Microbot is a twin-stick shooter (move with one stick on the controller, fire weapons with the other) that has you controlling a microscopic ship inside a human body. The game's opening is one of the cooler openings that I've seen in an XBLA game in a while – a hypodermic needle is shown injecting a clear fluid in which your ship is floating into the bloodstream of an anonymous person and you soon find yourself within the walls of an artery. Once you're in, the first thing that you'll notice is that the look of the game is pretty impressive, doubly so for a downloadable game. The color palette is vibrant and feels organic, body parts look appropriately soft and squishy, and it genuinely looks like you're making your way through pulsating fluids. During the first level, which also serves as an interactive tutorial, you'll find that this body is a body under assault from artificially viruses that are essentially microscopic ships such as your own. Your job is to eliminate these enemy ships and take out the implants that are generating them to end the assault on the body you've been sent to protect.
Microbot starts strongly enough. The game's look and unique setting inspire feelings of anticipation, the kind of excitement you feel when you think that you've discovered something that you'll really like. There's also a unique twist to the battles as you have to contend with the pulsing current of the bloodstream as you try to shoot the enemies while avoiding their projectiles. Add to all of this the fact that your ship is extensively upgradable in terms of weapons, shielding, and maneuverability and you've got the potential for a unique and enjoyable little shooter. Unfortunately, Microbot never realizes that potential.
It feels to me as if the game first saw life as a one level demo shopped around to game publishers. The publisher, in this case EA, saw the potential for the game and gave it the green light, but the developer didn't really know what to do with the game. In the end, you've got a game that's only five levels long, and that's far too easy early on but gets way too difficult far too quickly. The customization feature is relatively unnecessary as only when the weapons are maxed out do they actually feel more powerful, and by then it's too late because your enemies have grown disproportionately stronger during the time it takes you to upgrade your weapons. The game is pretty unbalanced in that way – difficulty very quickly ramps up during the second level and not in a good game skills challenging sort of way. Enemies simply become too powerful for your underpowered weapons and fragile hull, and the game quickly becomes an annoying exercise in frustration. This isn't one of those games that has you coming back for more because you're certain that if you can play just a little better you can come out on top; it's one of those games that will frustrate you because the odds are simply overwhelmingly stacked against you.
Probably the biggest disappointment, though, is that the game doesn't ever go anywhere with its intriguing setting and premise. The potential to turn different areas of the body into battle zones with unique hazards is never realized – you can probably think of a couple potentially interesting levels just off the top of your head, but the developers deliver more of the same through the whole game and by the end of it all seem to have forgotten that there was even an initial premise to the game. Some colors change between levels, but as far as you know you could be battling it out in a plate of rapidly decomposing haggis rather than trying to save a human life.
Microbot is hard to recommend even to those who live for shmups and twin-stick shooters. It's an also-ran, a game that had the potential to be something special but in the end is just a really good-looking but thoroughly frustrating and mediocre game.
Final Rating: 65%. This game could have been and should have been better.