Game-related ramblings.

Scratching That Itch: DROID7

This is the one hundred thirtieth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Here comes another random selection from the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality, climbing upwards in quite a hurry indeed. It’s DROID7, by Juan makes games, and its tagline in the bundle reads:

Escape or die, it’s your choice

That doesn’t sound like much of a choice, to be honest.

DROID7 is a retro-styled arcade platformer, with big chunky pixel art and 8-bit style squelchy sound. Players control a small robot, which awakes to find itself trapped in a tower. The only way to go is up, by jumping and double-jumping on a series of platforms, but then — gasp — A huge laser beam starts moving up the tower, destroying everything in its path. Better keep climbing, or die!

I’m not kidding about that gasp. At the start, players can climb a short way without fear, getting a feel for the jumping. Soon, however, a brief cutscene shows the laser appear, before returning to show the unfortunate robot gasp and wail in alarm. It’s absolutely adorable. After that, it’s time to keep jumping upwards, through a procedurally generated set of platforms. Early on there are just two platform types, one that the robot can jump up through and another that it can’t, but soon more dangers are introduced. Platforms with retractable spikes that pop out when stepped on. Platforms that disappear a short time after the robot lands on them. Platforms that pop in and out of existence in a pre-set rhythm. There are even some enemies and other hazards that start to show up.

The robot can only take a few hits from these hazards, but it will occasionally find hearts to pick up that provide an extra point of health. Other powerups appear too, although some are actually traps. There’s one that increases the robot’s movement speed and jump height, but another that slows it down and shortens jumps. After climbing high enough, I found a mushroom that made the robot grow larger (just like Mario) and destroy any platforms it bumped with its head, which can hurt as much as it helps. The most valuable powerup, however, is the stopwatch, which freezes time for a short duration. That doesn’t just mean that it stops the laser’s advance, but it also prevents retractable spikes from emerging, making those platforms completely safe to jump on while the stopwatch is active.

That was extra helpful, because those spikes were the trickiest hazard to understand. I eventually learned that it’s possible to avoid the spikes if the robot jumps again immediately after landing on the platform, but there’s very little time to react and I never felt that I’d quite worked out how to deal with them. Sometimes I’d nab a powerup that catapulted the robot upwards, only to land right on a spike platform and get impaled. That was a more common occurrence than falling into the giant laser beam, actually. I rarely saw the laser, climbing quickly enough that it was safely off screen below, although I think it does speed up its advance later on. I only encountered it when I made mistakes and fell, or if I managed to climb quite high and the accelerating laser caught up with me.

As is traditional for arcade games, DROID7 is mostly about getting as far as possible and aiming for a high score. Runs are quick, as are restarts. But in addition to the score counter on the right side of the screen, there’s a counter on the left side that indicates what floor the robot has managed to reach. New floors seem to begin at arbitrary points along the climb; sometimes I’d notice I was on floor 4 of 10, without having seen any distinction as I played. But that “of 10” caught my eye. It implied that the tower was not just an endless challenge, but could actually be conquered. This became my main motivation to keep at it.

It was not easy, but I’m happy to report that I reached the top of the tower, and didn’t just find an ending but a final boss encounter. A surprisingly involved and difficult boss battle, in fact, that took me several tries to win. And yes, each time I had to start again at the bottom of the tower. This wasn’t as frustrating as it sounds, however, because I really was getting better at the game and was soon able to reach the top of the tower fairly reliably. And, finally, I was able to beat the boss, and see the ending of the game. It’s brief, but if I interpreted it correctly, it’s quite funny. I approve.

I don’t know why DROID7 is buried towards the end of the bundle entries, because I like it a lot. It feels good to control, which is critical for any fast-paced platformer. Jumping and double-jumping is satisfying, and there’s enough control to thread some jumps through tight spaces and feel like a crazy acrobat. I like the art style, and its red-purple-blue color palette. I love the comedic elements, which are executed with perfect timing. And the difficulty curve is finely tuned, guiding players towards mastery of the tower’s many dangers. My biggest complaint is that, upon dying, the score and floor counter on the sides of the screen are blurred out. The end of a run is exactly when I want to look at these numbers, to see how I did. They were there just a moment ago, why obscure them now!?

This is, of course, a very minor complaint. DROID7 is a simple concept executed very well. It won’t take to long for dedicated players to conquer the tower, but neither does DROID7 outstay its welcome. Those looking for a precision platformer should definitely give it a look. If you missed it in the bundle, DROID7 is sold for a minimum price of $1.99.

That’s 130 down, and only 1611 to go!

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2 Comments

  1. seyda neen

    It took until today for me to realize “Scratching That Itch” is a pun. Oh well. This game looks really nice! The fact that by the time you reached the boss, climbing back up the tower wasn’t a huge deal is a nice departure point from ye olde arkade games which seemed to be designed to eventually become impossible. It sounds manageable!

    • It’s OK, based on my most recent projections it will take another 26 years to get to everything in the bundle, so you actually figured out the pun pretty early on. And yes, DROID7 benefits from the fact that’s not designed to get players to keep inserting coins.

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