Robbery Bob (Free) has moments where you can tell it was designed by someone who cares. I’m not implying that that is a rarity, but you do rarely see the level of care that portions of Robbery Bob exhibits. Unfortunately though, those portions are few and far between, and what is in between is, well… Uninteresting.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Robbery Bob’s premise is simple: sneak into houses, steal items of value, leave without getting caught. There is a thin narrative wrapped around these acts, but this isn’t a game about story, it’s a game about the sneaking mechanic. And it is that mechanic that the game lives or, more often, dies on. Things start off real strong. Sneaking around the first few houses shows off a lot of the potential for the mechanic, but the game soon devolves into a repetitive room-by-room hunt with obstacles sprinkled haphazardly around. But, again, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Sneaking into a house is easy, the front door almost certainly is unlocked, and once inside Bob has to assess any potential threats to his mission (taking care to avoid them.). “Threats" can include dogs, cameras, old ladies, other humans, and, most importantly, the police. Luckily for Bob, there are ways to avoid these threats. Unluckily, for you they are almost all a pain to use. The methods for avoiding detection range from mundane (hiding in a planter) to the interesting (leaving doors open to pull patrolling inhabitants off their path). Each one of these methods of avoidance are fun, if not a little frustrating the first couple times, but they show their one dimension-ness and tedium by the eighth or ninth time you employ them.
While playing Robbery Bob, I couldn’t help but think about Shaun Inman’s brilliant The Last Rocket ($1.99). Inman, like the team at Level Eight, had to stretch a simple mechanic over 60+ levels, while keeping it interesting the whole time. He succeeded by not only developing interesting level mechanics, but also by weaving those mechanics together. If you’ll forgive those cliche, by the end of The Last Rocket, you had a veritable symphony of mechanics woven together beautifully. Robbery Rob goes half way in that endeavor. The mechanics themselves are interesting (seeing, for the first time, the way a camera interacts with open doorways was what inspired the review’s opening sentence), but when those mechanics are just dropped into the level without context, they lose almost everything they have going for them. They don’t work together, they don’t play off each other, they exist only as a standalone obstacle, forgotten as soon as you pass them and move into the next room.
Again thinking of The Last Rocket, another thing it did so well was instilling the notion that once you figure out the puzzle, you could move through it with nothing but grace and ease. Unfortunately, Robbery Bob never seems to get to that point, and therefore you never feel like you could replicate a victory. The last levels of any particular area (of which there are 3) feel like a crap shoot with your victory being tied more to chance than to skill. I, just now in fact, went back to try and finish the last level of the first area again and failed 3 times before I was able to do it.
While the game offers plenty of gameplay for the price, including encouraging you to go back and perfect all the levels (ala Angry Birds), it never hooks you like a game of that ilk should. It is a game where the potential is sky high, but you feel like the game itself stayed on the ground, only looking up every now and again. It fails to make a promising mechanic interesting.
Robbery Bob isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, it just isn’t good.