I truly have a soft spot for stories about robots and what it means to be alive, to be living. Blame Ghost in the Shell for changing me at a young age. Granted, games like Machinarium and Secret Agent Clank didn’t explore this concept too deeply, but they starred cutesy automatons and got an easy pass. The only real standout example of myself questioning where the future of artificial intelligence can go is with KOS-MOS, which stands for Kosmos Obey Strategical Multiple Operation System, from Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht. And no, I do not believe Claptrap is progress forward. However, Starbot from developer Cloudhime tackles issues of friendship and loyalty in an adorably sweet way, pushing cozy over sermonizing.
Here’s how this little indie adventure goes: two scientists have created a work-in-progress robot in order to fetch parts on additional satellites. While powered down and in a mysterious dream-like realm, this robot befriends a star. Together, they will travel to other satellites, all while avoiding dangerous sloths. In the same vein that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince explored companionship and loss in an absurd, surreal world, Starbot does this twofold, both with its robotic and human characters, namely Lilli and Mat.
Gameplay is exploration-based, using the arrow keys to move Starbot around and some other button to interact with people and things. It might be space and it might be Z, but I can’t remember now. Since this is built in the RPGMaker program, you have that typical stat screen menu that does not need to exist, though it does show you a list of any items you’ve collected. The dream-like realm is more of a maze, often asking you to go through the right door, collect a number of keys, and avoid crossing paths with sloths. Otherwise, it’s all about talking to NPCs, listening to what they have to say, and moving on. Don’t forget to dig through everyone’s trash bins like it’s a Pokemon game.
Now, not everything is clear in Starbot, and maybe that’s done on purpose. For one thing, the use of “egg” never gelled with me, and I still don’t understand what it meant in context to these people, this world. I mean, most houses contain a painting of an egg or multiple eggs, so clearly they are important to people, but I’m not sure how. Or why. Also, even though I read every e-mail between Lilli and Mat, I’m not sure I comprehended everything about their relationship, especially the metal arm bits. As is often the case with smaller indie titles created by a single soul, a solid round of copyediting would help strengthen the already strong, wistful writing. And yes, I’m available for hire, thanks for asking. Just be prepared for me to add about ten more puns to everyone’s dialogue.
Overall, Starbot took me about 45 minutes to get through, and that was me not rushing, really taking everything in, examining all items, listening to the retro soundtrack, and speaking to every NPC multiple times. You might be able to burn through it faster, but I wouldn’t recommend it. After all, good friendships take time to grow.