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Bot Gaiden Should Be Great, but Pushes Back Too Hard

Bot Gaiden mixes a bit of Ryu with the blue bomber for a clever, fast-paced, 2D action game with some uneven difficulty.

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Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.

I’m not a huge fan of difficulty in action games. When I play things like God of War or Kakarot, I bump the difficulty all the way down so I can feel like the unstoppable force those characters should be. Still, I grew up on an NES, so Ninja Gaiden and Mega Man were both worlds I died in many, many, many times.

Bot Gaiden is a fresh Switch release that pulls heavy inspirations from both of those series. It’s a side-scrolling 2D action game where you play as a robot ninja who battles his way through seven stages, each one wrapping up with a big boss battle. There are a few unique hooks that work really well to help it stand on its own, but I’m ultimately stuck between the normal mode feeling punishing and the easy mode feeling like a breeze.

Action Basics

The core mechanics of Bot Gaiden are exceedingly familiar to folks who grew up on old-school video games. Most of your time is spent running, jumping, and slashing at enemies. You can cling to any wall for a quick wall jump, and can also glide to cross gaps or do a mid-air dodge that freezes you in place and makes you invulnerable.

At the start, that’s really all you’ve got in your arsenal. However, throughout a level you snag powerups, gaining new abilities with each new upgrade. There’s a double jump, a ranged attack, and even a speed boost that helps you fly across the level. The twist is that these upgrades are temporary: as soon as you get hit by an enemy you lose your most recent upgrade.

Speed and Boosts

  • Bot gaiden's speed tutorial.
  • Bot gaiden's gear tutorial.

Gaining and keeping boosts is essential to succeeding at Bot Gaiden. Not only do the upgraded abilities make it easier to overcome your enemies, but they also make it easier to overcome them quickly.

Speed is the name of the game in Bot Gaiden. The challenge here isn’t to make it through the levels, but to make it through them quickly. There are two reasons that speed is so important. Firstly, the boss at the end of the level accumulates more health the longer you take to reach them. That means speedrunning to a boss will make the boss easier to beat.

Secondly, there are three potential permanent upgrades to unlock on each level. Generally the first is an extra life, then a power-up at the start of levels, and then some sort of permanent upgrade to your move set. For the most part, getting that third upgrade requires beating the level and the boss in under two minutes.

Brutal Boss Fights

In bot gaiden, hench-bots are the final challenge on each level.

I like the fast-paced action in Bot Gaiden, but the boss fights totally break the format for me. They look like they should be the sort of thing you can learn to overcome by mastering their patterns, but I have had zero success doing so. I’m not sure if it’s the pressure of the clock or poor design, but I’ve found myself just thwacking at them rather than developing any strategy.

Most of bot gaiden's bosses are big and way too difficult.

Of course, when you swat at a boss's ankles you are bound to take a few lumps, and that’s where Bot Gaiden really falls apart for me. Because you lose upgrades when you take hits, the boss fights ended up being a very quick process of losing my upgrades, dying, then respawning without upgrades, then dying some more.

I eventually started the game up again on the easy difficulty and had more fun there. The levels themselves didn’t feel drastically easier, but I was able to stomp bosses quickly.

Final Thoughts

Bot gaiden will always hold a special place for me because it has the word "continjas" in it.

In the end, I want to like Bot Gaiden more than I actually do. The levels are fun, snagging upgrades is neat, and the art style is really fresh. Unfortunately, between the tough bosses and losing abilities each time a tough boss hits you, even the regular difficulty was overwhelming. On the other hand, the easy difficulty lets you keep abilities when you get hit, and I pretty quickly felt overpowered.

I’m still having fun with the easy difficulty, and I  may learn the levels well enough to bump it back up later. Unless I figure out something I’m missing with the bosses, though, I think the end of each stage is always going to feel like a frenetic panic instead of a moment of triumph, and I can’t imagine that’s what they were going for.

Geek to Geek Rating: 3 out of 5

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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