defence cards, there are also glitch, lock, swap, energy, hack, boost, cash, damage, rewire, and deflector cards, along with uber versions of some of these cards. These cards can reduce the enemy’s attack or defence values, damage the opponent directly, give the player extra energy, protect your cards from one attempted sabotage, and swap one of your card’s values with one of your opponent’s values. That doesn’t cover everything, but those are a few ways you can mix up the combat and keep things interesting. Being able to sabotage your opponent, or be sabotaged yourself, keeps the gameplay engaging and fluid.
Now all of that may sound confusing, so let’s try a step by step situation. I started a match with a four attack card, a three defence card, and a two hack card. I used my two energy to place the attack and defence cards. Since there’s only one of each, the circuits aren’t complete, leaving both attack and defence at zero. My opponent places a three attack card and a five defence card. Once again, both values stay zero. My next turn, I draw a five attack card. I place the attack card, which gives me an attack power of nine. I also use my hack card on my opponent’s defence card, dropping its potential value to three. With my last energy, I draw an extra card. My opponent places a four defence card, which creates the circuit and gives them seven defence. They also place a two attack card, which gives them an attack power of five. They use the last energy they have to lock their four defence card, and then draw another card. Next turn, I draw an energy card. I use the energy card to gain two extra energy, then use three energy to attack. As the attack animation is happening, my nine attack whittles away the enemy’s seven defence, and then does two damage directly. The battle goes on for longer, but this is a glimpse into how actual combat can go.
The demo only has the first four tournaments of the campaign and the first five quick battles available. Insane Robot’s full release will have eight tournaments, along with more quick battles, local versus, and online versus modes. The game comes out on Steam on July 12th, and I look forward to taking on more robots as I fight my way through the story to discover the truth.