Retro Not Just In Name
HIGH Enjoyable combat with an interesting art style.
LOW A very limited set of skills and not enough enemy types.
WTF Wait… it’s not a metroidvania ?!
The genius in the title of Retro Machina is that it isn’t a reference to the main “character” – it’s more a tagline for the type of game it is. Being a top-down isometric platformer/brawler with a big focus on puzzle solving and absolutely no RPG or open-world elements, it’s more than reminiscent of experiences so common in days gone by.
This adventure starts when one unassuming little robot — part of a long line of identically-produced, domestically oriented constructions — suddenly starts to ‘remember’ things. It immediately storms out of the production factory in search for answers, smashing security bots on the way out with a wrench. Once outside, we quickly notice the total absence of humans, as well as many half-destroyed buildings, shopping malls and vehicles. Hidden throughout cleverly disguised nooks and crannies of the world, we’ll slowly uncover bits and pieces which stitch together a causal series of events.
We’re soon given direction to find new batteries, which are needed to open transit towards two other neighboring locations. However, the path to each new battery is locked behind a door with four locks, and to obtain each of those keys, we must first find four colored keycards. After completing those tasks, we defeat a boss that guards a battery, then move to the next location and repeat.
The combat is simple, but provides ample opportunities for little delights — most notably in the ability of our robot to ‘possess’ other machines from a distance. So, when battling a group of foes, it’s prudent to mind control one and use its own armaments against its brethren. What makes this more interesting is the fact that even while controlling a foe (via the right stick) we don’t ever lose control of our hero bot, whom we direct with the left stick. Therefore, we attack, dodge and reposition from two sources at once – and after the dominated body perishes, we simply pick another one to mind control. Pretty neat!
Sadly, despite a strong start, this system never evolves throughout the course of the game. There also isn’t any special interaction between the different enemy types, so it’s completely unimportant which one we opt to control in order to trim the herd – possessing any one at random is effective enough, apart from perhaps keeping enemy healing bots alive in order to repair our guy at the end of a skirmish. There isn’t much more to it, which is disappointing since what we get only scratches the surface of this interesting concept.
Another aspect that feels underutilized is the upgrade system.
Retro Machina is heavy on puzzle solving. These entertaining challenges center around luring other robots to stand on various pressure plates that open new paths, and so forth. Rewards for these puzzles are frequently robotic cores, which we can use to upgrade stats and skills. However, they simply aren’t impactful enough. Stats like more health and ‘mana’ are mandatory, but improving the three available “super-moves” — an energy shield, a whirlwind move and an electrical AoE attack simply makes them hit a bit harder, and nothing else.
Even worse, we have only one melee combo for the robot — three quick punches with a wrench — that also doesn’t ever change a bit. Combat never feels completely dull because the mind-control mechanic saves it, but a little variety like another weapon or special items would’ve gone a long way here.
This underdeveloped feeling impacts other aspects of Retro Machina, such as the game’s own structure. Many power-ups are stationed out of reach or behind steel doors. It suggests that some sort of new power will be acquired and used to collect them later, yet such a revelation happens only once in the campaign. Once the robot obtains a limited flight power (which is awkward to use due to the isometric perspective) there’s nothing else coming afterwards. I strongly feel that if the designers stole a few pages from popular metroidvanias, their work would’ve been all the better for it. As is, there’s a lot of empty space here.
Overall, the only solid win Retro Machina has to offer is the art style. The color palette is muted just in the right way so as to achieve a unique ‘retro-futuristic’ look, and all of the robots follow the same design philosophy. It’s much like the way people in the ’50s envisioned the future, and it’s cute to observe in motion from above.
Retro Machina is a game that diligently stays true to its title, putting on the table nothing more or less then what is implied with the opening menu. Unfortunately, the developers have kept too sharp a focus on the ‘retro’ aspect, and in failing to leverage the design improvements and innovations from recent years, the end result is an experience that feels far smaller and more limited than it should.
— Konstantin Koteski
Disclosures: This game is developed by Orbit Studios and published by Super.com. It is currently available on XBO, PS4, PC and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4 Pro. Approximately 8 hours of play were devoted to the story, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: This game has received an E rating from the ESRB, and contains Mild Fantasy Violence. The combat is shown from a top-down perspective, and features robotic enemies only. There isn’t any implication that blows elicit pain sensations in the robots, and there isn’t any type of liquid spraying after successful hits. Defeated enemies explode and disappear very quickly. Everything about the game is kid-friendly, except for the difficulty which will probably be too much for inexperienced gamers.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There is no speech in this game, but we uncover a lot of written material such as diaries and recorded conversations. The size of the text is not changeable. Sound is completely unimportant for finishing this game, as all enemy actions are telegraphed visually, first and foremost. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: This game does not offer a controller diagram, and the control scheme is not changeable. Attacking and dodging are done via the face buttons, the bumper buttons are for skills, and the directional buttons are for selecting a power.