According to Wikipedia, robots are "virtual or mechanical artificial agents guided by computers to do tasks on their own". Yawn. Could you possibly make them sound more boring? That bone dry description might be true at some base level but it does not do justice to what robots really mean to us as human beings. What robots really are are devices through which we can explore our own humanity. They are blank canvases on which we can sketch out simplified or extreme versions of ourselves.
Take Arnold Schwarzenegger's terrifying android in the first Terminator movie. With its calculated ruthlessness and unwavering murderous intent, it was a terrible parody of a person, all the worst aspects of humanity assembled into one machine. Then, to contrast, there is the sweet-natured rubbish-cleaner drone in the 2008 Walt Disney film Wall-E, again a parody, but this time taking many of our more generous, child-like attributes.
The blank canvas nature of robots, their ability to take on any personality while still being believable, has also made them perfect for use in games, where they feature in abundance not only as canon fodder - to be blithely shot down without a moment's guilty thought - but also often as more endearing characters: the player's sidekick, for example, or sometimes even the game's hero himself.
Here, we have picked out what we consider to be the best ten games featuring robots. As usual, we have focused on free online games where possible. So there are no excuses not to play them!
An accident has caused a power cut in robot world. Deprived of the vital electricity that nourishes them, all the robots have fallen asleep. Years come and go and still the robots slumber. More time passes and still no change and then, 10,000 years after the power cut, something miraculous happens. A bolt of lightning brings one of the robots back to life. The fate of the robot kingdom rests on this one robot's shoulders. Can he restore the power before his meagre energy supply runs out? Thus begins Little Wheel, a beautifully designed point and click game by One Click Dog Games.
We cannot praise this game enough. Aesthetically, it is an absolute delight. It looks more like a short film than a game, so incredibly slick are the animations. The story-line is also one of the best we have come across in a free online game. The puzzles themselves are perhaps a little simple but that doesn't matter because it is the story that matters most. You can play Little Wheel here. A prequel to the game, called Mogo-Mogo, can be played here.
Machinarium is arguably the best Flash game ever made. It is a stunning work of art. The only reason we have not included it at the top of the list is that the full version of the game is not free, and we tend to focus on free games on this site. But those whose piggy banks are looking bare should not fret. The developers - Amanita Design - have kindly provided a free demo of the game, and this demo is a pretty sizeable game in itself, including a big chunk of content from the full game.
The game starts with you - a robot called Josef - being unceremoniously deposited on a rubbish dump. You are missing a couple of limbs and your head is detached from your torso. Once you have reassembled yourself (no easy task in itself) you must gain entry into a nearby city in order to find your girlfriend. While there, you uncover a dastardly plot...
Machinarium's story-line is certainly better than average but it is the game's artwork that impresses the most. The hand-drawn environments and character animations are out of this world. And the way the game manages to move the story forward without using a single line of dialogue is nothing short of genius. Machinarium can be played here.
The Robot wants... series of games by Hamumu Software are consistently rated highly by the players who frequent the popular gaming portals, and it is easy to see why. Their cute eight-bit style graphics and polished platform gaming action and puzzles make for a lot of fun. Plus, of course, you get to play as a cute robot, and there are few things more enjoyable than that.
The latest game in the series - Robot Wants Ice Cream - is slightly different from its predecessors in that the robot has an in-game companion - a puppy - from the start. In pretty much all other respects, it is identical to its forbears in the series. You have to explore the platform-based environment, gaining the power-ups and tools you need to find something. In this case, is an icecream you are after. In earlier iterations of the game it was a fish, a cat and a puppy that piqued your interest.
4Give up Robot 2
Give up Robot 2 is an old-skool platformer about a robot who has to solve a problem with the power supply. I say old skool. But I should really say inspired by old skool, because Give up Robot 2 brings some positively modern innovations to the platforming genre. For a start, our robot is not only equipped with all the standard platformer attributes - the ability to jump over gaps, run through tunnels etc - he also comes with a Zelda-style grappling hook that allows him to swing across gaps that he would have no chance to jump over. He can also use the grappling hook to interact with game objects, for instance, pulling a block down to complete a power circuit.
The game's creator, Matt Thorson of Matt Makes Games, has funked-up the game with slick special effects and fun music and audio. These are clearly meant to be modern takes on the graphics and sounds from the classic platform games of the 1980s. The end result of all this fiddling and updating of an old genre is actually rather good. Give up Robot 2 is fast paced, bursting with colour and appealing special effects and also possesses some fun, challenging puzzles. You can play Give up Robot 2 here. An earlier version of the game can be played here.
Gateway - a point-and-click game by Anders Gustaffsson - will always have a special place in my gaming heart. It was one of the first Flash games I played that really gripped me. I had played several Flash games before but it was only after playing Gateway that I made the transition from Flash gaming dilettante to Flash gaming addict.
What impressed me most about the game was the quality of the graphics. At the time, it was one of the best looking games out there and its 3D-esque graphics really wowed me. The game also had interesting controls. You would click on the floor, and the robot you were controlling would walk there in a slickly animated way. Very impressive for the time. The game was also blessed with some seriously good puzzles. They had me head-scratching like crazy. Half a decade later and the game is showing little of its age. It is still up there - in my opinion - with some of the best point-and-click games of today. You can play Gateway here. An equally enjoyable sequel to the game can be played here.
Don't make the same mistake I did with this game. After completing the first few levels - successfully guiding the robot via a series of commands to the desired locations - I started wondering what all the fuss was about. People had described LightBot as one of the most mentally-challenging games they had ever played. But I was finding it a breeze. I'd even got the hang of using the two functions (which allow you to reuse a set of commands), or so I thought. Either those complaining about the difficulty were really stupid or I was as brainy as hell.
I was starting to think the later when I suddenly got stumped by a level. You see, the game limits the number of commands that you can give the robot, so you have to reuse a set of commands by putting them in a function. I did this but I simply did not have enough spare command slots to get the robot where he was meant to go. I was stumped and feeling a bit foolish over my earlier over-confidence. I eventually completed the level but I now had some new found respect for the game.
LightBot can be a frustrating game thanks to its difficulty but that toughness in turn brings its own rewards. You feel a real sense of achievement when you finally complete a level that has been tormenting you for ages. Play LightBot here. An even more difficult sequel to the game can be played here.
Messing around with time has proved a successful formula in games, perhaps the best example being the indie platform hit Braid, which is available on the XBox and also as a download for Windows. Following the success of Braid, a spate of time-based games have emerged from the Flash gaming scene, including such gems as The Company of Myself and Take a Walk.
Another great time-based game - and one which features a robot as the protagonist - is Chronotron by Scary Bug Games. Chronotron is a puzzle platformer when you have to help a robot escape from a room. Most of the rooms are impossible to escape from on your own but fortunately you have access to a time-machine that allows you to interact with former incarnations of your self. You can play Chronotron here.
I know it isn't polite to say this in public but people who build robots are weird and scary. I am not referring to people who do it for a job - that is understandable. But those creepy individuals who scuttle off to their sheds every night and indulge in all sorts of hideous activities with a soldering iron.
And then, rather than being embarrassed by their unpalatable hobby, they want nothing more than to tell the world about it in TV shows like Robot Wars. Yeeuugh, the very thought, gives me the shakes. Why can't such people just stay at home and play Drastic Plastic instead. They get to fight robots all day long, and they don't have to freak me out by appearing on my TV. Drastic Plastic can be played here.
Despite his name, The Tickler is not likely to make you laugh. To be honest, he does not do much tickling either. So perhaps 'The Tickler' was not the best name for him. Something like 'The Ruthless Killing Machine' would probably be more suitable because this is among the most violent and dangerous robots in Flash gaming.
Not only is he equipped with lasers and saw-disks, he also has two extendable grapple hooks on each arm, with which he can inflict all kinds of terrible torture on his enemies. And this is just the immature robot that you meet at the start of the game. As you progress through the levels, directing The Tickler to destroy anything that comes into his path, you get to upgrade his equipment and powers to make him even more fearsome. In short, this is one of the funnest, most furious fighting games we've played. You can play the game here.
While some of the games on this list have put a lot of thought into imbuing their robots with personality, this game hasn't bothered at all. This isn't a big issue, because the robots in this strategy game are only meant to be cannon fodder anyway. You are going to be sending many of them to their deaths, so it is probably best not to build a rapport by giving them a unique identity.
Robotic Emergence is a polished strategy game where you have to overwhelm your enemy's base through force of numbers of your robot army. Your enemy is trying to do precisely the same to you. So you have to be quick building the right buildings - each of which create different robot units - and then upgrading them to produce quicker, more powerful units. You can play Robotic Emergence here.
We hope you enjoyed our list of robot games. If there are any other robot games you like playing, please tell us all about them in the comments section brlow.