We live in an age of diversity, where a crowded marketplace means smaller titles need to really excel to stand out. It’s so easy for an indie title to drown in the sea of low-budget, small team games available on the consoles and Steam that only the truly exceptional bubble up to more mainstream consciousness.
So, we’ll excuse you if you haven’t heard of McDROID. McDROID, sadly, is not one of those titles.
The game puts you in the role of a chibi little robot, rendered like everything in the game in an attractive cel shaded art style with thick black lines and lots of color, and tasks you with protecting your ride, a sentient (and rather annoying) space ship. The ship, which somehow manages to break the pull of gravity powered purely by produce, undertakes a variety of tasks while being assaulted by various alien bugs, and it’s your job to erect a series of laser towers, barrel mines, and other fairly standard tower defense structures to keep the hordes at bay. As an independent robot, you’re able to roam around the map placing defenses freely (most of which will only fit onto predetermined platforms), and you can also mount a single weapon on your back, or direct your weaponized towers to fire on a specific enemy. It’s all fairly simple but, as you’d expect, the difficulty and complexity ramps up the further into the game you progress, and later stages get frenetic and intense.
McDROID is hardly the first game to give players an active avatar inside a tower defense game, and it’s proven a successful formula in the past. The problem here is that having an active role in the game doesn’t make you feel empowered in this case. The weapons your robot can mount aren’t any more powerful than the ones you place in the field, which is to say they’re quite under-powered, and while you can manually aim them at enemies, most of them will also fire passively, meaning you just need to be near enemies for them to work. You can also repair your towers if they’re damaged by the insectoid aggressors, but again this just involves you maneuvering your robot buddy within range and passively watching while a repair arm extends and patches them up.
The result is the feeling that having an avatar is this world is more of a liability than anything, and doesn’t add much to the experience. Playing it, I felt repeatedly that I’d be better served by a standard top-down perspective where I could manage the tower defense aspects without the clumsy bumbling of my in-game persona. While the tower defense mechanics are solid, there’s nothing about them that necessitates or excuses forcing players to interact directly through this underpowered stand-in.
The only really arresting thing about the McDROID formula is its visual palette. The game is vibrant and bright in a way that borders on but never really veers into total color overload. The presentation is cartoonish in a slick, polished way, and the art is simple but distinctive. The enemy design lacks diversity but the look of the environments is clean and interesting.
While it’s a very nice looking game, though the sound design is underwhelming, with flat effects and irritating, tinny sounding voice work. By the third mission (at the latest) you’ll be skipping through the irritating prattling of your mothership and the whiny-sounding beep-grunts of your droid. It’s clearly intended to be cute, but comes off as annoying due to the off-kilter voice acting.
McDROID brings very little by way of innovation to a very stale genre, and none of its parts feel particularly well executed. The overall impression it leaves is that it could (and perhaps should) exist on mobile platforms as a passable distraction during a long commute, and even then it’s a tough sell in a market that’s increasingly filling up with high quality options. But especially on Steam, where dozens of indie titles get pumped out every week, and there’s already a glut of triple-AAA offerings, it’s impossible to recommend McDROID to anyone but the most fanatical tower defense stalwarts.
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