Card games are enthralling, with their tendency to revolve around practical thinking and smart plays. It’s their main claim to fame; it’s fun to sit down against an opponent and outwit them using your crafted deck. No matter which card you draw next, you know it’ll be helpful in a meaningful way. Insane Robots puts its own twist on this formula, packing this elation into as small a form possible.
Skirting around the normal definition of “card game,” Insane Robots is defined as a “robot card battler.” During each story chapter, your cute lil machination is plopped into an arena with six other robots. You take turns moving around a hexagonal grid map, picking up money and spare parts. Currency can be exchanged for augments, which are helpful, equippable buffs that I’ll get into later. You can also buy health refills, should you get roughed up too much. And roughed up you will be: coming into contact with another bot initiates a card fight.
Domo Arigato, Crazy Robotos
AI bots duke it out with you seemingly at random, and can just as easily fight each other. Theoretically, you can sit in a corner and let most of them thrash one another before going in to clean up the final fighters in the arena. Chapters consist of multiple arenas; you’ve got to last one standing in each to progress to the next tourney in the story. Each finished chapter unlocks a new bot to play as, the main difference being the augments they begin with. This adds a sort of meta layer beyond even the overworld, as you begin trying new characters to suit your playstyle.
Battling is where the real game lies, though. There are attack and defense cards (known here as “tokens”), which you must play two of before you can actually attack and defend. There are also special use tokens such as “hack” or “glitch” that can be used to raise your own stats or lower your enemies’. Special “boost” tokens act as a sort of trap card; these can give your stats a hidden spike, or hit your enemy as they attack you. Tokens of a similar type can be combined to create better tokens, meaning that you could turn seven bad cards into a slight advantage. You can even spend one “energy” to draw another token. Most tokens also cost one energy to use, making this a pretty easy-to-learn battler. Yet the game only includes these few types of tokens. There are no “rare cards” to use, and no overly complicated token types. And, unlike most card games, you don’t build any sort of deck at all.
Insane Robots touts this lack of customization as a feature. To an extent, that’s commendable. A lack of customizable deck means it’s quick and easy to hop into a new match. But it also removes the most fun part of card games: the careful, meticulous crafting of a deck to cover every scenario and negate RNG.
Random Acts of Card Decks
This reduces Insane Robots’ fights to nothing more than a series of reactions. When an enemy lays down a new token, your minuscule semblance of a plan will be upended. You’re left with no choice but to debuff them or buff yourself in response. Your master plan hardly ever comes together. On the rare occasion that it does, the game is at its best, evoking every great emotion that all other card games hinge upon. But these times pass quick, and are vastly overshadowed by the rounds where you draw four useless tokens in a row.
Instead, you’re given various “augments” you can equip in the overworld. These can alter the RNG of your deck draw; some will power up all defense tokenss, while others may increase the likelihood of drawing attack ones. Some augments also let you walk farther in the overworld, or negate various hazards that may spawn. These are a fun incentive avoiding sitting in corners and are the main way to control the random deck generation.
Insane Robots Review - Robotic Roulette (PS4) - PlayStation LifeStyle
I understand that Insane Robots isn’t trying to be a collectible card game. And I get that the augments are supposed to scratch a similar itch. But they just didn’t do anything for me. It still hurts losing a match due to bad draws while the enemy continues their incessant buffing.
All in all, Insane Robots’ character and map designs are cute, and the grid overworld meta keeps the downtime interesting. The wide smattering of augments are a neat way to differentiate each fight. It’s hard to ignore that the experience is marred by a trove of RNG dependencies. It feels a little too random at times, bordering less on “cool card game” and more on “Pengu1n of D00M.” But when everything falls into place, it’s a fun, tactical experience that rewards smart, risky maneuvers. If you love card battlers and you’ve got time and patience to spare, Insane Robots deserves some attention.
Insane Robots review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a standard PS4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.