Upwards, Lonely Robot from developer Random Layers and publisher Kasedo Games is a fairly simple little game.
You play a ball-shaped robot that climbs towers. The whole point is to get to the top. That’s it. Yet, it was also one of the best demos I saw while at PAX South this past weekend.
The only way to climb is to jump to new platforms. However, those platforms aren’t always available given the cylindrical tower’s randomly-generated nature, and sometimes, there are various obstacles to overcome just to get to the next bit. The idea is to spin around the tower until a way up is clear. There’s never going to be a completely obvious route direct to the top, but there will be a way to the next level.
For example, there are dastardly snails meandering around horizontally on some platforms, and some kind of bug flies about through the air, cutting off some parts. Then, there’s spikes, acid drops and other deadly objects. The trick is figuring out how to navigate all of this quickly and efficiently to make it to the top of the tower.
Complicating things is that the robot, which is lonely due to its search for its creators, constantly loses fuel over time. Even if the player is sitting still, the gauge goes down. When there’s no fuel, the game’s over, and the player begins at the bottom of the tower again. Players also lose fuel whenever the ball hits enemies or obstacles. So, it functions as both a health and energy bar of sorts.
The only way to refill that gauge? Fruit sprinkled across various levels and sides of the tower. However, in my experience, these were rare enough that you never actually wanted to find yourself in a position where you were actively looking for them. Instead, it seemed best to aim to pick up a few on the way up the tower.
The base game comes with 75 different levels of varying difficulties, but where Upwards, Lonely Robot really shines is multiplayer. Folks can play online as well as locally to earn spots on leaderboards, but the split-screen multiplayer where two players race to the top is what’s going to come to mind whenever I think about the game in the future.
When booting up the split-screen mode, a whole slew of options open up to determine just how difficult players want to make things. Honestly, it reminded me of some of the more detailed Super Smash Bros. menus. How tall should the tower be? Which obstacles? Spikes? Illusionary platforms? Acid drops? Players can pick and choose, combining these all in interesting ways.
As an additional level of intrigue, players can set which modifiers on jumps are active. During my demo, both illusory platforms and a “teleport” jump were active during one climb, and it made for a particularly difficult time. The special jump essentially ports the robot to the platform directly above it, but the illusory platforms are only visible as such from an angle — meaning that I more than once tried to teleport to one, only to fail and waste valuable time wondering what happened.
Yet, I kept playing. Driving home at the end of PAX South, the one game on my mind at the time was Upwards, Lonely Robot — which is currently set for a Q1 2016 release.