‘Amp, Watts & Circuit’ Review – Electric Sheep, Cabbage, Wolf

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Three cute robots grow tired of their lives as worker drones and decide to strike out on their own for adventure. Each of them has his own special ability that will help them escape the office and factory where they begin their quest and the trio will have to work together to make it through the outside world too. Amp, Watts & Circuit by Jamo Games has the rudiments of a good puzzle game, but despite its cute charm, it provides more of a frustrating battle against its own interface than a mental challenge of puzzle solving.

Players control this trio of adorable little robots who must make their way through a dangerous world full of traps and hazards. Every level has a starting point for each bot and a separate exit for each of them too. The levels have many locked doors and there are often spikes popping out of the floor. Basic movement around the levels requires one robot to stand on a button in order to open a door, or retract the spikes so that his pals can make it through. Once through, they’ll have to find a button on the other side or another way to get that first robot through to the end as well. Scattered throughout each level are items and switches that only one particular robot can use, so the trick is getting each of them to the right place in the right sequence so that they can all make it safely to the end. It’s much like the old Sheep, Cabbage, Wolf logic puzzle, but it lasts for 50 levels.

It’s a sound premise for a game but there are a couple of big problems that plague Amp, Watts & Circuit. First, the pathfinding and AI aren’t up to the task. These little bots will often take a suicidal path right off a cliff, even when a perfectly safe route to the destination is clear. This can often result in death after the player has solved the puzzle and just needs the last robot to walk to the exit. Since the death of a single robot means the level has to be restarted, this can be very irritating. It’s particularly annoying because, in general, the characters can be trusted to find their way to the destination, but, sometimes, one of them will unexpectedly rush headlong to their death in a pit of spikes or run straight into a giant hole in the floor.

Another problem is the interface. At the bottom of the screen are three large icons that each represent one of the robots. Click the one you want and you’ll control that robot until you click another icon. It’s simple enough, but perhaps it’s too simple. I found myself instinctively clicking directly on the robot I wanted to select, and this would end up sending one of the other robots to the location I clicked on (often encountering a deadly trap along the way).

There’s no clear way to configure the controls, either. An obviously more effective system would be to assign each robot to a hotkey, or have a button that cycles through them. Getting a good score requires switching between robots quickly, so it gets to be infuriating after a while, especially in a puzzle game where the player has solved the puzzle but just can’t get the robots to behave properly.

The levels are short. They’re also very easy for much of the game, often divided into a series of obvious choices, leaving the player with only a single robot that can be moved at a particular moment. Each of the three robots has a unique power that they can use to interact with a particular part of the environment. Unfortunately, it takes a very long time before all three robots have their special ability revealed, so most of the game is simple and repetitive, with new mechanics being added in far too slowly.

The puzzles aren’t terribly challenging for most of the game. There is a timer so that players can try to accomplish the maps quickly, thereby earning a higher rating, but the levels are very short and don’t have any intrinsic reward for replaying once they’ve been solved.

The art style is cute and whimsical, as is the music, which consists of techno bleeps and bloops. All of the story elements are told through text, or slightly animated cutscenes betweens the missions. These little story vignettes do have their share of laughs, but the story is hardly compelling enough to make up for the rest of the game.

While this is a project that might interest puzzle gamers looking for some light fun, it far outlasts its welcome due to an irritating interface, bad AI and a repetitive nature. Puzzle enthusiasts can find it for download for PC and Mac via Indievania, where a demo is available as well. You can also follow the game’s developers, Jamo Games, on Twitter.

[review pros="Cute; lots of  levels" cons="Bad AI; frustrating interface; repetitive" score=55]



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