Breaking My Backlog #6 – Girls Like Robots

by Christopher David Lawton

Breaking My Backlog is a semi-regular features on Troamm.com in which I attempt to complete my entire backlog before buying any new games. You can read more about the quest and see my backlog here.

Girls Like Robots is a game about seating arrangements. Exciting, I know. It’s not just about seating charts, though. It’s really about trying to make everyone happy as you create seating charts. I’m not sure that’s better, but hey, if that’s your thing, you do you. Chase your bliss.

Girls Like Robots is a series of puzzles that require you, the player, to place tokens within a grid to achieve a certain score. The tokens all represent different entities at Four-Corners University, the location where most of the game takes place. The score is set by following some basic rules about the seating chart. Nerds are happiest next to girls and robots, but hate sitting next to other nerds; girls are happiest next to robots, but hate sitting next to nerds; and robots are happiest when sitting next to girls, but hate being surrounded by girls. As the game moves along, other character types are added, introducing new rules to the game, which do complicate things slightly. For the most part, though, the core of the game remains: Seat people next to people they want to be seated next to, but not next to those they don’t.

Overall, I enjoyed this game. I like to play simple puzzle games as I watch TV, and Girls Like Robots fits this bill nicely. Some of the later puzzles introduced a timing mechanic into the fray that required me to pay slightly closer attention, which kind of derailed my chillaxing system, but this was only a few puzzles. For the most part, the game was fairly mindless, allowing me to split my focus between playing it and whatever else I was doing. And sometimes, that is all I’m looking for in a game: something to pass the time.

Thankfully, even outside of this, Girls Like Robots shines. On a strictly technical level, this game is incredibly well-made. Graphically, it is bright and colorful, the sound is tight — especially the string-band music — and the story is funnier and more charming than any puzzle game should be. And the great thing is that none of this is necessary for a puzzle game. It’s all just gravy.

And that says something about the caliber of the game.

Puzzle games on the mobile market — where Girls Like Robots was originally released — are a dime a dozen. They’re often created as cash grabs, vehicles for ad placement and revenue generation. If the puzzle system is well-designed, people will play it, and Girls Like Robots is well-designed enough to fulfill this requirement. The creators could have stopped there, and they would have seen plenty of success. The fact that they went the extra mile to design the presentation so well really goes a long way to show the passion of the developers for this quirky little game about seating charts.

The puzzle system is well-designed. The rules are clearly defined, and the game takes great care in easing the player into new mechanics as they are introduced. I never once felt ill-equipped to handle any of the challenges the game threw at me. Additionally, the game adds new mechanics at a steady pace to keep itself from getting boring. My only criticism of the game is that some of the mechanics almost feel like an after-thought, added later in production to pad the length of the game story, as the mechanic was only present during one level and then never used again. Aside from these brief moments, though, the scaling of the game works well, and I was never left wanting more from the game itself than what it gave me.

Probably my biggest surprise with Girls Like Robots  was actually the story. It may seem weird to say about what is essentially a mobile puzzle game made to pass the time on the bus, but the story is actually really fun. There are elements of romance, comedy, and science-fiction here, and it never tries too hard to shove itself into whatever space is left over from the puzzles. It feels like the story was developed alongside the puzzles, working hand in hand, which feels really fresh for a puzzle game.

When it comes down to it, I think a great puzzle is one that makes you feel smart when you solve it. The puzzles in The Bridge felt this way, and not just because that game made me think harder than anyone should on a Saturday morning. The puzzles in a good puzzle game walk a fine line between holding the hands of the player and leading them forward, and pushing them off the cliff and letting them fly. Essentially, a good puzzle game should give the player the tools and knowledge necessary to solve the puzzles, but make them think they’re the one that developed them. A good puzzle game should make the player feel like a genius.

I don’t know that Girls Like Robots ever achieves this entirely. It comes close, but it ever so slightly misses the mark. The game seems to work best when it’s a distraction, something to pass the time. That’s not inherently a bad thing, but it may lack depth for some players. It’s a well-made puzzle game, though, and well-worth a bit of time if you get the chance. The story is great and fun and cute, and you could certainly spend your time in worse ways.

Backlog Update:

One more game down. However, with March 1st, I added four new games to my backlog, so there’s that. I can’t help it. If Twitch Prime offers me four more games, what am I supposed to say? No?!

Total Backlog: 241 244

(All images from the Girls Like Robots official website.)