‘Robots in the Wild’ – Build Robots, Save Hearts!

Robots in the Wild logo

An asteroid struck the Robot mothership, scattering the robots and their blocks all across the galaxy. You’re on a mission to recover the Heart blocks, the most precious (and, as it turns out, vulnerable) of the blocks. Help rescue these Robots in the Wild!

Robots in the Wild is an arcade puzzle game from Heatbox Games, designed by Aaron Heaton, that hits Steam Early Access today. That means the game is still in development, but you can buy it now and start playing to give feedback to the developer. It runs on Macs and Windows PCs and is available for $9.99.

I got extra-early access to the game to try it out, so here’s a closer look.

Robots in the Wild
MenuBot helps you choose your next move.

When you begin, you’ll meet two bots floating through space—MenuBot and CalculatorBot. They’ll get you started, and then you’ll pick a planet to visit. Each solar system has four different planets to visit, with different hazards on each one. You can visit them in any order, but each time you rescue a Heart, you’ll have to survive an additional night on the next level you play.

Robots in the Wild start
At the start of a level, you’ve just got a Heart and some leftover blocks.

When you begin, you’ll see a Heart at the center, along with a few scattered blocks here and there. (On harder levels, you may have a Heart and nothing else.) Across the top of the screen are five available blocks that you can place. Each one has some type of path on it—some are T-intersections, some are L-shaped bends, some are dead ends, and so on.

Robots in the Wild assembly
The Heart gives you assembly instructions for different types of bots.

Click and hold on the Heart to learn how to assemble bots. You’ll start with a few basics: how to create the DwellingBot, which has four BatteryBots inside it, and the PewPewBot, which shoots lasers … slowly. As you progress, you’ll unlock more bots: a LampBot to provide light at night, FactoryBots to generate more blocks, and better weapon-bots.

You select a block from the top of the screen, rotate it to whatever orientation you want, and then drop it—it will fall straight down until it lands on something. If you arrange the blocks to match one of the assembly instructions, it turns into that bot. However, most of the bots don’t do anything unless they’re powered—that little “plug” icon on the PewPewBot means it needs one BatteryBot. So you’ll need to make a DwellingBot, and then connect it with paths to that plug, so that the BatteryBots can travel there and activate the bot.

Robots in the Wild Dust Storm
This dust storm is blowing from the right side of the screen.

Of course, you wouldn’t be building PewPewBots if everything were safe and happy, right? There are all manner of dangers that can damage the poor Heart: creatures that eat blocks and bots, volcanoes spewing lava, and vicious dust storms that wear away your blocks. Some things gradually wear down a block until it crumbles, but some (like the falling lava) can destroy multiple blocks in one blow. As blocks are destroyed, other things stacked on top of them fall straight down, sometimes messing up paths that you’ve carefully laid out.

Robots in the Wild night
At night, things get pretty dark—better have some LampBots.

And then there’s night. At night, the sky grows dark, and so do your surroundings—you can still hear the growling of creatures but you can’t see anything except for what is lit up by BatteryBots and LampBots. If you’re trying to build something and it gets dark, at first you can only see the outline of blocks that you’ve already dropped. If it gets even darker, you can’t even see where previous blocks are at all, so you’re building totally blind. Generally my creations don’t turn out too well in those cases.

You only have so many blocks in the queue before they run out and you have to wait for them to regenerate, but you can get more by clicking and deleting particular blocks in your structure. You can also drop blocks directly onto enemies, though sometimes it takes a lot of blocks to kill a bigger enemy, and dropping blocks is not the most efficient method of killing them.

Robots in the Wild
Doom! I was unable to prevent these creatures from reaching the Heart.

To rescue the Heart, you’ll have to survive a set number of nights, and each Heart increases the duration for the next planet in the solar system. If anything gets through to the Heart—monsters, lava, dust storms, etc.—then it will eventually take too much damage and perish. There isn’t any sort of health meter so you don’t know exactly how many hits it will take, but the heart yelps and the edges of the screen flash red each time it gets hurt, so it’s kind of flinch-inducing when it happens.

Robots in the Wild solar systems
More solar systems become available when you finish one.

As you rescue hearts, you’ll be able to unlock more planets in the same solar system, as well as new solar systems. Each one has its own particular hazards and monsters, and rescuing Hearts also unlocks new bots to play with.

I’ve been playing Robots in the Wild a bit and have rescued 7 Hearts so far, but the difficulty progression has been quite hard. The fourth planet in each system has taken me a lot of tries, and I haven’t figured out a strategy for the dust storm yet. One of the difficulties is that the set of 5 blocks available to you is randomized, so sometimes you know exactly what you need to build, but you just don’t get the blocks to build them—and you won’t unless you put down a few of the available blocks to see what you get next. That can be pretty frustrating, particularly when there’s a monster headed your way and your gun is missing one single block to complete.

I also haven’t figured out the best way to make use of some of the more complex bots. Generally you’ve only got so much time to build before the first hazard or monster appears, and from then it feels like you’re in emergency mode. Getting the right blocks to build the big bots, and then enough BatteryBots to power them, while still having guns or walls to hold off the monsters, seems almost impossible. I’m not sure if using a gamepad would be easier than the mouse-and-keyboard controls I’m currently using, but it might be nice to be able to tweak the difficulty level a little.

Even so, it’s a pretty clever game, and I’ve really been enjoying it. It’s challenging, and an interesting mix of action and puzzle game—you can’t just plop blocks down anywhere, but you also can’t take too long making your decisions.

If you like puzzle-action games, check out Robots in the Wild on Steam!

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Jonathan H. Liu is a stay-at-home dad in Portland, Oregon, who loves to read, is always up for a board game, and has a bit of a Kickstarter habit.