An endless runner game featuring a mechanical and mythical creature.
It is a very rare occurrence when the mere title of a game is able to make me stop in my tracks, perform a double-take and have me checking whether the combination of letters and words I just witnessed are indeed correct and as I first read them. Words could not describe the excitement I felt when I realised that I had indeed just read the words ‘Robot Unicorn Attack’ followed by the promise of ‘Heavy Metal’. Ninety nine percent of people (including me) would be sold at the very idea of being able to play a game containing an android unicorn which attacks well, pretty much anything, but the game went ahead and dangled the ‘heavy metal’ carrot anyway. Needless to say, I gave the game the amount of time investment that it deserves and I was instantly sold.
Release Date: 16/12/2013
Robot Unicorn Attack Heavy Metal is developed by Adult Swim Games.
Essentially, the aim of the game is to simply make the flammable robotic unicorn run as far as is possible without exploding into flames as a result of a misplaced jump or poor reaction speed. The endlessly-running format of the game means that there is only one level in which to play; it consists of repeating scenery (with minor physical variation) that scrolls by until such a time arrives that you make a mistake by colliding into any number of surfaces that threaten to end your progress.
The game itself is played with a side-view of the action which follows the unicorn as the scenery scrolls by at a merciless speed while you attempt to jump, double-jump and super-charge your way through the literal hell that surrounds you. You are given three lives to play with, though in this game these lives are more appropriately referred to as ‘nightmares’ in which you must survive as long as possible without careering into the obstacles which lie ahead. Following each ‘nightmare’, your score is subtotalled and eventually added together when you have had your three chances at achieving the longest possible run of glory. You even have the chance to earn a few extra points by running into the small imps and incinerating them with a mere passing touch.
Controlling the unicorn is a concept that is very easy to grasp; the Z button allows you to jump, and pressing it shortly after your initial leap will allow you to perform a double jump, which is a move that is very frequently required if you are to survive many of the gaps between solid ground that seem to be typical in the burning fires of hell. The double-jump certainly separates this game from many others like it; it isn’t a concept that is new or by any means revolutionary, but it serves to add a sense of excessive ridiculousness, which is the feeling that the game in general seems to invoke when playing it. I mean this previous description in the most complimentary way possible, since it is this outrageousness that makes the game so exceptionally fun to play.
At the risk of making a blatantly obvious statement, I feel that no game would be complete without a special move, and this one is no exception; pressing X allows you to perform a sudden dash which has the advantageous effect of allowing you to smash through objects that may be in your way. The dash also lets you jump even longer distances and can be used in conjunction with the regular jump in order to prevent you from plummeting to your inevitable death.
Due to the fast-paced nature of your journey through the depths of the underworld, the dash function becomes a very important tool in surviving your encounters with the many pentagram-inspired obstacles littered haphazardly throughout the underworld. Surviving a collision with these obstacles depends entirely on your reaction speed; it is imperative that you make the dash soon enough to be effective. Perhaps most importantly, you must always remember to continue jumping afterwards since the ground underfoot tends to run out very rapidly.
The obstacles which you encounter range from giant, inconveniently-placed pentagram structures (apparently hell doesn’t have a groundsman to take care of these things) to the ground itself and the speedily-approaching scenery. In fact, one of the biggest challenges is managing to jump a sufficient distance to negotiate the gaps in the ground while simultaneously avoiding any low-hanging scenery above. And they say people in heaven have it tough.
Bolstering the already-consistent nature of the gameplay is the function of being able to publish your score online; that is if you feel confident enough that your skills were of sufficient superiority to allow you to sit proudly on the leader’s board without shame or self-doubt. I would enjoyed the experience more if there were some sort of notable achievements specific to the game, a feature that often turns a moderately-entertaining title into an addictive masterpiece. Despite the lack of this feature, however, I was still satisfied enough with the game to return to it several times before becoming a little jaded with the experience.
When it comes down to it, you are sadly not presented with a special prize or a hero’s welcome at the game’s conclusion; you simply have to make do with the glory of lasting for as many seconds or minutes that you mange to muster, and basking in the glory of this achievement is all the notoriety you are going to get for your efforts. Can you really tell me with a straight face that you were expecting more?
The game is very much an angrier and decidedly more on-fire version of the original, which previously saw the robotic unicorn enveloped in a world of rainbow-splashed fantasy with a gentle ballad playing in the background. Of course, the version under scrutiny today is altogether more brutal in both pace and its stylistic imaginings. If the original is to be described as a colourful foray into the world of rainbows, dreams and silky-soft clouds then this version is more like a fiery nightmare with mildly hallucinogenic properties and a journey into Satan’s playground. The heavy metal musical accompaniment adds a definite urgency to the gameplay and ensures a broader appeal to an audience that may have felt a little emasculated by the bundle of happiness-soaked cotton wool that is the original.
In all, ‘Robot Unicorn Attack: Heavy Metal’ is an excellent alternative to many other distance-based game of endless running out there. It has all the hallmarks of the genre which one would look for in such a game: a simple setup, an easy-to-grasp set of controls, some above-average artwork and of course, a ridiculously intriguing title that would have even the most sceptical man named Thomas rubbing his eyes and eager to know more.
Apparently, the premise of a robot unicorn is in itself enticing enough (for me, anyhow); mix that with some metal-tinged melodies and a soaring vocal line and you apparently have a formula that is just successful enough to be considered ‘somewhat entertaining’ by me. I would have been a little happier if there were some heavier tunes playing since I imagined the soundtrack to hell to be infinitely more brutal than what is played during the game. It feels more like the music you would hear emanating from a mini-speaker in the elevator ride down to hell or the support act in a gig when it should have been the main event. A little more variety in the background and foreground scenery wouldn’t have hurt anyone, either.
A feature which was most notably absent from the game was that of power-ups, add-ons or even a few measly items of similar function to provide more replay value to the action. I didn’t let this absence bring me down, however; after all, I wanted to be able to legitimately say that I rode a robotic unicorn through the perilous terrain of hell itself and lived to tell the tale. Though technically you cannot live indefinitely in Adult Swim's game, it really is in the spirit of things (and the idea of gaming in general) to have a damn good go. Hop on: It’s a one way ticket to the underworld and this unicorn isn’t messing around