Kylinworks’ Roblade: Design & Fight (Out Now, $0.99) is far from perfect, but I have to give it this much: it’s one of the most unique games we’ve seen on iOS to date. If you tossed Transformers into a blender with Robot Wars this is pretty much what you’d end up with — a game about fashioning giant mechs from spare parts and then putting their combat ability to the ultimate test.
As mentioned in last month’s preview, Roblade’s greatest strength lies in the extreme freedom it gives you to build whatever kind of robot you want. A gun emplacement where the head should be — or two heads, for that matter? Just go ahead and slap it on in assembly mode, then toss it in the arena! You have direct control over the actions your robot can perform in battle; if you’re missing a shield generator, a gun or short range weapons, the corresponding battle function disappears and leaves you with fewer options. On the other hand, skimping on parts lets you soup up your robot’s endurance or other stats without going over weight limits. A few slots in your factory screen let you build multiple robots so you can try out different strategies.
Where Roblade’s free assembly goes tragically wrong is an utter lack of description when it comes to the body parts available on your assembly line. An arm isn’t simply an arm here as it is in other games with customizable mechs; you have to build an arm from hinge joints and other thingamajigs unhelpfully lumped into a category called “connect parts.” A tutorial does a good job of covering the rock-bottom basics, but if you adventure beyond weapon switching and upgrading you’re liable to handicap your mech. As long as there’s no way to back up and return to a previous combat-ready configuration, you’ll feel encouraged to stick with the default mechs Roblade hands you — which blunts the creative freedom that’s supposed to be the game’s main draw.
That wouldn’t be such a problem if Roblade’s arena combat felt intelligent. Aside from a few rock-paper-scissors rules – shields are important for deflecting long range attacks but aren’t much help against hammers, for example – success boils down to closing in on your target and swiping madly until it’s down.
Admittedly, my feeling on Roblade’s combat probably has just as much to do with cut corners on the aesthetic side as it does with lack of brain-engaging strategy. Battles take place in utter silence with the exception of clashing metal sound effects, depriving Roblade of the kind of atmospheric weight that’s needed to reel the player into its world. The robot models certainly have spiffy reflections, but they unceremoniously pop up over one another when they collide, and frame rate issues occasionally make the action grind to a halt on an iPod Touch 4.
Roblade does get good marks from me in the interface department. Provided it’s properly equipped, the player’s robot can pull off four separate melee attacks with the cardinal swipe directions — that’s four actions that don’t hog up touchscreen real estate, and the implementation feels totally reliable. A crosshair and node system helps the player accurately plop parts onto the robot in design mode. On the downside, model rotation in design mode can be extremely frustrating; you can muddle through the rotation needed for equipment placement but designing new attack animations is simply a no-go. The process might be accessible to expert modelers but I couldn’t muster anything more than unsightly hobbling.
iFanzine Verdict: There are a lot of interesting ideas at play here, but Roblade is simply too rough around the edges to recommend at release. More guidance for robot building, an option to return to previous builds if you mess up your modifications, and more polished aesthetics could redeem it in updates.