Written by Jordan Hawes.
Welcome to a fairytale of a young girl who is locked in a floating tower by a witch or sorceress for some reason or another. Embark on a mission of some sort with a girl who moves as robotically as her robot protector. Solve puzzles so sophisticated that it will make you rethink your elementary school education. Engage in grueling robot combat that consists of one 3 hit combo that you will spam over and over. Communicate with characters with zero spoken or written dialogue and no emotional bonds, intentions, or backstory to care about. Welcome to The Girl and the Robot, a game as vague and uninteresting as its title.
The Girl and the Robot starts off with a wounded bird who happens to come across a girl locked in a floating room or prison. During a cutscene so poorly put together it should legitimately come with a seizure warning due to adding a blank frame in between scene cuts, we see the girl bandage up the bird who then flies to a mysterious man (who was only like 100 feet away, why wouldn’t the bird just fly back to him?) who sees the act of kindness for his bird and pulls a lever to free the girl. This is all the introduction we get to this world and our playable character. Our hero then comes across a not so well protected amulet that controls a robot that unlocks the main gameplay mechanic of swapping between the girl and the robot.
The dynamic of a silent hero escorting a princess through a series of puzzles and story elements isn’t something we haven’t seen before. In fact, The Girl and the Robot wants to channel the spirit and charm of the likes of ICO, but completely side steps and negates all the things that made ICO a good game. There is no strong bond made between the girl and the robot and there’s no story of why the robot was also locked up. Was the robot always the protector of the girl? Questions like this are never touched upon and it really leaves a disconnect. In lieu of traditional storytelling, we are given bits and pieces of a backstory that only grazes The Girl’s story through paintings that are hung up around the world. While I have no problem with this sort of storytelling, these paintings don’t paint a full picture. What’s even worse is that the game is incomplete. The story ends on quite literally a cliff hanger, fades to black, and says “end of Act -1”. Nowhere in the description does it tell you that this will be an episodic game, and the original release was on Steam in August 2016 and there is no news of an act 2.
It’s would be easy to forget the storytelling shortcomings if the gameplay were any good, but unfortunately we are graced by a stiff, archaic and buggy mess. The camera is in a fixed position directly behind the character requiring you to use the right stick just to pivot your character. Holding square enables sprint and is also used to interact with world objects, so there are instances of frustration trying to get the character to interact and not just run into the object. Left stick movement is so stiff to the point where the girl walks exactly as the robot; there are zero fluid animations for either character. The platforming is frustratingly bad as you have very limited control of your characters’ jump besides the distance. And that only depends on if you were sprinting or not. Combat is just as rigid as all the other movements. None of the actions are fluid. You have a block, a 3 hit combo standard attack, a jetpack dodge, and a bow. All encounters are as simple as: block, 3 hit combo, block, 3 hit combo, rinse and repeat. The bow is mainly used for triggering puzzles, but will come in handy to pick off a couple enemies at long range. The girl doesn’t participate in any combat which means you often leave her far behind as you scout ahead because if an enemy even gets near her it’s game over. You then have to constantly back track to go get her, which gets very tiresome very quickly.
The power to swap between the girl and the robot means that you’ll be doing a lot of puzzles that require you to swap back and forth, multiple times. It actually opens things up to get fairly creative, having to use 2 characters to bypass a series of puzzles seems like a good idea. However, The Girl and the Robot makes it a monotonous chore. Not only are the majority of puzzles extremely easy and predictable, a few are also way too long. To make matters worse, swapping between characters isn’t instant (you have to wait for them to do an animation) and when they are far away from each other the screen will blink with a blank frame like in the cutscenes.
The graphics are bad. Really bad. There is a hint of a water color art direction that works in some areas, but it usually just looks like a muddied mess. On top of that, the draw distance is so poor that I thought I was playing on a N64. There are also quite a few bugs I ran into, major clipping errors, and a few times where the camera got stuck so I had to reload. This game doesn’t even match the standards of the 6th generation of video game consoles let alone being a 2017 PS4 release. The sound quality is incredibly low as well. With sound effects that sound like they were recorded on an iPhone and 3 piano tunes that only kick in at certain times means you’ll probably want to play this with your own music playing. On the plus side, no need to worry about not hearing the dialogue since there isn’t any.
The Girl and the Robot is a boring, repetitive, buggy and all around frustrating experience. Not only is the story completely vague, the gameplay stiff, the characters lifeless, but it also has the audacity to end on a cliffhanger. Not that ending on a cliffhanger had really any impact since there is no reason to care about the story, but it just felt like a slap in the face after a kick in the groin of having to play through it and get that ending. Charging $9.99 for less than a 3 hour game that they didn’t tell you is episodic is also quite shady. If there is one thing I’ll give it credit for is that it at least tried something different than the majority of titles now, even if it did fail unbelievably hard.
The Girl and the Robot is available on Steam and PS4 now digitally, but do yourself a favor and skip this one.