On a busy assembly line, a massive amount of identical robots work the monotonous tedium of factory work. In one of the hundreds of conveyor belts, worked by hundreds of small robots, a single butterfly lands by a single robot. The robot pauses, and turns his optical sensors towards the beautiful creatures. Alarms start to sound. In Retro Machina, players will control this small robot in this isometric action game through a world devoid of humans, overrun by machinery. You will solve puzzles, battle, and discover the history of the world as you explore. Welcome to Atomic City, the City of Tomorrow.

Gameplay

Retro Machina boasts puzzle solving and action oriented combat. You will have access to many different combat and traversal abilities, chief among them and first unlocked would be the ability to remotely control other robots. This is an ability you can use on almost any robot you come across through the game and it allows you to take advantage of their unique traits such as ones with a small size, ones that can hover over hazards, ones with superior strength and so on. As a puzzle solving tool, this is great. It opens avenues to interesting puzzles to solve and it’s a joy to use. It takes a page from Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons where you control your character with the left stick and the controlled robots with the right.

Where the gameplay falls apart for me is the combat. Enemies tend to overly outnumber your character and the enemy AI doesn’t seem to know anything other than approach and attack. This leads to being surrounded by a gang of enemies and being hit repeatedly without many tools to prevent it. You have a dodge roll however it has very little invincibility frames – more than once have I been hit in the middle of the dodge. You are given a few special abilities to use and they run off of a meter which is filled by attacking enemies. My issue with this is that they are not useful enough to warrant being used off of a meter. They would be more attractive options if they ran off of a short cooldown and could be used more often. Finally, the ability to control robots mentioned earlier can be used during combat. Any damage the controlled robot takes, even from you, is shared with the player character, leading to situations where your character can drop dead randomly, leaving you confused until you realize the robot you were controlling got hit by a stray bullet from an enemy. Controlled robots that can fire projectiles have no indicator that tells you which way the robot will shoot the bullet. It fires in the direction it’s facing but most of the robots are circular and have no way to tell which way it’s facing. I have found very few situations in which I felt I benefited from using that mechanic in battle.

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Story / Art Direction

The plot of Retro Machina is somewhat surface level. After fleeing from the factory he works in, a robot discovers in a self diagnosis that he has a system corruption and travels to find the repair terminal to fix it. What I feel deserves more attention is the world the game takes place in. Retro Machina takes place in a retro-futuristic environment. The first area of the game, Atomic City, is a metropolis with advanced technology as viewed by what the future was imagined to be like back in the 80s. The game’s art is hand-drawn and the isometric viewpoint is terrifically utilized combined with the suspended walkways in the city to allow for distant and detailed backgrounds that are a pleasure to look at.

The environments are empty of human life and nature is starting to reclaim the buildings. This combined with collectables throughout the game hint at a robot uprising that took place before the events of the game. This is paired alongside the 80s style advertisements that allow the player to learn of the invention and advancement of the machines into modern life. Hidden information like this can be found throughout the game, enriching the world.

Music / Sound Design

Music isn’t very present throughout a lot of the game, favoring ambient sounds that accentuate the emptiness of the game world. The machinery throughout has a lot of mechanical foley attached to them, whirring with every turned joint and occasional beeps and digital noise. When music isn’t an ever present part of a game, sound effects become an even more important inclusion. Thankfully, Retro Machina delivers.

Final Score: 65%

Retro Machina could have been fantastic but because of the flaws in the combat system, it settles at merely good. It has a lot of depth in world building and its environments look beautiful, however on almost every combat encounter I’ve encountered, I got stuck. There are more small annoyances outside of combat that hold the game back even more. For example, you can carry an item to restore your health, however only one can be carried. If you have one and come across a second, picking it up will simply delete one of the two as opposed to automatically using one or just being unable to pick it up. I could recommend many different game changes to fix the combat. Controlled robots could not share damage with the player character and to avoid you controlling a robot so it can’t fight back against you defeating it, the character could be unable to deal damage to it. More i-frames added on to the dodge roll or removing the collision on the character during the roll could help to avoid escape gang ups. The game is set up for something great, which makes the issues even more frustrating. Those that can overlook what I’ve described will surely find a deep and worthwhile experience. However, I hope some changes can be made post release to alleviate some of its issues.

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