In 2002, Andrew Lum strapped a TV to his chest, a GameCube to his belt and crashed Sony parties. He was paid to do this, but, really, Andrew Lum loves Nintendo. Today, he's making a Nintendo game.
Lum's game is Frobot, which believe it or not has to be qualified with the sentence: No, not that other video game called Frobot.
The Frobot Andrew Lum conceived is being designed by a team at his company at Fugazo and is a lot Robotron but also a lot Zelda. It's slated for a summer release as a downloadable WiiWare game and is also the first game I've ever been told was inspired partially by Wii Play. Specifically, the cursor-based tank combat in Wii Play's final mini-game inspired the main methods of movement and shooting in Frobot. The game's hero is a robot called Frobot, the best hope for robot-kind against the (odd-that-Nintendo-hasn't-objected-to-this-name-yet) evil corporation Microshaft. Like a Wii Play tank, Frobot is moved across single-screen levels with a Wii Nunchuk analogue stick; his lasers and other weapons are first at wherever the player aims the Wii Remote.
Lum, a former Nintendo street team hype man who also did testing on Nintendo games has spent the last few years making so-called casual games, including a couple of iterations of the hit Cakemania. He believes it hurts his indie cred to admit it, but he does well enough in making these kinds of games that he makes a living, health-care included. His previous success wasn't enough,
Lum told me at PAX East. "I"m a Nintendo fanboy, and I always wanted to make a game on a Nintendo." For Lum, that is what Frobot is about. For the rest of us it is a chance to play a game that mixes the one-room-at-a-time puzzle challenges of a classic top-down Zelda game with the multi-directional shooting multiplayer of Robotron.
In either single-player or multiplayer mode, Frobot's move-set includes a dash, a default laser gun, missiles, a Zelda-inspired reflecting shield and a special disco ball power. The disco ball power is the most exotic. When activated, it allows the player to move it around the screen as if it is a mouse pointer, winding it through mazes to activate switches or blow up rival players.
The game's graphics are a bit old-school and rough, but the gameplay is solid. The puzzles in the single-player mode did feel like Zelda room challenges, with the added variable of physics, which dictated how tossed boxes landed and how one object ricocheted for another. Multiplayer with four players vying against each other on one TV provided a good buzz of frantic shooting in fairly cramped quarters.
The foundations for Frobot are good and it doesn't initially appear to be so in love with the games Andrew Lum played as a kid to not deviate from old formula. The gameplay in Frobot seems to build sensibly and cleverly. The disco robot style is relatively unusual — aside from that other Frobot, of course — and will likely generate mixed response. If it's Nintendo polish Lum most aspires to achieve, though, then the thing that needs the most work is how the game draws the player's attention. My gaze was often not drawn to whatever door I had opened, making it hard to tell sometimes that I had actually completed a room's puzzle successfully.
Frobot's cursor-based controlled make the game an unlikely candidate for Xbox Live Arcade or the pre-Move PlayStation Network. It seems, though, that the strongest motivation to make Frobot a WiiWare game, stronger even than its control mechanism, is that company logo on every Wii. "I don't mind making casual games," Lum said during our demo, referring to the rest of what he does for a living these days. "But I wanted to make a Nintendo game."