Shoot Many Robots (SMR) is easily one of the best multiplayer XBLA titles. It is equally one of the most repetitive single player ones. However, its success as a multiplayer game is enough to shadow the often rough single player experience. It is simply a game meant to be enjoyed with other people, but has the option to be played alone. The game itself has functionally sound controls, the art is wonderfully apropos for the subject matter, and the premise is perfectly ridiculous and appropriately unsupported by any story. All of these things come together to form a proper essence of what a perfect mix of Metal Slug and Contra could be.
In SMR, your sweet, sweet baby RV gets humped by an overgrown dog-like robot. But it wasn’t alone, there were other, smaller robots, all accomplices. So, you do the only reasonable thing, set out to shoot all the robots. This is the premise of SMR, and it doesn’t really need anything more to justify the rest of the game. In fact, it probably wouldn’t be as good if it there was.
The set up (or lack thereof) adds something welcome as it helps the game finds its own voice. It speaks through the cartoonish characters, wacky story, and, though it might seem a bit out of place, RPG elements. Think more of an action RPG implementation, where there are levels and gear to equip, but that’s about it. If there was much more to it, the game would be left muddled, and rest assured, what it might lack in a bit of depth, it makes up for in sheer volume of loot to collect.
The gameplay adds to the simple feel. At its core, SMR is a side-scrolling run and gun, with movement and aiming controlled through the left analog stick alone. Jumping, melee and sliding are other game mechanics that also receive their own inputs. Notice though, that only one stick is used for both aiming and movement. This might sound odd to some people, as it means that you can’t aim separately from your direction of movement. But it ends up feeling natural, intentional, and the manner in which the enemies react and the way the levels are laid out feel as though they are there to service the control scheme. While the layout may not let you run right while gunning left, you can use the left trigger to anchor yourself in place. This allows more precise aiming and can be used strategically to fell tons of enemies after corralling large groups of robots together.
Certain weapons will be more effective in these scenarios. The shotgun, for instance, is excellent at taking care of the grouped-up enemies, but is pretty awful at taking out anything that happens to be in the air; a rifle, on the other hand, plays to the opposite. As the game progresses, slightly tweaked versions of previous weapons are unlocked, allowing for a more powerful arsenal, which at times will be more of a necessity than just a fun upgrade. The new weapons can be purchased using the in-game currency, appropriately represented as nuts. At times, new, or at least different, weapons are needed to get through certain enemies or bosses, but that can be a problem when the nuts have run dry. It’s unfortunate, but in these scenarios, the only thing to do is go back to earlier levels and farm for more nuts. If the game was being played purely in a multiplayer setting, this wouldn’t be so bad. The company of friends can do wonders. Alone, however, it’s nothing more than a solo grind of old content.
The repetitive nature doesn’t just apply to grinding older levels; playing through the game alone inevitably grows stale. It can’t be stressed enough how much a difference it makes having other folks in the game. Even without voice chat, the game flows better and keeps a crisper pace. This isn’t to say that the game can’t be enjoyed in a single player setting; this reviewer spent a good chunk of the playthrough going it alone. But if you want to get the best experience out of Shoot Many Robots, grab some friends.
If you’re friendless, there is built-in matchmaking. Be warned, though, all of the matchmaking games that were tested while reviewing were generally met with poor results. When the party was created manually and 2-3 people were directly invited, it played as smooth as butter. But during matchmaking games, it turned into a lag-filled mess that was unplayable in most cases.
The poor matchmaking may be unpalatable and detract somewhat from the overall game, but it doesn’t take away from the solid mechanics and the fun that can be had with friends. Even if you can only find two other people to play with, Shoot Many Robots is more than worth the time and money.