Robot Unicorn Attack: Evolution is the third incarnation of Adult Swim’s simple but addictive platform game to hit Facebook. Rather than being a straight port or reskin of the original Flash game with some rudimentary leaderboard support, however, Robot Unicorn Attack: Evolution adds a significant amount of new mechanics to the game, allowing for a greater focus on monetization, viral promotion and user retention.
The basic premise of Robot Unicorn Attack is very simple, which gives the game its enduring appeal among casual and core gamers alike. Taking on the role of the titular robot unicorn, players are thrust into a randomly-generated 2D scrolling play area and tasked with jumping over gaps or using a “dash attack” move to smash through obstacles. The longer the player survives, the more points they get but the faster the scrolling becomes. Additional points can also be scored by jumping through floating butterflies or breaking star-shaped objects.
“When we originally brought Robot Unicorn Attack to Facebook, we focused on leaderboards as its social hook — playing against your friends, trying to beat their scores,” explains Chris Johnston, senior games producer at Adult Swim. “As our first Facebook game, it was an experiment and we kept it simple; we always wanted to bring more to that experience. We’d have these brainstorms of ways to expand the gameplay and its social elements, but we knew we’d have to do it in a way that made sense and kept people coming back. We partnered with Mediatonic for that effort, and they took some of those initial thoughts and ran with them in Robot Unicorn Attack: Evolution.”
These new ideas for Evolution include a combo system. Smashing through four stars in succession without missing any causes an “Evolution,” whereby the background art changes and the unicorn transforms into a different animal — first a panda, then a wolf and onward into other forms depending on player skill. Missing a star causes the player to drop back down an evolution “level,” however, while maintaining a combo in the higher forms gives bonuses to score.
Evolution also adds leveling, powerups and currency to the game. Completing a level earns experience points and “Fairy Dust.” Once the player hits level 3, they unlock a powerup slot, with new powerups and additional slots becoming available with each subsequent level up. These features can also be unlocked early by spending Facebook Credits. Activating a powerup costs a certain amount of Fairy Dust each time it is used, but generally offers some sort of enhancement to the player that makes gameplay slightly easier — one slows the game down slightly, another allows the player to survive one collision with a star if they are not using the dash attack. None of these powerups significantly unbalance the game, however — it is still a very challenging experience.
Fairy Dust is earned after each level, with more earned if more friends are playing. Larger bonuses are also provided upon leveling up, and the player may purchase more using Facebook Credits if they don’t wish to grind for more.
The game also offers daily challenges, with big bonuses on offer to those who complete the challenge five days in a row. This is a feature designed for those who believe themselves to be skilled at the game, however, since trying again after an initial failure costs 1,000 Fairy Dust each time. The base game, meanwhile, can be played as much as the player wants for free, with Fairy Dust optionally being expended on powerups.
The game strikes a good balance between the simplicity, addictive nature and broad appeal of the original Flash game while adding a variety of features that will help to both promote and monetize the game. Its optional Wall posts are also all somewhat sarcastic and humorous in tone, which might appeal more to those players usually disinclined to share their game activity with friends.
“We’re promoting Robot Unicorn Attack Evolution in a number of ways: by cross-promoting with the original Robot Unicorn Attack on Facebook and on AdultSwim.com as well as on TV via advertising during the Adult Swim programming block,” says Johnston. “We’ve got some great plans for the game’s future expansion and ways to give players more ownership over their unicorns and use the Fairy Dust they’ve acquired while playing. I can’t go into specifics right now, but it will be awesome.”
2012 also looks set to be the year of Adult Swim taking bolder steps into the social games market.
“[We’re] working with talented developers on new social game concepts with quirky, absurdist Adult Swim twists,” says Johnston. “Developers who find that idea enticing can contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org and get more info on pitching to us.”
Robot Unicorn Attack: Evolution is, rather aptly, a well-considered evolution of the original game’s concept, well-designed for the Facebook platform and social play. The good reputation and recognizable name that its predecessors carry will likely allow the game to build up a healthy and dedicated following, in turn leading to success and profitability.
A much-loved Flash game gets a well thought out social overhaul.