Robobeat Review - Robot Rock

In this Robobeat review, we take a look at a robotic rhythm shooter with a ton of style. Is it rushing or dragging? You'll have to read to find out.


Published: May 13, 2024 9:30 AM /

Reviewed By:


Key art for Robobeat, which depicts a robotic figure holding a gun in one hand and a cassette in the other

In retrospect, the emergence of the rhythm shooter as a genre, along with its kissing cousin the rhythm character action game, should have been obvious. Combining high-octane, fast-paced combat with the grace and stylishness of rhythm-action was something of a no-brainer, a sentiment with which Kwalee and Simon Fredholm's Robobeat clearly agrees.

Robobeat is very much part of the lineage that also contains BPM: Bullets Per Minute and Metal: Hellsinger, although it's far closer in execution to the former than the latter. Unlike Hellsinger, this is a rhythm roguelike through and through.

You play as robo-bounty hunter Ace, who's been dispatched to capture his latest target Frazzer. The only problem is that Frazzer is hiding in a labyrinth filled with traps, robot henchmen, and platforming challenges. That's bad news for Ace, but is Robobeat fun enough for it to be good news for you?

Robobeat's Rhythm Combat Is Fun

The player shooting at pink enemies in Robobeat
Combat in Robobeat is pretty enjoyable.

Like its stablemates, Robobeat is built around shooting enemies to the beat of a variety of different songs. Each song has a different BPM, and the tempo of the song dictates both your own rate of fire and that of your enemies.

It's a clever and satisfying way to essentially bake difficulty into the core mechanics. Do you prefer your action slower and more methodical, or fast-paced and relentless? Simply choosing a faster or slower song will give you what you want in either case.

The core combat on offer here is addictive and satisfying. Taking enemies down with a series of well-timed shots before wall-running away from danger, spinning 360 degrees, and headshotting the final enemy in a room never stops feeling cathartic.

You'll face a decent variety of enemies over the course of your run, too, and they require different tactics to take down. Knights with shields must be leapt over or headshotted, for instance, while bomb-spewing turrets demand you take cover or dodge with perfect timing.

Repetition in Robobeat Is a Problem

The player fighting the Showman boss in Robobeat
You'll probably see this guy quite a lot.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said for Robobeat's level variety. When the small handful of rooms I'd seen began to repeat themselves after just three or four hours with Robobeat, my heart sank. Sadly, the situation didn't improve over the ensuing hours, either.

Even when new rooms did appear, they were usually just fairly uninspired arrangements of geometric shapes. This meant that combat frequently devolved into running in a circle around each room rather than carefully judging and avoiding hazards.

Robobeat offers a variety of weapons with which to take down your foes, but the repetition problem rears its ugly head here as well.

Many of the guns just flat out don't feel good to use. Some, like the flare gun or the default revolver, have a nice kick to them, but others feel like toy guns with minimal impact. Many also require a beat before they'll fire, which feels like it runs counter to the pulsing rhythm's immediacy.

New weapons can be unlocked as you fight through Robobeat's samey labyrinths, but when the arrival of a new weapon is greeted with a groan and a prayer that it doesn't come up during subsequent runs, something has gone wrong.

Music Is Great in Robobeat, But...

The player shooting at enemies from the air in Robobeat
Robobeat's soundtrack has a lot to offer, although you can't see it in screenshots, obviously.

Thankfully, although Robobeat's gameplay is repetitive and its weapons aren't great, its soundtrack makes up for these deficiencies. 

It's nothing particularly innovative; you'll fight to pulsing '80s disco tunes, heavier rock numbers, and even an electro-swing song, which feels like the undeniable highlight of the soundtrack. Smashing your way through Robobeat's rooms while a propulsive big band-esque song plays in the background never gets old.

I'm still waiting for a rhythm game that features songs with strange time signatures (or even anything other than common time), but I'm assuming this is an extraordinarily difficult programming challenge, so I'll let Robobeat off on that one.

My issue with Robobeat's soundtrack is that although the individual songs are solid, there's no sense of progression or escalation, and that's down to the fact that Robobeat lets you choose your song on the fly.

This isn't a bad idea in concept; you can scale the speed up or down depending on how you're doing on any given run, and if the vibe changes, you can switch the song up to match it.

However, it does also mean that Robobeat's moments of natural escalation, like bosses or particularly difficult rooms, fail to land. Even the climactic final boss fell flat because I forgot to change the song, meaning I was fighting him to exactly the same song I'd been hearing for the whole run.

Music in games is a powerful force. See Hi-Fi Rush's excellent Nine Inch Nails-soundtracked finale for the right way to implement music as a narrative climax. 

Robobeat can't match those pyrotechnics, so while its songs are great, you'll have to do the work yourself if you want a proper sense of buildup and release.

There's also a music importing feature, allowing you to play to custom tracks, but it didn't work well for me. I tried three songs: Radiohead's "Bodysnatchers", Nine Inch Nails' "With Teeth", and Kendrick Lamar's "i". 

"Bodysnatchers" and "With Teeth" didn't work at all; Robobeat couldn't figure out their BPM or where the first beat fell, so playing to them felt awkward and stilted. 

"i" fared better, but after a minute or so, the beat Robobeat had allocated to the song didn't match its actual rhythm. Until this is fixed, you'll get your money's worth from the built-in soundtrack.

Robobeat's Difficulty Is Weird

The player shooting at the Mask boss in Robobeat
Can you spot the boss' health bar? No? I'm not surprised.

Over the course of a run in Robobeat, you'll have several different ways of augmenting your abilities. Weapons have abilities, for instance; you might restore health on a successful hit, or a weapon might set an enemy on fire, causing them to take damage over time.

Like the weapons themselves, some of these abilities feel absolutely essential, while others feel so pointless and vestigial that you may as well ditch a run and start again if you get them on your first weapons.

Similarly, runs offer the chance to augment yourself with card-based abilities. These feature bonuses like increased movement speed, an added fire effect to all weapons, or the ability to fire both weapons at once.

Again, the cards feel wildly uneven. Some, like a higher jump after a slide, felt laughably useless, while others, like the aforementioned dual-fire bonus, felt like they completely broke a run in two.

This being a roguelike, it's also largely random which of these abilities you'll unlock, so some runs can just feel outright cursed as you throw away veritable treasure troves of useless plastic weapons, looking for the one that will work for you.

When you do find your golden build (for me, it was a flare gun paired with a pistol that dealt extra damage to burning enemies), Robobeat finally feels like it finds its groove, and the combat, which gets annoyingly bullet hell-esque when the difficulty ramps up, clicks.

Balancing Robobeat's weapons wouldn't have helped with its boss fights, though.

While the designs of the bosses are fun and interesting, they have limited move sets, which means that once you've worked out how to dodge their three or four more dangerous moves, boss fights usually devolve into the same tedious circle-running as standard rooms do.

Towards the end of Robobeat, bosses become absolutely insane damage sponges, too.

One late-game boss took an absolute age to take down because of his monstrous health bar, but the fight wasn't engaging or tense; I'd already worked out his patterns, so it just felt like repeating a menial action until it became routine.

This isn't helped by bizarre UI design that makes boss health bars pretty much impossible to see, so I could barely even discern whether I was taking any health away from him (or any boss) at all.

Robobeat Review | Final Thoughts

The player fighting the Ray Punk boss in Robobeat
I wish my name was Ray Punk.

Robobeat has rock-solid rhythm-action shooting and a great soundtrack to go with it, and that may well be enough to make you look past its foibles.

Unfortunately, foibles there very much are. Boring level design, strange difficulty spikes, and uneven weapon and ability balancing mean that Robobeat frustrates more often than it delights.

There's a great rhythm shooter in here, and perhaps with a little more work to bring it to life, Robobeat's song would be clearer. Sadly, it can't quite compete with better entries in its genre. It'll take more chops than this to out-solo BPM: Bullets Per Minute.


Robobeat was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by the publisher over the course of around 7 hours of gameplay - all screenshots were taken during the process of review.

Review Summary

6.0
Robobeat has a great soundtrack and its combat ticks all the boxes, but uneven balance and boring level design puts this one out of step with its peers. (Review Policy)

Pros

  • Core combat feels good
  • Great soundtrack
  • Some weapons pack a punch

Cons

  • Uneven weapon and ability balancing
  • Difficulty can get frustrating
  • Repetition sets in quickly

Have a tip, or want to point out something we missed? Leave a Comment or e-mail us at tips@techraptor.net


Joe Allen's profile picture
| Senior Writer

Joe has been writing for TechRaptor for five years, and in those five years has learned a lot about the gaming industry and its foibles. He’s originally an… More about Joseph