Glaringly late to the Don't Die Mr Robot party, to such an extent there's room for a Soundgarden t-shirt and torn-up Levis. But here I am, and what a fine little PS Vita soiree it is. The game takes me back further than the Nineties, though. With arcade sensibilities so distilled, it feels like something you'd find slotted into a cocktail cabinet, shoved into the corner of a motel games room or in a pub. Don't Die Mr Robot, henceforth referred to as DDMR, might not be much beyond its concentrated elements, but need it be?
DDMR revolves around the single conceit of avoiding things. Controlled via stick, touch pad or tilt, players must dodge and juke and jink through an onslaught of thronging enemies. A smorgasbord of fruit icons appear during the chaos, which detonate when touched and clear any opposition caught in the blast radius. Other fruit within this radius explode, and thus players can engineer an archipelago of explosions if played economically. As an old Every Extend fan, DDMR is right up in my wheelhouse, but even for the Geometry Wars or Super Stardust fans, the risk and reward of making a clean hitbox work amidst the fuss of a busy screen is well represented.
Game modes are strung between Remix, Arcade, Time Attack and Chill Out. Remix puts the biggest spin on DDMR, with variables being adjusted for each round. One might have your little square robot corralled within a sphere in the middle of the field. Another might have you repelling fruit in your proximity, making their subsequent detonation one of hairy speed. There's a good stretch of variation between the subtle shake-ups, never outside or incongruous with the mere act of racing a colourful box around an arena.
Arcade and Time Attack do away with the variables and offer up a distilled, ever-accelerating bit of robo-detonator. Chill Out merely slows the entire game down to a manageable speed and makes the process of combo'ing fruit radii a languid pastime.
And those modes and mechanics are it. There's nothing more to DDMR. Like any good puzzle game, sheering away the artifice of modern design, defouling the sinister barnacles of over-production, DDMR evinces a purity reserved for the arcade classics of yore, or the Minter-esque diehards that roll out reduces of timeless quality. Less is more with Mr Robot, and even when the screen is brimming with enemies and no quarter given, the task is simple. Hold out, wait for more fruit to spawn, chain explosions, clear the screen as best one can.
The audio-visual element needs special mention. If I can pluck one element of that tortured introduction to underline, it would be how the visuals infer the primordial exuberance of the early arcade. Though said era was only personally experienced in time-locked Antipodean bistro games rooms, and very much recalled through the hazy filter of sentimentality, seeing cherries and other assorted fruit appear on-screen made me smile. That kind of pristine, succinct videogame iconography serves to cement the roots of DDMR. Furthermore, it feels good to play this on Vita, as though I were sitting down at a cocktail arcade cabinet and thumbing my angled hero around with a springy joystick. Some might find the visuals a little too cartoony or brash, but definition is everything in a game where skimming hitboxes nets points. Music is also catchy, and thankfully steers away from the well-trod faux-retro sounds of 8bit squawkery. The soundtrack is not quite on the level of TxK or a Gravity Crash, but enjoyable and helps set a restive brain into a mode of reptilian instinct.
Don't Die Mr Robot is what Don't Die Mr Robot is. And that is a damn fine bit of Vita (and soon-to-be PS4) gaming that can be had for tuppence. Pop a cherry.