No room for red when Namco Bandai is so focused on the green.
Usually, when something goes wrong during the creation of artificially intelligent robots, violence and warfare ensue. Slave turns on master, and the human race learns a very hard lesson about the risks of greed and technology. Need proof? Look no further than I, Robot, Terminator, or Minority Report. Looking to buck the trend, however, Namco Bandai’s latest App Store release No Red T-Shirts tells a much different tale. One where everything turns out out fine… literally.
You see, after an unfortunate explosion at the Police-Bot factory (side note: who thought this was a good idea?), our confused hero Robo is left with some haywire circuitry, and the belief that absolutely everything is worthy of a fine. Walking a dog? That’s a fine. Riding your skateboard? That’s a fine. Reading a newspaper? You better believe that’s a fine. And because everyone in this society is placated by what I can only assume is drugged water, they all go along with it!
Level after level, you’ll rotate the world with a swipe to find and tap anyone participating in a ticket-worthy activity. Of course to keep the population on their toes, your broken bot switches the prohibited pastime every twenty to thirty seconds, giving the game a Where’s Waldo? vibe, by way of speed. No, not the movie. Along the way, you’ll use the the money you earn to build more city amenities like benches, taco stands, and skateboard parks, all of which – you guessed it – can be fined.
At its foundation, No Red T-Shirtsis a clever, often addictive quick-fix experience. By putting the time tested formula of hunt-and-find on a clock, the game feels like Little Things Forever with the energy of WarioWare. That feeling of edge-of-your-seat surety – “I know where everything is, I just have to find it!” – begins anew every time another fine is up for grabs. Meanwhile, failure never stings too harshly because levels are only a couple minutes long, and sharpening your skill is almost guaranteed as you come to recognize each item.
Unfortunately, like a world of cheery automatons accepting meaningless fines, there’s something sinister at play beneath the game’s Seussian exterior. As with Robo itself, Namco Bandai is hungry to take your money at every turn, and it quickly shows in the design of the game. After you make the initial three dollar purchase, you’re given access to the first, and only the first level. And while this would be okay, it quickly becomes apparent that all aspects of progression are tied to the in-game currency.
To get from one level to the next, you have to complete each of four goals in the current level you’re on. Instead of toying around with unique ideas related to play, however, No Red T-Shirts essentially forces you to purchase your forward. With the exception of one goal in each stage (if you’re lucky), every milestone drains your wallet. Purchase and upgrade a hot dog stand. Upgrade all structures. Fix the town bridge.
In effect, I felt like I was paying an unnecessary premium for a typical “freemium” experience. Suddenly, fining people to earn more money to build the structures necessary to fine more people became more than a fictional rat race. It isn’t just the game’s characters that are on a hamster wheel here. And to get off, and progress without nauseating repetition? You better believe that’s a fine. For real money this time.
Which is a shame, because No Red T-Shirts is packed with features that go outside the hidden object box. Robo-tools that send you on micro-hunts for thieves and most wanted vigilantes. Fast-tap mini games that take place in potholes, buildings, or in the sky. A nightly roundup that tests your memory for a chance at bonus cash. All of it the foundation for goals that are never used.
So like any good dystopian fiction, the game ends up packed with allegory, mirroring its main protagonist. Like Robo, No Red T-Shirts feels like a would-be wonder, caught in an explosion and left instead with haywire circuitry. A very hard lesson about the risks of greed and technology.