As sci-fi godfather Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” It’s been a difficulty of anyone working in the medium- how do you present technology beyond your the comprehension of the present day? How could a caveman hope to describe the internet, for example? Still, if incomprehensibility is the mark of a convincing future, Dejobaan Games might be prophets. In Drunken Robot Pornography, you play Reuben Matsumoto, an ex-bar owner who must hunt down the disgruntled, sentient robots that once staffed your destroyed bar. Under the leadership of your now sentient and evil bartender, (R. Timothy Ambrosia) these robots have acquired new, giant bodies, called “titans.” Reuben must destroy the titans with his trusty lasergun and intelligent, speaking flightsuit which is a genetically modified starfish. None of this gets less weird at any point.
The real beef of the game – the titan fights – are undeniably fun. The movement in the game mimics old arena shooters, with a focus on speed and air time over hiding in cover. This is crucial, as enemy attack patterns are drawn more from bullet-hell than FPS: they belch lasers, projectiles and other hazards like confetti, forcing the player to move constantly to avoid death. The “boss fight” as a gameplay trope has been heavily scrutinized over the last few generations, with some developers eschewing them completely and others seeking to invigorate and reinvent them. Drunken Robot Pornography does the latter, and it does so very well. The titans themselves are huge, strangely beautiful abstract forms composed of countless smaller component parts. Only the parts which are the furthest extremities of a titan are vulnerable. However, they break off when damaged, leaving the next piece exposed. Killing a titan is a matter of chipping away each piece until a naked core can be directly attacked.
This non-standard boss damage dynamic is the most important part of Drunken Robot Pornography, and what makes it truly unique. It has a number of pleasing consequences. First, it gives the player a direct, easily read visual indicator of their progress in the game space itself. There’s no need for an enemy health bar to glance at, one can quickly scan how beat up a titan is by seeing how many pieces are left clinging to its chassis. Secondly, it makes engagement more complex and interesting. Damaging a titan is not a mere linear accumulation of hits, but a series of choices between many targets, some of which are highly dangerous. You could attack that dorsal fin, but wouldn’t it be better to knock off the laser cannon that’s trained on you? Because a titan’s attacks are linked to specific parts of their construction, strategic strikes are often the best defence. And third, the experience of shaving off each errant arm and wing of an intricately built giant robot until nothing of it is left is extremely cathartic.
While the core gameplay is good, the arc suffers at times. Balance is an issue; early fights are easy to the point of being boring, whereas somewhere around two thirds in the difficulty spikes quite drastically. Then there are filler levels with no titans that focus instead on collecting items or fighting minor enemies. These are utterly bland, and have no redeeming quality except that they cause you to relish the chance to fight a titan even more. Those who have a creative bent or are otherwise hungry for more content will enjoy DRP’s Giant Robot Construction Kit, which allows players to design their own titans to fight and share with the world. The scope of this editor is massive; players have already made titans resembling anything from sword-wielding archangels to giant chickens. There are also weekly challenges provided every Friday to keep the dedicated fan coming back.
Drunken Robot Pornography’s look is a fusion of abstract and utopian, with odd geometries and clean, futuristic architecture filling levels. Occasionally, a level will come together to be positively beautiful. The titans themselves are weird, interesting and difficult to understand at the speeds the player moves at. The look will not be to everyone’s taste, but is suitably eccentric. DRP’s music is good across the board with a few stand-outs, and it may literally have the most varied soundtrack in any videogame. Every track is a different genre, from pounding dubstep to heavy metal to country western. Sometimes, like chilli and chocolate, unlikely partners go together well. A few times, however, the thematic gulf between the music and the game is too big to enjoy what would otherwise be an enjoyable song.
Thematic dissonance goes much further than music. DRP just doesn’t seem to believe its own thesis. Your suit is a starfish, but this is never shown beyond being a throwaway gag. You are told the robots you fight are bartenders, exotic dancers and comedians, but this has no impact on their surreal designs. Human characters leave you voicemail, but are never visible in-game, and that includes the Reuben himself. It is as though the programmers and writers were kept totally separate during development and not allowed to compare notes until release. It’s a shame because there’s clearly a lot of wit in the writing, but it feels like it isn’t backed up by the game itself. If you can put those narrative concerns aside and just focus on the gameplay, your experience will probably be better for it.
Drunken Robot Pornography is an experiment, and like anything that dares to be original it lacks a lot of the refinement of more orthodox games. The main campaign has its lulls, but if you’re tired of predictable games and seek an experience that wears its oddity on its sleeve, DRP is a good choice.
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