This one was a recommendation on Reddit and while this game gave me so many fond memories and is certainly a classic, I debated on if it actually fit somewhere in the vaporwave genre. Musically wise, I was deeply unsure but after doing some quick googling, the song which is called “Always” by Erasure, is actually a synthpop ballad from 1994 so it does use music that could be considered nostalgic which is a common theme in vaporwave, I highly doubt you would hear songs like this normally in 2019 (or even 2010 when the game was released). Secondly, the themes and art style, while its not typical vaporwave at all, it can be described in some respects as a 1980s-1990s, cheesy kids cartoon with a dark twist where the unicorn dies horribly if you a fail (which is classic adult swim humor). The art style is true to the vaporwave pallet of bright, pastel colors and you could could call is futuristic because of the use of robots and the chrome finish of the unicorn. For those reasons and out of courtesy for the recommendation, it will go on the list. Thank you StarDustLuna3D for the submission.
What is RUA and Who even made the Game??
Robot Unicorn Attack is an internet browser and eventual mobile game developed by Spiritonin Media Games and published in 2010 by Adult Swim. The US-based video game studio has only developed Robot Unicorn Attack, as well as the heavy metal and the Christmas edition. There is one other game called Capoeira Fighter 2 which is a two-player fighting game that is also browser based. I couldn’t find anything else about them and they no longer seem to have a website anymore.
However, that studio name is not accurate, the actual face behind the game is Scott Stoddard. He is the creator, designer and pretty much is the person behind the game. He has had a long career in video game development but is mainly focused in computer animation and art work. He has also worked on many other games including Mad Shark, Guardians of Altarris as well as collaborating with others on various projects such as Infinity Blade.
According to an article by the Daily Bruin, Scott learned video game development from an associate of his who showed him how to use Adobe Flash which helped in incorporate his artwork into programming. First and foremost, Scott’s main talents revolve around art and creativity. Which just from looking at Robot Unicorn, is a major part of its appeal.
In another article where he was interviewed by Alex Rickett from UCLA Game Lab (a research center based around video games at the University of Los Angeles, California), Scott made this remark on the game creation and his inspiration:
“I had a two month window to wrap up freelance work before starting with ChAIR Entertainment (creators of Shadow Complex and Infinity Blade). Adult Swim wanted me to fit in one last game, and I wanted to try out some game play ideas inspired by Adam Atomic’s Canabalt and a talk I had just heard on flow theory…The art was inspired by my fetish for so-bad-it’s-good fantasy art. Robot unicorns are a sorely underutilized icon, and rainbows really do make everything better.” (Rickett, “Interview with Scott Stoddard”, April 19th 2011)
Anyway, what about the Game? Is it Still Fun? Does it Hold Up?
The game is still available online as well as its sequels…with the exception of one but I will get into that momentarily.
Getting into the nitty-gritty of this title, Robot Unicorn Attack is very simple to play and fits well into the casual and mobile sphere of gaming. Its easy to learn and easy to get addicted too.
At its core its a side-scrolling platformer and an “endless runner”. The goal is to try to get a high score by not killing the unicorn for as long as possible as the game makes your unicorn run faster and faster. You can only jump to keep yourself on the platforms and dash into large, chrome stars which are the only other obstacle in the game minus the platforms themselves or falling to your demise. You also get additional points for capturing fairies that appear on the screen and dashing into stars.
From a critical standpoint on “is the game fun and does it hold up?” First question, yes its a fun casual game that easy to learn and get sucked into. Its perfect for the mobile and flash marketplace as something that almost anyone can enjoy. Second, does it hold up? The original is very basic and after about 10-15-ish minutes you find yourself getting tired of it and turning it off.
Not that its a bad thing. As a whole, its just a endless running game that is completely score based. You could show off your score but after that there is not much else. That is most likely why the sequel on mobile is fairing better as its perfectly suited for a smartphone. You can play it in short spurts of time and be entertained while enjoying the music and the art style. That is the reason why the game is also genius in a sense. Its easy, well designed with fluid controls, and puts a smile on your face. That is where RUA shines and why so many people remember it fondly.
Scott committed in both articles I mentioned, that around the time he was working on the game, he attended a lecture on “Flow Theory” and incorporated those aspects into his game. Its the idea that someone fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, the person loses the sense of their surrounding space and time.
Robot Unicorn Attack does this extremely well, by making the game easy to pick up and play. Scott put a lot of effort into making the jumping and dashing feel just right to trigger the operate response from the player. The jumps are smooth and just quick enough so your able to see whats ahead of you and respond to the next platform. You feel and respond emotionally to each movement as well as being so engrossed as the game moves faster and game the becomes harder, so you lose yourself in the game.
So despite feeling dated and certainly a game of its time, there is not doubt that game is fun and does suck you in. Its no wonder that while, I feel its sequel is an improvement, I still find myself drawn the original and the basic core concepts that it has.
What about the Sequels?
Two other versions called Robot Unicorn Attack Heavy Metal and the Christmas Edition were released both on mobile and online at the end of 2010. The game-play was exactly the same, the only difference is the art style which based on the titles is self explanatory. Retro Unicorn Attack was also a reskin of the same game but in an 8-bit style that was released in 2013.
Another version later one also was released, the next one called Robot Unicorn Attack Evolution. Again this was identical to the original. The only major difference is after you manage to break three stars, your character changes into a different robotic creature. If you lose, you turn back into a unicorn. The game did have some minor updates where the artwork was a little more polished and some aspects of the layout was a little different.
The official sequel, Robot Unicorn Attack 2, was not made by Scott but instead by a PikPok, a mobile game development studio in New Zealand. It was released for IOS and Android in 2013. The game has more features such as being able to customize your unicorn and more enemy types. The game-play is fundamentally the same and unlike the original is only available on mobile. Also unlike the original, the sequel has in-app purchases where you can buy songs and other worlds you can play in like Lava World. There was also a major graphical overall with a much more details in the background and the unicorn itself is far more fleshed out. Overall the mobile version it fun and a decent update to the original. I still play it on occasion.
The final installment was Robot Unicorn Attack 3…which doesn’t seem to exist any more. It was released on the Google Play store but now the store page has been deleted. Even its wiki article just mentioned that it did come out in 2017 but that is it. No links, no mention of what it was, no nothing. It’s completely gone except for video footage of it on YouTube. Comments about it state it felt much slower then the previous two games and not as enjoyable. It’s graphic style was a more 3D with its background and cut scenes but fundamentally the game play is the same as the previous two. The main additions is the ability to build up your “citadel” using your tears of failure (when you die basically) to unlock other unicorns and a couple of other small changes. Besides that, the game seemed to get mixed reviews before suddenly disappearing. Comments on YouTube also pointed out the confusion of what happened to the game and little information as too why the game suddenly disappeared. I checked for news reports and tried to find who made the game but nothing seems to be available. My only guess is there was a legal issue with the game due to the music or with the original publisher, Adult Swim. Maybe both.
I linked a channel on YouTube called “iChase” who covered the game and provided some feedback so if your interested to get an idea of the gameplay. I think he did a good job in providing player feedback. He seemed like he was a bit underwhelmed by the experience and the slow movement which given how that goes against Scott’s original design incorporating flow theory seems to be why the game received mixed reactions at release.
The Future of Robot Unicorn Attack
There has been nothing else in the news or announced by Adult Swim regarding the game. Scott Stoddard was in the news again in 2016 as a contestant of “American Ninja Warrior” which is an American TV program about contestants trying to make it to the end of a difficult obstacle course. He almost made it to the finals but didn’t win the competition. Overall he is still working on video games and is living a happy life with his family.
Robot Unicorn Attack is a classic of flash games and animation. For those who have played it, it was a blast and its whimsical, dreamlike themes of unicorns and rainbows is something I think most of us can enjoy. I do think they tried to milk the game as much as possible with the various re-skins and the in-app purchases but the original stands on its own. Is it outdated and a somewhat forgotten fad, by most accounts yes it is. However, its still something that when it pops up on your screen you almost instantly remember it, which says a lot for its legacy. Its fun, its weird, and its kind of old school 80s with its themes. I think for how surreal and strange it is with its nostalgia it fits right in with the vaporwave theme as vaporware is very much tied with nostalgia. I can’t think of anything more nostalgic then an old flash game from my college days.
Thank you Scott Stoddard for this amazing, little internet phenomenon, I wish you the best in your future endeavors, and “And live in harmony, harmony”.
Links and Citations:
Rickett, Alkex. “Interview with Scott Stoddard.” UCLA Game Lab, 18 Apr. 2019, games.ucla.edu/uncategorized/interview-scott-stoddard.
Case, Elizabeth. “Robot Unicorn Attack: game creator Scott Stoddard to hold leacture and workshop.” Daily Burn, 16 Feb. 2011, https://dailybruin.com/2011/02/16/robot_unicorn_attack_game_creator_scott_stoddard_to_hold_lecture_and_workshop/