Editor's Note: Since Maiyannah knows the developer of this game, it was reviewed using a review copy provided by Trever Bierschbach. To avoid any introduction of editorial bias, it has been presented largely unedited, with only the graphics added. For more on our Code of Ethics, read here. Following the posting of the review, Gordon Little, developer of Magbot, noted on Twitter that the 'crate stair' area Trever had difficulty in is not yet complete. While it is still in the game and ergo by our consideration a valid complaint, it's also worth noting when something is likely to be fixed, and this area is said to still be in development.
Magbot is a fun little 2D side-scrolling platformer with a twist, developed and published by GordGames. You take the role of, quite simply, a mag bot, a small maintenance robot tasked with saving a generational ship and its thirty thousand inhabitants. With guidance from Scotty, the Engineering AI you must explore the ship, repair what you can while gathering new subroutines and tools to help you on your mission. Timing, jumping, and some puzzle solving is required to get through and find out what happened to the ship's and its mission.
Classic feel with modern quality
Magbot reminds me of all the classic 2D games I played on the NES and SNES, but it takes advantage of a lot of modern design aspects. The pixel graphics are cleaner, and of course works in modern aspect ratios. The lines are clean, and colors and textures are smoother. Overall the design of the game felt nostalgic without feeling dated, which plagues a lot of indie retro games. The overall design of the levels were good, just enough challenge that I didn’t feel like I was breezing right through, but difficult enough I failed a couple of times and had to rethink my path through some areas. I tend to get frustrated with platformers when they are made overly difficult, and it keeps me from wanting to get to the rest of the story when I have to go through the same area over and over, but I didn’t get that with Magbot.
The music was great, and maybe one of the best aspects of the game. I’ve heard a lot of 8-bit music, and 16-bit music, and modern indie games try to capture that old-school sound and feel but many miss the mark. Magbot’s music is great, subtle, and perfect for the theme of the game. There’s no extremely high-pitched, or grating movements of ear splitting cacophony, which I was very thankful for. Magbot’s music did a great job of putting me into the scene, the openness of space around the ship, being alone, the areas of danger, and safety. I also liked that it wasn’t repetitive. A lot of old games had very repetitive music, and a lot of new games going for a retro feel seem to feel the need to emulate that. Thankfully that isn’t the case with Magbot. At no time did I wonder how to turn it off like I have with others.
Platformer with a twist
The game starts out as your basic platformer. You have a light and scanner so you can see, and scan inoperable bots for anything useful. Navigation is basically moving left or right, and jumping, or dropping down through platforms. All pretty basic. There are four game modes. There’s normal, which I played, and has a dynamic difficulty and allows you to save anytime. Time attack allows you to save but the purpose is to see how fast you can beat it with static difficulty and time shown on the screen. Ironbot has static difficulty as well but only allows you to save at certain spots, and if you die all saves are lost. Finally marathon ironbot has a static difficulty, no saves, and shows the time on screen. I think, when complete, this will add a lot of replayability to the game. Since it was not complete at the time of this review I didn’t see the benefit of playing the three timed game modes.
The menu is fairly extensive, giving you a map, and a schematic of your magbot which includes all of its tools. You have a save section, and some control over the display and sound. You can also map the keys however you like. The one drawback is the save and load options being on the same menu. At one point I went to load an earlier save point, and I accidentally saved the one I was on. The save and load buttons for each save file are on the same screen together. That forced me to have to load an even earlier save point, a minor frustration, but I think separating save and load on the main menu would be a good idea. I did like the radial menu for the bot’s tools. You can switch your tools with the right mouse key (by default) or use a radial menu to select it, which isn’t something you see in retro style games. Unfortunately the radial menu wasn’t all that useful, just kind of neat. When you get further in the game, switching your tools becomes time sensitive, opening the radial menu to select one just isn’t effective. Once I got used to switching with the mouse I didn’t touch the radial menu again. So, very cool option, but really just window dressing.
The twist to the game mechanics comes early on, when you have to cross an area of the ship that is damaged and open to space. Suddenly the platformer becomes a free-form, zero-G navigation puzzle using your newly acquired attraction, and repulsion rays to move around. Magpoints are set throughout these areas, places where your rays work, either pulling you toward, or pushing you away as you do your best to move through the area. Inertia, timing, and energy conservation are all key in these areas as it becomes easy to push too far and drift outside the ship, or run out of energy and get stuck. This added an interesting variation to the standard style, but I also found it one of the more challenging aspects. I think breaking up the standard level design was good, but it could use a little tweaking. Losing power, and getting stuck was frustrating, and one area where you are required to gather crates to make a sort of stair was more irritating than fun.
Part of the issue with the above crate stair, I believe was a bug, it just seemed that way to me. I’d fall between a wall and a crate with the edge of the box clipping through the magbot, so I was partially inside it. Due to the design of the point of contact the repulser ray wouldn’t move the box. There was nothing blocking it on the other side, and from the other side the box would move just fine. In these cases I wasn’t able to jump over the crate (stuck inside), or move it because the repulser probably has to hit the edge, so I’d have to restart. I also found an issue in a couple areas where air flow pulls you through a series of snaking passages in zero-G. You don’t control the movement of the magbot at all, you just go with the flow, and if you hit a wall, or alcove just right, you get stuck. Nothing to push or pull against to get out, so you have to restart. This happened a couple of times on the way to the reactor core after getting the repulser.
Story of generations
The story in Magbot is relatively simple, but delivered very well. You play a lonely maintenance robot on a generation ship carrying thirty thousand humans in cryostasis. Something has gone wrong, and the ship is several hundred years overdue. Damage, system outages, a computer virus, and rogue AI’s have done a number on the ship and you, a lowly magbot, have to find out what went wrong and set it all to right.
The story is told through the various AI’s you get messages from and interact with. You’re given your first mission by the engineering AI, to restore power to the ship, and communication with them is just one-way. There are no other bots or people up to the point I was able to play, though there are a few surprises to interact with. It definitely creates a sense of loneliness, stuck out in space, countless light years from home. The part of the game that was complete up to this review had you interact with three of the ship’s AI’s, each with their own personality, and jobs on the ship. It was interesting to see how all three of these distinct AI’s attempted to fulfill their prime directive, protection of the passengers and ship. While one saw its mission in a completely altruistic way, another interprets the mission in a way that creates a maniacal ragebot seeking to collect all of the remaining working bots on the ship to increase it’s power.
There’s not much else to the story yet, but if what is there is any indication I think we can look forward to a good cast of unique, self-aware AI, and perhaps eventual interaction with other bots or passengers. The story, so far, was enough to make me want to play more though, so that’s definitely a plus.
Magbot is in early-access, and as of this writing has 4 areas, 2 unlockable tools, and 1 boss to fight. You can pick it up on itch.io for $4.99 currently, though the page states as more is added the price could change.