Matt Bitner’s A Robot Named Fight feels like it might be the answer to a question: What if a third-party developer had made a Super Metroid style of game for Sega’s Genesis console?
Here’s the concept: You’re a robot, you fight some meat-monsters until your remains are tossed on a heap of other robots that have failed in their task. Each time the robot named Fight dies another robot you control shoots up a different procedurally generated series of rooms. Each bot is looking for a violent solution to the meat-monster problem, or at least some powerups for now and some upgrades that might be available for the next ‘bot. Ultimately, you must destroy the Megabeast. The developer calls it a “…pulsating moon-sized orb of flesh, eyes, mouths and reproductive organs…”
Most games in this metroidvania genre of side-scrollers try to significantly depart from their source material. In this case ARNF takes the unusual position of straight-up copying Samus’ spinning jump and a few other animations. They might not be perfect reproductions, but they are so close.
Now that isn’t bad, just a surprise as if you went into a Burger King for the first time and found them selling the exact same sandwich as you would find in a McDonald’s. Except in this game the fries and tray and your drink and cup and straw would be made of meat.
A Robot Named Fight has another clear ancestor in Rogue. That’s where it gets areas generated programmatically, or laid out by an algorithm, instead of designed and assembled by hand in a linear order. You might see the same kind of room in one run and another, but the layout of the rooms should almost never be the same as what you saw in your last attempt.
This is also a pretty difficult game. There is what the developer calls true permadeath, once you run out of health your run is done. No coffins or alien tubes to resurrect in. The game lets you save at any time, but that’s not a save you can go back to if, when, things go to shit. Although I did find a robo-tube save-room once, using it brought me back to life with a black screen that ultimately appeared to be a bug. After restarting the game I was back to a normal view. More typically, when Fight dies it’s back to the start for an almost entirely clean slate.
A Robot Named Fight is at least nice enough to follow the standard of giving you what you need most. If you’re low on health, you’ll get health when you splat some more monsters. Low on energy? Here you go.
The bosses I’ve faced so far aren’t super challenging, they generally feel like you can work out a simple strategy as long as you’ve had enough upgrades on the path to them.
Other little things contribute to the difficulty. Often, games can be generous with the amount of invincibility you get when landing in spikes or lava or whatever to get out of them, not in ARNF. If you land in spikes with some minor obstacle blocking your exit it could be game over.
Some of the most challenging parts of the game come when you least expect them. Once, when I had been through a room a few times before and was used to blasting everything before it could harm Fight, I wasn’t paying quite enough attention and got tangled by a glitch monster that screws with your controls. That wouldn’t be so bad if they hadn’t gotten me while I was over a pit of spikes where I struggled for a few moments watching my health dwindle before regaining control.
Like many modern metroidvania games, when you press the “select” button to bring up the map, or view the minimap in the top right of the screen, you’ll see an indicator for rooms with hidden powerups. But in ARNF I keep coming across misleading markers for hidden items where the marker is for one room but the adjoining area is actually where the hidden powerup is. It doesn’t take too long to figure out that you’re attacking the wrong zone, but it isn’t fun to waste a few minutes looking for something that isn’t there. It’s also a bit difficult to even see that the hidden powerup marker on the minimap when you’re in the room because the “you are here” blinking marker overlaps it. Then you realize while you’re staring at the map that bringing it up doesn’t pause the game and you might lose some health or die. Not fun.
Maybe the most frustrating part of A Robot Named Fight is that in some cases you’ll end up taking a path down that is a steep enough drop that you can’t return to the previous area. In one egregious case I went through a door on the floor intro a room that connected to one other but had no way to get back up or progress in any way because I hadn’t found a double-jump powerup on that run. 20 minutes of exploring down the drain because the procedurally laid out rooms had been generated poorly and then five minutes more of trying to find some way to progress by letting my robot bounce off of the two monsters that spawned in the room.
The developer is still patching the game, and I see patch notes for correcting similar issues so I would expect all of those situations to eventually be resolved, but in that case maybe this game should be in Steam’s Early Access program. I reported the bug and sent my save file to the developer before starting a fresh game in a different save slot.
The next run I had was my longest robo-life with the game at that point, 35 minutes or so where I explored a lot of the meatly ruins It’s here that I finally had the default blaster leveled up with so many rate-of-fire powerups and other bonuses like flame damage to finally feel like I could breeze through areas without worrying too much about the monsters in them.
The final differentiating factor for this metroidvania is that it isn’t built for playing on a review schedule. A Robot Named Fight feels like a game where it is entirely run-based and would be best played at a leisurely pace, picking it up once or twice a day for a few weeks to experience a new layout of the wrecked planet each time. Playing repeated runs for long sessions felt defeating. One run might be great, but my next would sometimes throw me up against a boss immediately without enough powerups to win.
I like a lot of things about A Robot Named Fight, it is extremely familiar with callbacks to earlier games but also changes things up with the randomized level layout and meat-tacular theme, but it feels like it isn’t ready yet.
I love the feeling of progress in metroidvania games by unlocking more weapons and breezing through areas that were previously difficult, but ARNF isn’t always as rewarding with its progression as it should be.
I love randomized level layouts in some recent metroidvania games like Rogue Legacy and Dead Cells, but it’s clear with A Robot Named Fight that no human designed them when I ended up looking at layouts of rooms too often that made no sense. Secret paths that lead nowhere, broken rooms without an escape. these all made me feel like this game should be in beta, not a finished product. It is receiving patches every few days right now to fix these issues, and I can understand why someone might not want their game lumped into the early access program, but sometimes when you hit a bug ARNF feels like it’ll be done in 3 months, not today.
Still, there’s something charming about the meaty challenge. If you’re looking for something that you can’t turn your brain off and breeze through, this could be that game for you. For me, I’m not sure if I’ll ever reach the Megabeast but I will keep trying a run or two every few nights.