Posted by: bracehare | November 16, 2011

Robot Unicorn Attack: A brief analysis

Robot Unicorn Attack is an extremely straightforward “on rails” platformer. You control the eponymous robot unicorn of the title, who moves from left to right automatically. The player has two ways to control the unicorn. They can jump (which includes a double-jump; IE, to jump a second time while in the air following an initial jump), and the can use a dash attack. The jump action is necessary to clear large gaps between platforms, to move from lower platforms up to higher platforms, and to collect fairies for points. The dash attack is used to break through stars, which will kill you if you fail to dash through them. It can also be used to maintain altitude if a player has exhausted their double jump.

Fairies are worth 25 points a piece, and stars are worth 100 points a piece. Death can be caused by falling into the chasm between platforms, by colliding with stars, and by colliding with the side of most platforms (the exception being platforms which are located immediately above other platforms, instead of at a distance from them. Death causes the player to have to start from the beginning, and the player is given only 3 lives, or attempts at the game. This makes it extremely detrimental, and essentially places the scoring emphasis of the game on combo, or prolonged decent play, rather than on “perfect” play. In this context, perfect would perhaps mean collecting every fairy and smashing every star. Additional disincentives against “perfect” play include the clear risk for reward nature of smashing stars, which can kill you if you do not time your dash correctly, and the problems of attaining every fairy brought about by the possibilities of smashing into the side of a platform, using a double-jump prematurely and falling into a chasm, or using a dash to maintain altitude and then discovering a star in an inopportune location on the next platform (the dash has a recharge time). Because of all of these issues, chance plays a role, but since the game seemingly continues ad infinitum, minimizing risk seems to be an optimal strategy. This is an odd incentive structure for an arcade like game to give, but it is the only conclusion I can form on the subject. It is similar to tournament poker in this regard. The incentive is to survive as the rewards for survival are greater than the rewards for pursuing “perfect” play. In poker this would mean maximizing long term return regardless of volatility, whereas tournament poker places a higher incentive on minimizing volatility.

Minimizing risk would seem to be the overarching strategy of the game, whereas doing things like keeping jumps and dashes in reserve whenever possible would seem to represent the necessary tactical decisions. This is extremely simple, and so the ratio of planning to dexterity is very low. Put it all together and you get a very twitchy, very simple game which in spite of its tone and pace seems to emphasize cautious play through its structure. At any rate it is still a very amusing game and I love the soundtrack and aesthetic.


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