For all the games out there touted as or claiming to be “retro”, I would have to say that Bot Vice deserves the title as much as any if not more. To date I haven’t found another game that looks and sounds so much like a Super Nintendo game. DYA Games has done a masterful job at mimicking the 16-bit aesthetic that, at the time, was completely unique to the SNES. I can’t get over how the graphics and sound so accurately mimic those of Capcom during the early-to-mid ’90s.
The nostalgia doesn’t end there though. The gameplay is something you don’t see too often anymore either, in the form of a gallery shooter. If you’re not familiar, picture a light gun game without the light gun. Instead you move your character on the bottom of the screen left and right, who shoots for you. Check out examples such as Cabal, Dynamite Duke, and fittingly, the SNES’ Wild Guns. It’s a pretty specific genre to be sure but with so many games being released all the time, it’s hard to believe there hasn’t been much of a resurgence. The gallery shooter (specifically what’s known as the Cabal shooter here) is a straightforward but challenging genre that I wish more developers would embrace.
Bot Vice injects the genre with cartoony but deadly characters and a light-hearted sci-fi setting. To be honest I didn’t give the story much time mainly because A) the voice acting is terrible and B) the goal is to shoot stuff as fast as you can, a.k.a. the universal language of video games. You’re actually timed and ranked on your performance for each stage, and your total time will add up and determine if later levels can be unlocked. If not you’ll have to go back and shave a few seconds off here and there. That’s part of the fun though and not a feature that older examples of the genre have. You can simply blaze through the game, but if you’re the type of gamer where that “B” ranking from a few levels ago nags at you, you’ll get a lot more enjoyment out of this one.
The pace of the gameplay is quite frantic. Our hero, Erin Saver, can move left to right, roll past bullets, and pressing Up will let her duck behind a wall of cover that separates you from the bad guys. You’ll need to use all of these tactics since rolling will get you out of a jam, and ducking allows you to take a rare split second breather when there’s simply no other way to avoid damage. Weapons are your standard shooty bang bang assortment: Handgun, machine gun, spread, flamethrower, rockets and grenades. The enemies seem to have a lot of variety, from tanks and riot shields to flying bugs, and frogs that straight up try to stomp yo ass.
It all sounds pretty fun, and at times it is. My big problem with Bot Vice though is that I just think it might have turned out better in more capable hands. Believe me, I hate saying stuff like that. I’m sure DYA Games worked their asses off on this game, and there’s so much to like about it. Like I said the graphics and sound perfectly emulate the SNES mojo, and its arcade-y, controller-favoring gameplay is something I will always commend. The artwork isn’t half bad, the character designs are pretty decent, and the god awful voice acting doesn’t even bother me, and believe me it really is terrible.
The thing is that Bot Vice has tangible balancing issues. Many players will simply give up very early on unless they are still willing to give the Easy difficulty a chance at that point. On Normal the game simply ramps up far too quickly. The “hardcore” twitch gamers and veterans that still have that old school muscle memory might fare well, but the majority will be throwing their hands up not long after purchase. I hit a brick wall as early as level 4, and these are short levels. You’re looking at 1-2 minutes each. It’s incredibly jarring to be clearly stuck in a game you bought ten minutes ago.
The issues were confirmed when I realized that my times in those four completed levels were all over the place. I beat the first stage in 57 seconds, the next stage in 1:37, and stages three and four were about a minute. I also went back to the second level to try and iron out my time and wasn’t able to, sometimes even dying despite having blown past it originally. That’s nonsensical progression. Also, even though every second matters there are quite a few instances when the game ruins any chance you have at a good completion time. The reasons seem to be things the developers just plain didn’t think of. Sometimes enemies with shields will hide behind them for far too long. If you don’t have the right guns to deal with them (and you often don’t) you’ll watch time evaporate. A related problem is when the floating robot that gives you weapons and health just won’t show up. As a result you’re sometimes forced to use your default handgun until you shoot whatever enemies the game deems necessary, which often seems random. Not great when you’re in the middle of a boss battle and the game wants you to shuffle over and take care of a couple minions, because reasons. These non-intuitive triggers built into the game can screw up your scores and seem indicative of design that could’ve been tighter in its execution.
Also, it’s just too damn hard to see what’s going on at times. Enemy bullets don’t stand out enough, and the action is so crazy at times that you literally can’t process everything at once. You’ll have multiple enemies firing normally, a grenade being lobbed at you, and air vents spewing toxic gas under your feet. There’s simply not enough time to act properly, even on instinct, in some situations. Even worse is the controversial choice of your character defaulting back to your pistol any time they run out of ammo for another gun. You’ll be firing rockets then all of a sudden, a pea shooter. You look down to figure out what guns you have and what you don’t, and be completely lost by the time you focus on the action again. It would have been a small concession to make, but a modern touch here would have helped. If you could hold down a button and scroll through your weapons as time slowed, it would sort out a lot of the weapon confusion that happens constantly in-game. The action isn’t fast-paced as much as it is just a clusterfuck that needs edited.
When the game works, it’s a fun little experience that’s very nostalgic. There is quite a bit of frustration to be had for most people though. Once I put the game through its paces, I was a little shocked at what you get for the retail price. $11.99 is just too much for this game. I’m very thankful that I only paid half of that, which is getting much closer to what the game is actually worth in my opinion.
My final review of Bot Vice is that it falls a little short. Some fine tuning could have made it much more popular in Steam and indie circles. I love the concept and a good bit of the execution, but I feel many others will share my thoughts on its glaring deficiencies. This is a game for a somewhat specific audience that I would only look into during a sale.