Though it may share a name with a Norwegian electro-pop track, The Girl and the Robot also happens to be an indie puzzle adventure game from Canadian studio Flying Carpets Games, and Dutch publisher Soedesco. Starring a young girl and her robotic companion-come-bodyguard, it's a game that sees the titular duo coming together to try and escape from the clutches of an evil witch, who's imprisoned the girl in a tower for… reasons. Managing to escape her lofty confines and befriend the only tin man in the entire complex who doesn't seem to be out for blood, the girl and the robot soon form a pact, and join forces to work their way through the witch's fortified sky prison/castle towards their escape. With not a word spoken throughout the entire game, you're largely left to your own devices to figure out how and why the girl was imprisoned, and what the evil witch's motive was - although, fortunately the story is about as deep and meaningful as the game's title, so it doesn't matter all that much.
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The main draw of The Girl and the Robot lies in its puzzles, and in working out how to use each character's unique abilities for the best. Despite being the main character, the girl is actually relatively limited in her moves - she can jump, and is small enough to crawl through tiny spaces, but that's about it. Therefore, most of your time will be spent controlling the robot, and using him as something of a bodyguard, given that every single bad guy in the world seems to be after your diminutive companion, making the robot's combat skills in great demand.
Armed with a sword, shield and bow and arrow, you'll need to take out many a bad 'bot during the course of your adventure, be they heavily armoured guys who take quite a few hits, or kamikaze robots who like to explode themselves next to you. While combat can be a bit slow, clunky and unresponsive at times, particularly when you need to put your shield up and Mr. Robot decides to take half an hour about doing it, on the plus side, at least your little companion can heal your robotic wounds, and restore your armour in a flash with a quick hold of the circle button.
Having to switch between the two characters does make for some interesting and fairly intricate puzzles too - something that's easily the highlight of the game. An early one saw the robot imprisoned in a room with a load of pressure plates on the floor, whilst the girl sits in an adjacent room, with a code drawn on the wall. By matching the symbols the girl sees with the pictures on the pressure plates, the robot can open the way through - but get the symbols wrong, and you'll be set upon by half a dozen bad guys instead. Much further through the game, there's another puzzle that relies on what the other character sees, but in a bit of a different way - this time, only the robot can see the invisible walkway over a deep ravine, and it's up to you to guide the girl across, bit by bit, switching between the two as you edge your way along.
It's a shame, then, that around the mid-point, what was a fairly easy-going puzzle-centric adventure suddenly becomes borderline impossible, when you happen upon the witch who imprisoned you in your tower. Going into a boss fight of sorts, you're forced to face off against the evil witch in a battle that's every bit as frustrating as it is challenging.
Much like the girl and her robot companion, the evil witch has her own robotic aide by her side, which can seemingly detect when you switch between characters - when you're the robot, the witch's robot will chase you around, while when you're the girl, the witch will chase you around instead. Set on two separate levels, the girl needs to run around an upper balcony, and lure the witch into a position where you can fire a cannon at her, knocking her out and severing the connection with her robot downstairs. It's at that moment your friendly robot can strike, hitting the evil robot to damage the witch in turn (without bonking the witch on the head, the robot downstairs is invincible).
Sure, on paper it doesn't sound too bad - but the problem is, the witch moves way too fast, and actually increases in speed each time (seeing as you have to do the whole thing the customary three times to defeat her), while the girl stays the same speed. To make things even more awkward, the cannon is so slow to fire, the witch almost always has plenty of time to close the gap and get herself out of the firing line. On the contrary, though, her attack has a heck of a range, meaning if you get even moderately close to her, you'll be dead meat in a single hit. With all these things conspiring against you in what is already a tricky fight, The Girl and the Robot quickly becomes rather frustrating - especially as the developers decided to put the checkpoint BEFORE the boss fight intro cutscene, forcing you to re-watch it every single time you have to retry (and if you're anything like us, that'll happen a lot). At least we can take some comfort in the fact that we're playing the patched version of the fight, though, seeing as the original PC version was apparently even harder.
Once you've hit the mid-game low, though, The Girl and the Robot starts to pick up again, only stumbling occasionally on its way towards the final boss. One such stumble follows the maze you're dropped into after the boss fight - a twisting, turning labyrinth spread over four separate islands that was all well and good until we came to a small space. All you actually need to do here is to get the girl to crawl through, and pull a switch to open a gate, reuniting her with her robot companion. Sounds simple, right? Well, not exactly. We're not sure if it was just terrible luck on our part (as enemies seem to spawn in semi-randomly), but each and every time we crawled through the gap, the girl would get ambushed by an enemy robot or two, or three, well before she'd managed to pull the switch. On one attempt, we decided to take advantage of the fact the The Girl and the Robot is a little rough around the edges - by popping the girl in and out of her crawl space, we could lure the waiting bad guys close to the wall, at which point our friendly robot could dispatch them with a few well-placed sword slashes "through" the supposedly solid wall. And it was an OK strategy - until we left the girl out of her hole for a fraction too long and she got nabbed. In the end, we seemed to simply luck into an anomalous run where no robots accosted us on the way to the switch whatsoever, even if they were hanging around a bit too close for comfort. We guess that was how the puzzle was supposed to work…
But perhaps the biggest surprise came at the finale of the game, following a showdown with the evil witch. We don't want to spoil too much, but suffice to say the game ends on quite a cliffhanger when the credits roll. Oddly, the credits also refer to the game as being 'The Girl and the Robot - Act I', which is the first mention of this not actually being a complete game. It's not that we have an issue with splitting games into several parts, or the inevitable sequels, but the fact that there's nothing to tell you that what you're getting is actually only the first chapter beforehand seems a bit odd. All it really needed was a little 'Act I' after the title on the box art, or on the Playstation Store, and it would have been a lot clearer. Instead, it feels a bit like a cheap trick to lure in customers with half a game, and it's not a good look.
Unfortunately, then, The Girl and the Robot is a bit of a mixed bag. While there are several really nice puzzles here, the game's marred by random difficulty spikes - and just as you start to warm to it again, the credits roll and you're hit with the fact it's only half of a game. It's a shame really, as a few tweaks here and there could have made it into a nice little puzzling adventure along the same lines as Ico and The Last Guardian, but instead it just feels like a rush job. Set in a fairy tale world of castles, witches and imprisoned princesses, with an Ico-esque buddy system of two characters working together, The Girl and the Robot had a lot going for it - we're just a little disappointed in how it turned out.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4