Quite a few people have fond memories of Ico, a PlayStation 2 puzzle game where a boy assisted a woman through a mysterious castle, solving puzzles and fighting shadow monsters to try and escape. The game immediately came to my mind when I first saw The Girl and the Robot, with similar imagery of mythical castles and the duo. Unfortunately, the other game that came to my mind is Troll and I, another game about a mismatched pair that I more remember for being one of the absolute worst releases of 2017. So is The Girl and the Robot land on the Ico side of team-ups, or are we looking at another Troll and I?
It's tough to say that The Girl and the Robot actually has a story. You start the game as a girl (who has no name so I'll just call her Girl), who is trapped in a floating room because of reasons that are never explained. Eventually, she's saved by an old man and his pet bird because... I don't know why. She finds a magic medallion that allows her to control a robot (who has no name either, so I'll just call Robot) if she stands very still and focuses. The exception to this is during cutscenes where Robot moves of his own free will at the same time as Girl does because who needs consistency in plot elements anyway? They wander around the castle and occasionally run into the Evil Robot Queen or something until eventually the credits roll without anything having been accomplished and the plot barely moving forward.
You'll play as both Girl and Robot, able to switch between the two at the press of a button. Both characters have unique powers that you'll use throughout the game. Girl can crawl into small spaces and jump to get around, while Robot has weapons to fight with. Both characters are also extremely unpleasant to play as. Half of this is because of a camera that has difficulty following your characters, instead preferring to get caught on walls or other parts of the environment. The other half is because of sluggish controls that often leave my characters turning at wide angles on super thin staircases before they plummet to their deaths. This was quite a bit, as there are several areas in the game where the design of the levels was not consistent with how your character moves.
The puzzles in The Girl and the Robot aren't that bad, but none of them feel unique. There are a lot of parts where it just involves little more than Girl crawling through a hole to hit a switch, or Robot taking shots with his bow at a far-away target. Many of these puzzles are just frustrating, like late in the game had a puzzle where Girl had to follow an invisible path that only Robot could see. While it's not hard, it meant wasting a lot of time switching between the characters so I could move short distances. The absolute worst part of the game comes closer to the end, with the maze chapter. I spent a solid two or three hours trapped, being little more than frustrated by random attacks and winding paths that made little sense. Every time I felt like I was getting to the end of the maze I'd find I have only completed another section and that there was still more to go. I only got through one section thanks to some messing with the environment, allowing me to sort of float my way on top of one of the walls and simply walk over the entire thing.
The Girl and the Robot also features some clunky combat, if you're playing as Robot. Girl can't fight at all and if any enemy gets near her then it's an instant game over with no chance to save her. Robot has some basic sword swings, and his bow, but you can't combo them or make combat interesting in any way. All Robot can do is swing his sword in front of him a few times, making combat just as clunky and imprecise as moving around. Enemies in the game consist of other robots. Sometimes they're slow, sometimes they're super fast and stun-lock you before self-destructing and taking out a chunk of your health, but most of the time you can cheese your way through the fight. Robot has an instant kill backstab attack which I suppose is for stealth but the game lacks any sort of stealth mechanics. Instead, you can just run around slow enemies and stab them in the back before they can turn. If you're against slow enemies this turns fights into a joke, and if they're fast it makes it a frustration of trying to kill them before you get stun-locked.
Every single combat encounter turned into an absolute disaster before long. A swarm of kamikaze enemies rushing towards my location always caused me to consider just turning the game off and being done with it rather than sitting through another chain of stun-locks and death. The game's AI is also a total mess. Often enemies will know where you are through walls, immediately rushing to where you are and getting stuck on walls because they can't actually get there. Sometimes, however, they just don't respond at all. More than once I was able to end an encounter by shooting at enemies in the distance that just let me. Hilariously, Robot's sword also clips through walls so if you know an enemy is on the other side you can just swing through the wall and hit them. It's such a simple thing that never should have made it into a final product.
There's also a pair of boss fights in the game, both of them equally terrible. Both bosses require using characters in ways that are just not fun. The first has you luring the aforementioned Evil Robot Queen into the path of a cannon so you can shoot her, which disables her and her Evil Robot Knight so you can smack him a few times. It's frustrating, as the Queen moves faster than the cannon itself and the timing needed to hit her is so precise it's painful. The second boss has the Queen sending swarms of totally invincible enemies at Robot that, if they get near him, instantly kill him. It's another frustrating road block, one that's not designed around fun but instead around wasting time. Hilariously the final boss concluded the game in a cliffhanger, one that just made me laugh because I can't imagine anyone wanting to continue the story in any way.
The game is also a total mess with graphics and sound design. Just from a design perspective, everything in the game makes no sense. Sections of the castle just sort of float with no rhyme or reason behind it. The entire game is surrounded by a strange blue fog, one that doesn't make the game feel otherworldly but instead just makes it feel unfinished. Cutscenes are terrible, with every camera cut accompanied by a quick gray flash for no discernible reason. Sound design is equally spotty. Some sounds just don't match up at all, like whenever Robot draws his bow and it's accompanied by the "chk-chk" that is so closely associated with shotguns. If he then shoots an arrow it will always play a loud ear-piercing shattering noise that will always sound like it's right on top of you even if you hit a target way off in the distance. The soundtrack isn't bad, but the volume for it tends to fluctuate wildly, with some tracks being way louder than necessary.
Maybe 2017 is just not the year for having two unlikely characters team up to solve puzzles and fight enemies. Between The Girl and the Robot and Troll and I, I've had nothing but pain from team-ups that deserve so much better. Both games feature similar problems, including clunky controls, boring stories, lame combat, ugly graphics, and more. After I had finished this game I can't imagine ever wanting to see another unlikely friend team-up adventure again.
Unless The Girl and the Robot and Troll and I team-up for some sort of B-Game magnum opus. That may be worth seeing.
The Girl and the Robot is almost shockingly awful. There's basically no story, the puzzles are run of the mill, basic controls are sluggish, combat is a pain, and the video and audio package is completely unappealing. Not a single thing here seems to be made in a way to bring enjoyment.
- Decent Soundtrack
- Basically No Story
- Clunky Controls
- Painful Combat
- Messy Graphics
- Nonsensical Audio