Like a comet made of gold, glitter and Lady Gaga's eyelashes, Robot Unicorn Attack circled the Earth and filled the firmament with its irresistible radiance for the whole of 2010. It changed lives. It challenged sexualities. It involves pressing two buttons. It is undoubtedly the greatest game of all time which features a Robot Unicorn, unless you're a metalhead who digs its sequel.
Robot Unicorn Attack is a shameless Canabalt clone. Well, that's not quite true. I Must Run is a shameless Canabalt clone. Robot Unicorn Attack is just a gleeful mad riff on Canabalt, which has the frenzied energy of something that seemed like a good idea when someone brought it up in the pub, prompting a mass of gags between all the devs, before they went into work the next day and - through a just-so disassociating hangover - coded the whole bloody thing and then left it to the lawyers to worry about licensing the Erasure song.
The idea is simple. You run from left to right, in an infinitely scrolling world of random. If you hit anything, you die. Which is the first main difference from Canabalt, where momentum management was a key part of the game. If you hit something you explode, sending your crying unicorn head to its bloody doom. The difference changes the character of the game, and for my money increases the excitement. Losing momentum is boring. Like an inexperienced teenager rushing orgasm-ward, Robot Unicorn Attack starts fast and then only accelerates towards its prematurely sticky conclusion. The question is how long you can delay that moment.
It differs from inexperienced sex in a key way - dolphins appear partway though. Dolphins don't appear during sex, unless Miami's American Football team are latecomers for an orgy you've organised. Or if you're having an affair with a dolphin, and its spouse comes home half way through. Oh noes!
The second change is that rather than a one-button game, it's a two. One for jump, two for charging forward. Also, the jump is doubled. Yes, the game allows you to double-jump, which - as my good friend John Walker will argue at the slightest provocation - automatically improves anything. There would be no suicide precipitated by clinical depression if we could actually double-jump on Earth. Truth. The charge allows you to bash through obstacles, streaming rainbow colours behind you. It also allows you to zap forward briefly, so getting through a precise point or grabbing (the third change) a floating fairy which boosts your score. The game's really about chaining jumps and charges together to do exactly what you want.
The other noticeable difference is that you play a Robot Unicorn. Obv.
He's a charismatic lead. I don't suggest you Google for fanart with SafeSearch off - unless you've got a thing about engorged and rampant rainbow-haired unicorns, in which case you're sorted for an afternoon of onanism - but enormous amounts of it exists. He leaps and bounds, mane colour-circling all the while, proud desperation personified. He knows, as the game puts it, that persistence is futile, but he has a dream to chase anyway.
And if this was the sort of article where I talk about emotions instead of making metaphors about doing it with people, I'd probably be able to spin out the idea that WE are all ROBOTIC UNICORNS to 1000 words, and all we can really do is jump or charge in this world of ours. But not double-jump, which - as I previously explained - is why our world isn't as good as the paradise presented by Robot Unicorn Attack. And that's why we cry at night.
While Canabalt's actual soundtrack was splendid, I mostly fell in love with it as a device to play other songs to, just to see how it felt. Robot Unicorn Attack is different from that. Robot Unicorn Attack couldn't be divorced from its soundtrack any more than you could be separated from your lungs.
Its soundtrack is Erasure's Always. Moving at a canter as frictionless as the Robot Unicorn's, its needing as endless as the robot unicorns and camper than a camper van, it achieves an aesthetic lock as perfect as Dai-X combining in Starfleet. I will never be able to separate Always from Robot Unicorn Attack now. I can't even imagine wanting to do such a thing. It'd be like decapitating the Mona Lisa. It merges with the sparkles of sound effects and the explosions of light and makes it complete. ALWAYS IT WANTS TO BE WITH YOU, etc.
Robot Unicorn Attack has been one of my stable pastimes this year, like painting Skaven, furtive, secretive masturbation and bitching about my RPS colleagues to my other RPS colleagues behind their back like a total cow. As I wrote elsewhere when talking about the equally wonderful shortform Roguelike/Minesweeper cross Desktop Dungeons, the older you get, the more games have to find a space to comfortably fit. And many of the games I love - your epic RPGs, your epic Strategy games - don't comfortably fit in any time space smaller than that available to single-guy-just-been-dumped-and-has-no-friends-to-go-to-pub-with-and/or-seduce-for-sympathy-f***.
But when I look at the clock and see that there's 10 minutes before Delightful Fiancée gets home and I probably should cook whatever it is I've promised because she did the meal yesterday and all that... Well, I can a take a shot of clearing a dungeon of numerically awkward bad guys, or gallop across rainbow fields to face my inevitable demise while Andy Bell's voice lilts ever onwards. And I've tickled that gaming part of me, and then I can, sated, go and cook one of my three basic, vaguely-edible recipes or spring for takeaway.
I love it for that. I love it because it's a joke game which isn't. It's funny, but it doesn't view that as a reason not to be the best it can be. In fact, it's the best game of its type I've ever played, and now that it's got a Facebook version, it means you can enter those score-chasing wars with your friends. I love that it's so silly, yet that I've played it long enough that I end up thinking about the sad nobility of the steed, its heroic reluctance to abandon his mission and its inevitable demise. And then I play it some more, and it starts being funny again. And it never stops being fun.
I salute you, Robot Unicorn Attack. Yes, you're a one trick pony, but so was Pegasus.