Browser game reviews: Cathode Raybots
Once upon a long while ago, TVs were pegged as THE time-sucking device. Nothing ate up more spare minutes than the television, a source of mindless, silly entertainment that could keep kids and adults alike enraptured for eons. These days, though, the TVs have been tossed aside in favour of other, shinier devices... and those old cathodes aren't taking the casual discarding of their kind lightly. Rebellion!
The story was pretty much outlined above. Televisions have been launched into space after becoming obsolete, and after evolving into sentient beings they've come back to Earth to turn mankind into the entertainment. Humans must fight back in one-on-one brawls to survive the media onslaught. It's a neat idea, and hopefully the story will get expanded in a future game, because that's pretty much where it ends in Cathode Raybots.
If you've ever played a Mega Man game, specifically one of the boss battles, you'll know what to expect in Cathode Raybots. The whole game consists of battling the Raybots, televisions with arms, legs and hi-tech weaponry, in duels to the death. Your little human must use their own limited weaponry (a gun and a flame thrower) to whittle away at the Raybot's health while preserving your own. Destroy it and you can move on to fight a different Raybot. There are no upgrades or different weapons, and the arenas are more geographically-diverse, but yes, this is pretty much a Mega Man boss battle brawl. (Which is cool with me. The bosses were the best part in Mega Man games.)
The trick here is that the Raybots you fight have been created and programmed by other players. If you choose to play a Raybot you go through a lengthy editing process whereby you create a face, craft an arena, choose and tinker with attacks and hammer out an attack pattern for your Raybot. Do all this successfully, as well as defeat said Raybot in battle, and bam! Everyone can take on your boss in battle. It's a really cool idea.
... when it works.
I've seen ample evidence while playing that it does work. There are tons of user-created Raybots. Unfortunately, despite the editor being easy-to-understand and fun to mess with, a lot of players (myself included) get mucked up during the final step: creating a movement and attack pattern for the Raybot. You need to create a start and end point for the pattern, and though I could establish the start point and the pattern I couldn't make it end before the session timed out. Hence, no Raybot. Fail! Hopefully you won't have the same problem when you make your own Raybot, as level editing is THE big reason to play this game.
Not a whole lot to say here. The controls are nice and simple. Run and jump using the arrow keys, A and S to launch attacks. As a Raybot you can also perform a double jump while already in the air by hitting up again, giving the bots a bit of an edge over the humans. No complaints.
The intro movie is fantastic, the menu characters look amazing, and the in-game sprites aren't too shabby. There are lots of stupid hats you can put on your Raybots, and the facial editor is a lot of fun. Some really talented artists can do amazing things with simple paint tools. (You may also run into some Raybots that defy explanation. Yay for user-based creations.)
My only criticism stems from the backgrounds. Though there's a ton of diversity in character creation, you're forever relegated to a single, dreary backdrop and geographical sprite set. Add in three or four variations - or even the user capacity to make their own level designs above and beyond mere block placement - and this would be a truly robust experience. Functional as it is, yes, but a little bleh after a dozen battles in a world of purple.
The challenge is completely dependent on how the users you're battling tinkered with their Raybot. Most of the time, particularly with the Raybots made by the programmers themselves, you get a nicely-balanced experience with good stage layouts and tough, but eventually predictable, boss patterns.
Play with the user base's Raybots, on the other hand, and you never know what to expect. Some are absolutely phenomenal. Some are mere tests, and are about as dangerous as a hungry kitten. Yet more are ridiculous, and you wonder how the creator managed to beat their creation in the first place. It's quite easy to be cruel to your players when you learn that they can't jump as high as the Raybot. (Nor can they teleport.) Some Raybots are just too annoying to fight.
Most of the Raybot weapons are both fair and versatile, and don't pose many problems. The one big exception is the overhead laser. Depending on the level design and the maliciousness of the creator, this thing can make winning nigh-impossible. You need to create a lot of hiding spots for it to work as a reasonable challenge, and most players fail to do that. I would not be sad to see it go.
Manage to play without a bugged editor and Cathode Raybots will be a lot of fun. It's really neat to get an inside look at developing boss characters in video games, even if this isn't exactly how it's done by professionals. Judging by the number of complaints of the glitch on Newgrounds' comment section, though, this game still needs a bit of tinkering.