Impressions: Ultratron

By Adam Smith on March 20th, 2013 at 3:00 pm.

I just noticed that the spotlights are following me and that arrows flash at the side of the arena right before a power-up twinkles into view, hovering across the screen and leaving trails of excitement. Everything leaves glowing tracks or showers of sparks. Sometimes, naturally, the power-up is a score-spewing giant fruit. Ultratron is arena-based, robot dismantling particle heaven.

I’ve only played the demo. When I reached the end, unhappy emoticons exploded onto the arena floor around my character, who had also exploded. Then the game exploded and I’m sitting here looking at my desktop wondering if it was all some form of fever dream. Did I really just destroy one of the four Robots of the Apocalypse, accompanied by a pet drone, a defence turret and a pulsing soundtrack?

Surely not. I’m supposed to be playing deep and serious strategy games that would lose a race with Timothy Squints, the snail with the ten tonne shell. Could I really have spent half an hour with one hand splayed across the WASD keys and the other strafing the mouse back and forth across its shabby pad, aiming the most neon of laser-death blasts at spawning squads of adorable robot-killers?

It all started when the Hivemind raised a node-brow in the direction of Ultratron’s Steam and demo release. “Jim says it’s great”, I thought, even though I’d never heard Jim mention the game. Then, the usual; a pain like needles behind my eyes, the taste of iron at the back of my throat, glimpsed memories of impossible structures. I downloaded the demo and expected to play for two minutes, make sure it wasn’t obscenely broken, and then mention the release in a hundred word news post.

I just bought the full version. It’s a cracker. If I had spent my youth in arcades, maybe I’d be able to imagine finding an Ultratron cabinet in a dusty corner, shimmering through the grime, providing something pure in the midst of all the movie licenses that have become plastic guns, and the hungry change machines. Sadly, for the sake of this imagined scenario, I’ve never spent a great deal of time in arcades and if I do find myself in one, I immediately attach myself to a pinball or air hockey table.

Ultratron would have been splendid in an arcade, I reckon. It’s certainly splendid on a computer screen. Throwing enough particles around to make the Large Hadron Collider feel inadequate and slightly limp, it’s a prime example of a visual style that looks minimalist on a screenshot but is positively brimming over with effects once in motion.

I was on the second level before I realised that I was supposed to be collecting the glowing robot remnants. I’d thought they were debris at first, sizzling and too hot to handle, so my visit to the between-waves shop was a short one. I did manage to buy a smart bomb though, which distorted the screen and frazzled my eyeballs exactly as I’d hoped it would, and later I upgraded my main weapon and watched it slice through entire bot packs, ricocheting off walls and screaming a searing mechanical lament as it fizzed and burst.

Is my enthusiasm for Ultratron’s tiny explosions clear? It’s a small game, self-contained arenas with a few enemy types and four bosses, but it doesn’t waste a beat of its tiny machine heart. I just loaded it again, after writing that last sentence, and I still see new things. Tiny details that are completely meaningless in the context of the shooting, dodging and circling that forms the futurist idea of progress, but details that are as important as the distant horizon in your favourite RPG, or the accurately modelled dashboard of that sports car you’ll never be able to afford in real life. Byte marks litter the ground at the end of a wave; the shop unfolds electronically when new upgrades are available.

It’s a bit easy though. Maybe I’m supposed to finish the whole thing and then play it again and it’ll be harder – that’s a thing that this sort of game sometimes does, isn’t it? Or maybe I’m just ultra-good at Ultratron, which is extremely unlikely. Either way, I’ve been zipping and zapping through at a fair old pace, and the first boss was so easy that I was a little disappointed. Shoot the weak points (ITS GUNS) and it explodes quickly enough but I’ll quite happily play through again, even if things don’t change a great deal.

A video could make Ultratron seem chaotic but it isn’t at first. Despite the compact arenas, the number of enemies doesn’t become hazardously crowding until later in the game and as you dodge the dripping light-bullets that streak across the screen, you may well realise, as I did, that in an odd way this is a more relaxed form of robot-killing for the discerning aesthete.

Ultratron is available now for £7.52 direct from the developer, which also provides a Steam key. The demo is here.

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48 Comments »

  1. cliffski says:

    I can vouch for this being extremely good…

    • Wreckdum says:

      Agreed. I was half way through act 2 or whatever you call it before I even stopped to read the menu or even figure out what the hell was going on.

    • tumbleworld says:

      I bought this last year.

      Last year’s version was great fun, but it seriously underwhelming compared to the new update! Anyone who has an old version, go update it now!!

  2. Zeewolf says:

    I think you just sold it to me.

    Speaking of those strategy games you’re _supposed_ to be playing, though, have you seen Battle Worlds on Kickstarter? It looks ace. Battle Isle anno 2013.

    • AshRolls says:

      Yup, sold on the strength of this article. I have an arcade itch that I didn’t even realise needed to be scratched.

  3. Axyl says:

    I hate to nit-pick, but either I’m not reading it right, or the opening has an error in it somewhere.

    “Sometimes, naturally, the power-up is a Ultratron is arena-based, robot dismantling particle heaven.”

    Been interested in this game for a while. Bought and loved Titan Attacks and Revenge of the Titans by the same guys. I reckon I’ll pick this up. :D

    • Quickpull says:

      I stared at that sentence too for a long while, then when I clicked passed the break, some words magically appeared to fix it. Ninja Edit!

  4. zbmott says:

    Forgive me for being American, but is Timothy Squints a real thing, or did you just make him up?

    • tumbleworld says:

      Sadly not. Nearest I can think of is actor Timothy Spall!

    • darkmorgado says:

      He’s a real thing.

      He also has a distant cousin with IBS, Timothy Squirts.

  5. terry says:

    It’s cheaper on Steam Adam :P

    But yes, chock full of arcadey goodness and swagger like the other Puppygames.

    • princec says:

      50% off direct, too.

      • terry says:

        My apologies. I pounded the buy button so fast the pricing was just a blur :-)

      • Zeewolf says:

        Urk, I have to say the procedure for getting a Steam key when you buy direct has been a bit annoying so far. First there’s the wait for the receipt, then I have to find the steam key sender page, then it says I have to download and run the game first – uh, that’s what I planned to do on Steam obviously.

        And after I’ve downloaded the game I have to sit through another download of a patch that’s over three times as large as the install file itself. And to make matters even more annoying, the patch window stays onscreen regardless of what else I’m doing with my computer – the ungodly puppy is staring at me as I write this. All this for something I’ll delete the instant I get my Steam-key.

        Edit: The game itself was quite fun, though. Just wish the Steam-process was a bit less of a hassle (would have just bought from Steam if I’d known).

  6. galaxion says:

    How come these Puppy Games titles are only getting noticed since landing on Steam, they’ve been out years.

    • princec says:

      Mostly coz nobody cared about them. Actually they haven’t really had any attention on Steam either, so we won’t be making any more of them.

      • roy7 says:

        Noo, don’t say this is the last game. I really enjoyed Revenge of the Titans. Enough so I’ve bought the other ones as they pop on Steam, even if it wasn’t exactly a game I wanted (in the case of Titan Attacks). Wish you were having more success with them. :(

        • princec says:

          Sadly wishes do not an income make, so no more arcade games, though we love making them. All hopes now rest on Battledroid, which is the complete opposite of an arcade game.

          • Lim-Dul says:

            Phew – OK, so not the last game in general but no more arcade games instead. You gave me a heart-attack for a second when I understood that you’re going out of business entirely. Been buying every single Puppy Games ehm… game for years. =)

            BTW – I’d be careful with the word “droid” in Battledroid. Apparently George Lucas (and now Disney, I guess) held the copyright to this term. I became aware of it only recently when working with a client who had to change all instances of “droid” to “bot” in their game after a quick talk with their legal department…

            Apparently HTC had to pay Lucas for naming their HTC Droid series of phones too…

          • princec says:

            Fear not, Lucasarts don’t own the trademark on “droid” in computer games titles, and they never will, seeing as we got there first with Droid Assault. Battledroid is of course a novel word in itself and has no trademarks registered against it, though FASA corp. back in the last millenium had a run-in with Lucasarts over the word, for some reason, and had to rename their fancy new tactical boardgame “MechWarrior”.

          • roy7 says:

            I’m in for Battledroid for sure. Sounds great. I enjoyed GSB and I even used to do other ancient games like Corewars. :) Back in the day there was an async KOTH you could email in your programs to join the frey automatically. I’m a dinosaur.

      • galaxion says:

        Don’t say that mate, I quite like them and I’m really happy you put steam keys up for previous purchasers.

      • siegarettes says:

        I logged in just to say that I love your work and have been a long time fan. I actually pre-ordered the beta of Revenge of the Titans even though I don’t usually dig tower defense (Revenge is actually one of the best ones I’ve player incidentally) just to support the team.

        I’ve also bought every one of your games well before they were on Steam. I’m looking forward to your next game. While I’m a huge fan of your retro arcade games, Revenge showed me that you have a lot more ideas to explore and the concept of Battledroid sounds very promising.

      • neolith says:

        That is kinda sad to hear. I enjoyed Revenge Of The Titans quite a lot, but I didn’t know about your other games until now.

        edit: I just went to your site and bought them. If they’re as much fun as the one I already own, it is money well spent.

      • FFabian says:

        Oh noes. Your games are quite awesome – don’t stop making retro arcade games. Bought all of them a few years ago (2010 Ultrabundle), even the beta for RotT. I absolutely love your work.

        The re-release of Ultratron is like a new game. The games get constant support, every few month they add new features, gamemodes etc. A new game from puppygames is an instantbuy in my book.

    • Gnoupi says:

      While they have been out for years, it’s interesting to note that all those are “improved” version of the original games (available directly from the developers for a few months, admittedly, but still).

      • siegarettes says:

        Indeed. This is the first time I’ve picked up Ultratron since years ago, and they’ve made some serious revamps of the game and it’s looking even more gorgeous.

  7. princec says:

    By way of explanation about the difficulty curve… it’s meant to be very, very easy, to start with. The first 40 levels are just a primer. Get your level 40 checkpoint and then score attack from there. Last person to 10,000,000 points is a toastrack for Headmaster’s study.

  8. Hodge says:

    Worth mentioning that this is out on Mac and Linux too.

    • epmode says:

      Do you know if the developers are selling the Windows version on their site? Pressing Buy Direct pulls up a Mac version with no obvious way to switch.

      Edit: This was apparently because I was on an iPad. Switching to a Windows browser worked fine.

  9. CaLe says:

    The demo exe crashed my Windows Defender thingy. Then when I disabled that and tried to launch the game it failed to download whatever files it needs and that also crashed. Can’t be bothered trying any more.

    • princec says:

      In a stroke of total genius one of our guys helped to break the installer :( A fixed one is uploading now, and through another stroke of genius, our ISP has decided to break and keeps aborting the uploads.

      Not stressful at all, oh no.

      • LionsPhil says:

        The hell did you do to it, give it a decompression bomb for embedded metadata? I’m still waiting for command line del to zap it after Explorer sat there for half an hour “preparing”.

        Yeah, sorry, about zero chance of me actually executing it or any replacement for it by this point.

  10. Hyoscine says:

    Can we have a moratorium on using “fever dream”? It’s really is as lazy and played out as saying “but on acid”.

  11. PatrickSwayze says:

    Didn’t even bother with the demo just went and bought it off steam (50% off btw)

    Puppy Games always have FANTASTIC gameplay.

    Revenge of the Titans has swallowed many an afternoon of mine.

  12. psepho says:

    Adam must be a secret master of the JMT. I have no background in this kind of game at all and yet I find myself rushing downstairs to buy it. “This is the game you are looking for” etc etc

  13. kdz says:

    I’ll keep it simple:

    Puppy Games <3

  14. level12boss says:

    Ooh ooh, my videogame hipster moment has arrived.

    Here’s my review of Ultratron from… June of 2005. For Inside Mac Games.

    God. That felt so authentic.

  15. Satiel says:

    This game is pretty great. We actually have a spotlight of Ultratron up on our YouTube channel, highlighting the key elements of the game and showing off the first few levels of gameplay.
    Check it out!

    Ultratron Spotlight