Developer Big AB Games presents Robo Instructus for review. Robo Instructus contains multiple puzzles and special challenges which are navigated using a robot and programming language. If the player continues polishing their programming skills, they may learn more about the frozen station where their robot is stranded.
Robo Instructus jumps straight into programming solutions to its puzzles with a bit of text, image, and introduction to the first board. New components of programming, such as loops and functions, are introduced between each stage and need to be considered – though not necessarily required – to progress through the game. Careful consideration of the programming language the player has learned so far will determine whether they have the understanding needed to create code and move forward.
A core truth about myself changed during my experience with Robo Instructus. Prior to playing Robo Instructus I would have said of myself, “I am not a programmer.” Now that I’ve played Robo Instructus, that’s changed to, “I’m not a natural programmer but Robo Instructus makes me want to keep trying.”
Robo Instructus creates an aura of focus to flex a language muscle in which I am not versed. As a writer, I’m more interested in the descriptive and conceptual aspects of language than the precision programming requires. As the levels grew in difficulty I found myself becoming more enthralled with the meaning between programming phrases as much as the programming phrases themselves. The relationship between those phrases is excellently portrayed by the robot navigating platforms as it moves down the facility. So in order to progress, I have to think about precise meaning in words, the relationship between words, and how that translates to robotic movement.
This could have been overwhelmingly stressful, but the result is actually less taxing than its individual parts. Robo Instructus owes its addictive quality to the calming visuals and soundtrack. The frozen platforms and snowed-in background images invoke an undisturbed area for the robot to traverse so I’m already thinking that whatever I do with the robot is a mark I make for myself. Adding to this the soundtrack avoids tension or suspense for reassuring melodies so that I’m staying calm as I stare at the code trying to figure out just why my robot won’t go to the platform I want it to. These decisions are important as the already stressful task of learning code to solve puzzles might have been too much if the visuals were more destructive or the soundtrack more pressing.
It also helps because Robo Instructus has a wallop of a difficulty curve. The first handful of levels are clear in what is needed and what kind of code I should write to get the robot to move correctly. The drop from guided to “You’re on your own robo” is immediate after the introductory sequences and if you haven’t figured out important bits of syntax and meaning then you might struggle as I did. The struggle remained rewarding though because of the encouragement from the visuals and soundtrack plus uncovering bits about what happened to the facility with each success.
The curve made me long for more visual aids in the tutorials or a steady playground, like a solid honeycomb set of platforms, to return to with new code. This is because the tutorials of Robo Instructus are a big drawback. Static images of robot actions don’t effectively communicate how those actions are going to be integrated within the new strings of code. An option to show how new code strings correlate to robot function and movement would help visualize the concepts. Ditto if there’s a fixed playground, something to give a task asking the player to utilize the new code, because many of the levels that introduce new code do not necessarily require that code.
Even so, Robo Instructus is an addictive and informative experience. In an intriguing way, it is an interesting study in contrasts with Heaven’s Vault from earlier in 2019. Both games deal with how language can be used to understand the world, but Heaven’s Vault is more conceptual while Robo Instructus is experiential. Even though I gravitate toward Heaven’s Vault as a writer, Robo Instructus proves to be a valuable experience in language that’s helping me grow to understand how others view and use language. It takes work, but Robo Instructus is worth the effort.
Robo Instructus has deficiencies in teaching programming but the overall experience is rewarding for those that want to understand. The fusion of programming concepts, exploration in action and storytelling, and calming aesthetic result in a game that may keep you pushing forward even when your understanding falters. It still wouldn't hurt to have a programmer friend to ask for advice though, just in case.
- Effective fusion of story and gameplay to teach players how words create meaning individually and within specific contexts.
- Calming visual and auditory artistry keeps the player focused even when the tasks are difficult.
- Tutorial has too much telling and not enough showing. It quickly disconnects from new code concepts with unclear to no visual translation in how new concepts make the robot ultimately function.
Prognosis is Good