Give Up, Robot
Give Up, Robot, a twitchy, insane, G-rated retro platformer designed by Matt Thorson and hosted by Adult Swim's house of PG-13 online mayhem, is designed to punish you in as many different ways as possible. And that is what makes it great.
Players control a unicycling, pixelated robot with a grappling hook and a stoic tenacity, who must traverse elaborate gauntlets at the behest of a fractured, highly vocal, passive-aggressive computer overseer. Move and jump with the [arrow] keys, and deploy your grappling hook by pressing and holding [A] or [Z]. Releasing [A] or [Z] will release the hook, and you can rock back and forth by moving left and right, or tighten or loosen the slack of your grappling line by moving up or down. You can grip safely on to any surface, but while the glowy, disco-colored blocks are safe to touch directly, the equally glowy, fire-colored blocks and the spinny, bladey gizmos are harmful to Robot. Pilot Robot from one side of the screen to the other to go to the next level, and try to resist the Computer's childish taunts.
Analysis: I say that Give Up, Robot will punish you in as many ways as possible, which is different from saying it punishes you as much as possible. Having rocks thrown at you by a Gorn could be very punishing, but it is also pretty boring. But let us count the myriad punishments Give Up, Robot inflicts.
Let's start with the eye-peeling visuals. I'm pretty sure those prone to epilepsy should avoid even thinking too hard about this game. The levels are painted in a constant swirl of alternating, psychedelic colors, and even those with the steeliest corneas may find they tire from playing too much by sheer ocular attrition. But that mind-bending palette is part of the point of the game, as you'll see.
Let us continue to sound. The background music is a serviceable but unremarkable chiptune which is but a canvass for the Computer to do its thing. When you complete a level, it chides you. "Give up, Robot," it might say. "We are no longer friends," it frequently sulks. When you die, which will happen frequently in later levels, it... I'm not sure what it's doing. It could be taunting you, or possibly trying to encourage you, but it doesn't seem to have a good fix on what either of those things are. I can accept "Good job, Robot" as sarcasm, but "I love you Robot" is twisted, strange, and hardly germane. The Computer's bizarre utterances are performed by an erratic vocorder that's as oddly musical as it is weird. Failure is worth it just to hear what the Computer says next.
Speaking of failure, let us talk lastly of the platforming, and how bad you will be at it. Sure, the first ten levels or so might be perfectly survivable. You may feel cocksure, confident, and dismissive of the Computer's efforts to vex you. Then come the falling platforms, the leap-of-faith chasms, the exit points surrounded by dangerous flame, the essential platforms reachable only by grappling onto rapidly spinning blades, which are themselves only reachable by other rapidly spinning blades. Yes, you will fail. Be grateful for Robot's infinite lives, for you will fail frequently. I failed frequently, but oddly, I was never frustrated, and never felt the need to ragequit (though I did have to abandon Level 50 to give my eyes and psyche a break). There are just so many unique ways to fail that the variety is perversely delightful.
I think that's the genius of Give Up, Robot. The psyche-melting visuals, the Computer's confused goading, and the warped panoply of possible catastrophes to suffer: All this puts you in a place where failure is almost as fun as winning. It's a hard platformer that's uncommonly fun to play, because it rewards you, in its twisted way, even when you mess up, but is still largely rewarding when you are victorious.
The game would be even more fun if the controls were a bit tighter. I also wish there were more control of the grappling hook, which deploys at 45 degrees no matter what, which is very frustrating when you are Tarzan-swinging from platform to precarious platform. But I think we should appreciate Give Up, Robot for what it is. A game where winning is great, but where losing is a blast.