I can only assume solo developer Matt Bitner is a cruel taskmaster. Not only did he make a robot and name it Fight-which, let’s be honest, is just asking to be the target of robot schoolyard bullying-he also ordered it to take down the megabeast, a “moon-sized orb of flesh” which destroyed his homeworld, by collecting power-ups and hunting secrets in procedurally generated 2D dungeons. Rather roundabout way of doing it if you ask me, but it’s damn fun so who’s complaining?
A Robot Named Fight seeks to blend exploration-driven action with permadeath-powered randomness, and it does a surprisingly good job of marrying the two. I had my doubts going in because these elements are in some ways at odds with one another. Games like Hollow Knight and SteamWorld Dig 2 are built on richly layered maps that evolve and open up as you progress and unlock new abilities, which is difficult for games like Strafe and Dungeons of Dredmor to pull off with their deliberately short-lived runs. But A Robot Named Fight has found a happy medium by theming its randomly generated labyrinths and grounding them in interesting abilities.
My first run goes precisely as expected: poorly. Within seconds, I lose more than half my health to a single potato-sized enemy. In my defense, the controls take some getting used to. Enemies are rarely on the same plane as me because most of the modular rooms feature staggered platforms which promote vertical space, so I have to angle my shots diagonally using the bumpers on my controller (which the game recommended I play with). I can also fire my standard energy gun while jumping, aim straight up and down, and crouch to hit smaller enemies. It’s a lot to take in, but once I find a rhythm I really start to enjoy melting the myriad meat monsters menacing the place.
Just as each run feels subtly different, each level of the labyrinth comes with its own unique enemies and visual style, but everything shares A Robot Named Fight’s gross, gory aesthetic. Rooms seem to have been wallpapered with entrails and carpeted with skin, and enemies are hideous shambling masses of teeth, tentacles and eyes. Which, needless to say, looks great in 16-bit and really pops out from the otherwise sterile, metal world.
My second run is far more successful. For starters, I actually manage to live long enough to rack up some decent upgrades and knock out a few bosses, including a sewage-spitting wall beast and a flying cluster of avian abominations. By sniffing out trick panels and destructible blocks, I also find upgrades to my health and energy. I snag some boots that increase my movement speed, a flamethrower I can use to burn enemies and open flesh-clogged doors, a dash upgrade, and a flashy new suit that damages enemies whenever they damage me. It’s all very Metroid, right down to the spinny jump animation, which isn’t a bad thing.
More importantly, everything is random but feels planned. My favorite upgrade lets me turn into a spider-bot and crawl under low passages, which I begin to see everywhere after I find the upgrade. Likewise, once I beat the first boss and find the flamethrower, I can go back and open all those doors that had me stumped. It’s on a much smaller scale, but A Robot Named Fight delivers the same sort of item-gated “Aha!” moments that you’d hope for from a Metroid-inspired game.
One of the more random elements I encounter is a merchant who deals in the scrap enemies drop. I save up for an orbiting turret, but it turns out to be incredibly weak. Which would be more disappointing if combat were more of a challenge. Bosses go down quick and don’t hit terribly hard, plus basic enemies practically vomit health items, so I breeze right through the early floors.
I’m not complaining, though. Exploration would inevitably suffer if combat were tough-as-nails, and as I repeatedly discover, there are still plenty of opportunities to die to stupid mistakes. Besides, I still haven’t seen the true depths of the labyrinth, but I’m willing to bet they’re nasty in more ways than one. And after warming up to A Robot Named Fight’s controls, I’m eager to dig ever closer to the megabeast.