Bot Vice

A game by DYA Games for PC, Mac, Linux, and Switch originally released in 2016.
Bot Vice is a gallery shooter inspired by a number of classic games, most notably Wild Guns. You take on the role of Erin Saver, a police officer who lost her partner and her right arm when facing off against a criminal organization known as the Wildbots. Her arm has since been replaced with a bionic version that allows her to fire projectiles from her palm and swap between weapon types, and she is out for revenge.

The Wildbots have returned and have taken over Tominaka Plaza – an anagram for Nakatomi Plaza – and Erin has taken it upon herself to infiltrate their defenses… but her time is limited.

At the start of the game, Erin has less than 40 minutes to reach Tominaka Plaza before it is destroyed, and each level has a timer that clicks upward. If she is not able to complete the first 23 levels in time, the 24th and final level will remain locked. Fortunately, she can revisit any previously-visited level in order shave off a few seconds and earn a better cumulative time, allowing her to access the final showdown. The player is ranked on completion time, and level indicators are color-coded to make it easier to tell which have the most room for improvement.

The player’s movement is restricted to the bottom of the screen, similar to starfield shmups like Space Invaders and Galaga, and of course Wild Guns. The player is limited to strictly left-and-right movement with enemies entering the arena from the top and sides of the screen. By default, the player’s weapon is fired straight ahead, but pressing the AIM button to locks onto a close enemy and sends all projectiles in its direction.

Supplementing her weaponry, Erin also has access to an energy saber that allows her to slice through enemy bullets and even deliver some heavy damage to enemies if they’re close enough. Using the weapon to destroy enemy bullets requires Cracker Jack timing, however, so it’s best used in tight situations or against slower-moving projectiles like bubbles. Fortunately, Erin is fairly mobile, so she can run back and forth to dodge enemy fire, perform a dodge roll, and even take cover by leaning up against objects in front of her… at least until they are destroyed.

Each arena features a row of destructible objects along the bottom of the screen and several within the arena itself. The bottom row can be used for cover, but a number of enemies can damage these objects, eventually destroying them. Similarly, enemies can take cover behind objects in the arena, and often the player must destroy these cover objects in order to hit enemies behind them.

Erin’s default weapon is a handgun, but it fires continuously as long as the button is held, allowing the player to focus on dodging and screaming. It works well against weaker enemies or against small groups, but it can’t do enough damage to deal with crowds of foes, which are quite common. Fortunately, Erin is able to acquire several additional weapons, which are found by shooting at hovering birdlike robots that appear several times per level, and each of these dispenses three weapon icons before they are destroyed.

By running over these icons, a limited number of ammunition is added to the corresponding weapon type. The player may cycle through these weapons with a button press and an announcer-style voice states which weapon is selected, allowing the player to adjust his strategy and select weapons without taking his eyes off the action.

There are five limited-ammo weapons, which the player cycles through from left to right, and when ammunition is depleted, the selection returns to the handgun automatically, requiring some strategy on the part of the player but also preventing him from recklessly draining all of his precious special weapons.

Among these weapons is a machine gun, which is great for delivering a lot of damage to a single enemy in a short time. There's also a spread gun which is a fast-firing 3-way shot that is good for dealing with crowds and fast-moving enemies that otherwise dodge out of the way. These are both multi-purpose weapons that are good in most situations, and their placement makes them the first and second weapons selected when switching.

The other weapons require more consideration, and these include a flamethrower, a rocket launcher, and a grenade launcher. The flamethrower is especially difficult to use, as its range does not extend all the way to the back of the arena, so switching over to it in the heat of battle may lead to disappointment as the flames lick away at the foreground while your targeted enemy remains safely out of reach. On the other hand, the flamethrower deals heavy damage over short span, making it very useful against tough enemies – and bosses – that wander into the foreground.

Rockets deal heavy damage but don’t move as quickly as some of the other weapons, making them virtually useless against flying enemies and other fast-moving foes, but they’re great against bosses and good for firing into crowds. Grenades come in very limited supply but have a huge area of effect, allowing you to lob one into a group and take out loads of enemies at once, even shielded ones.

However, even with this impressive array of armaments, players are likely to find the game extremely challenging, even in opening areas. You can only take four hits before being killed, with no way to restore your health, and it’s very much possible to make a few mistakes and find yourself down to one or two hearts in a matter of seconds. When you’ve been playing the game for a couple of hours and still can’t make it past the fourth level, you may be wondering if you’re playing the game wrong. (PROTIP: You are playing the game wrong.)

The fact is, despite its silly humor and charming spritework, this is a very tactical experience. Players absolutely must pay attention to which enemy types are entering the arena and what their abilities are in order to prioritize their fire and to properly dodge their projectiles. Most enemies will not attack in the first few seconds after entering the arena, allowing players to focus their firepower on bigger threats before they have time to react.

You see those three blue guys that just marched in? They have the ability to teleport around the arena and blast you with machine gun fire. Turning your spread gun toward their pudgy robot faces lets you blast them to bits before they can do the same to you, while doddering pellet chuckers can be saved for later.

Additionally, taking cover, dodge rolling, and slashing bullets out of the air aren’t supplementary abilities; they are core to the player’s survival, even in the opening levels. Oh, and locking onto an enemy is not a fire-and-forget solution… Mobile enemies will dodge your bullets unless you keep up with their movements (or just let them have it with the spread gun), and your bullets will strike enemies and obstacles between you and your target. Players need to regularly engage and disengage their lock-on in order to properly deal with large numbers of enemies with varied movement and firing patterns, and to make sure they aren’t wasting bullets by locking onto a target that is shielded or behind cover.

For those players looking for a somewhat less challenging experience, the developers have updated the game to add an Easy Mode. In this mode, the weapon-dropping birds frequently drop a single heart as well (except during boss fights), allowing the player to earn back a unit of health. In addition, the handgun fires more quickly and special weapons do more damage, making it easier to clear out large numbers of enemies.

In Easy Mode, experienced action gamers should have little trouble blowing through the majority of the game, although some of the later levels still pose a challenge. That said, the more difficult Normal Mode is still the developer’s intended design.

With all of the action happening onscreen, it can be difficult to tell what’s going on and who is shooting at you, but paying close attention reveals that many enemies will not engage you unless you are standing in front of them, and only certain enemies can fire in diagonals. This means that you can lock onto some enemies and move away from them, delivering damage from afar while they are unable to retaliate. On the other hand, this makes dashing back and forth across the screen more difficult, as many enemies are primed to fire as soon as you move into their range, and many projectiles are too fast to avoid when the baddies are up close.

There are also a number of highly mobile foes that can make any fight more difficult, such as flying jetpack guys who zip quickly into the center of the arena and deliver a wide spray of bullets across the whole room. In addition, flying bug-like creatures move around and lay eggs to send smaller bugs flying toward you, and frogs can hop into the foreground, landing on top of you to cause damage or at the very least limiting your mobility… although a few saber swipes can take care of this issue quickly.

Some levels also have hazards of their own, such as trucks that smash through barricades and come barreling through the arena, hitting you and your enemies alike… A horn sounds beforehand and an exclamation point shows where the truck will appear, so you get a bit of warning before the giant metal box of death stares you down.

Players will also find themselves avoiding poison smoke and fire on the bottom of the screen, making for tighter quarters and more difficulty in dodging. There are even levels where vehicles will pull into the arena – such as a shallow arena with train tracks in the background – dispensing enemies and spraying bullets until they are destroyed.

Using your special weapons wisely is also very important, as you’ll never have enough ammo to just go blast-crazy through the level. Instead, you regularly need to switch over to your infinite-ammo handgun to take down easier enemies or smaller groups, while holding your special weapons for when waves of enemies begin swarming in from every angle, or when boss-class enemies appear.

At the end of every stage, after you’ve survived an onslaught of enemies, one or more boss-class enemies enter the arena, usually with regular enemies still in play. There's a lot of variety to the bosses, but in general, they are able to deliver heavy firepower and have long life bars. Dodging and taking cover are key to surviving these battles, especially if you don’t have much health left, and things can get pretty tough when there are two or three bosses moving around the environment instead of just one.

Beyond the end-level bosses, there are also a handful of dedicated boss levels, each of which is preceded by a fully-voiced cutscene. Bosses all come in the form of cartoonishly overblown villains who revel in devastation and suffering, which contrasts strongly from the somewhat lackadaisical heroine who describes her own suffering and the destruction of the city in a generally sarcastic and disinterested tone.

Dedicated boss battles offer tougher foes with a more complex array of moves, alongside waves of enemies that escalate in difficulty. Players can control enemy waves to some extent, as new enemies will not spawn into the arena until the previous ones are destroyed. On the other hand, powerup birds only appear alongside new waves, so unless you want to pick away at a powerful boss with just a handgun, you’ll want to take out a few enemies to get some better weapons.

Aesthetically, the game offers colorful graphics in a 16-bit style, with somewhat cutesy robot designs reminiscent of the Mega Man series. In fact, the character’s scream and death explosion are directly inspired by that of Mega Man. The game has further Capcom inspirations with the audio and fonts in the game's menus and cutscenes copying the style of Capcom’s 16-bit games.

Enemies have a few sayings that they cycle through during combat, such as “She’s over there!”, “Say hello to my little friend!”, and “I’m gonna getcha!”, and there are also some deadpan robo-versions of many of these lines. Bosses have dedicated quips, with most starting out by making threats and bragging off their prowess in battle, but eventually showing that they are hurting as they take more damage. One boss references Bebop and Rocksteady during his introductory cutscene and then says things like “Cowabunga!”, “Merely a splinter”, and “Prepare to be shredded!” during the battle, referencing various characters from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles universe.

Bot Vice was developed by DYA Games, a studio based in Spain and headed by a pair of brothers named Alberto Vilchez Carpio and Dani Vilchez Carpio (thus explaining studio's title of "D&A Games"). The developers previously created numerous arcade-style games including Super Star Path, Castle Scout, Star Path: Alien Galaxy, UFO Complex, Dirty Depths, The Humanitos, Bike Assault, and Firemen Rush.

Less than a year after Bot Vice, the developers returned with Strikey Sisters, a fantasy-themed brick breaking game inspired by Firestriker on the SNES. The game shares a lot in common with Bot Vice (which was originally conceived as a brick breaking game), with its wide playfield, colorful enemies, art done in a 16-bit art style. In Strikey Sisters, you take on the role of a witch - or two in 2P co-op - as you hunt for your kidnapped pet across dozens of levels. Along the way, you fight your way through brick-laden environments, smashing enemies and defeating each of the villain's minions in boss battles. In addition to bouncing a magical orb around the arena, you can also unlock a number of spells and powerups, allowing you to smash through blocks with an iron ball, unleash lightning strikes, toss bombs, or even blast entire rows of bricks and enemies with dark magic.