About an Adult Swim Flash Game: Robot Unicorn Attack

What is a "game" but an alchemist's mixture of disparate concepts that by themselves don't mean much, yet somehow make sense as a whole when paired accordingly?

Gears of War's cover mechanic has no use in a two-dimensional fighter. A licensed Barbie title (maybe) doesn't need Castlevania's map system. And -- obviously -- Guitar Hero's flurry of scrolling musical notes and reliance on plastic peripherals would never make sense as a musical zombie shooter starring, let's say, Neil Patrick Harris and Felicia Day.

So where does that leave Adult Swim's latest attempt at destroying workplace productivity? Robot Unicorn Attack, developed by Flash game creator and the one-man band at developer Spiritonin, Scott Stoddard, takes two seemingly opposite concepts -- a looping ethereal audio track and the get-as-far-as-you-can gameplay of Canabalt -- and mashes them into a fabulous union. The title implies certain gameplay elements, among other things (like some unicorns are, in actuality, robots), but I doubt you expected it to feature licensed music. Oh, it does. And it's offensively wonderful.

The song: "Always," from the still-active Euro synthpop group Erasure. The music video for the electronic ballad deals with the troubling theme of loss set amongst a backdrop of hypothermic kabuki demons, elements that unfortunately aren't replicated in the Flash game. Here are the lyrics:

Open your eyes I see Your eyes are open Wear no disguise for me Come into the open

When it's cold outside Am I here in vain? Hold on to the night There will be no shame

Always, I wanna be with you And make believe with you And live in harmony, harmony oh love

Melting the ice for me Jump into the ocean Hold back the tide I see Your love in motion

When it's cold outside Am I here in vain? Hold on to the night There will be no shame

The game: Robot Unicorn Attack. It's the flamboyantly energetic cousin of Canabalt, and its gifts to the world are a basket of rainbows, handfuls of sparkles and metallic unicorns.

After playing three minutes of the game, it's easy to dismiss the concept based on its potentially uncomfortable choice of decor. It's not that rainbows bother me, it's that using a song from a band known for its openly gay member (and icon), Andy Bell, as the soundtrack for a robot unicorn's adventure seems to poke fun at LGBT culture in a negative form of satire. I can only imagine what some 13-year-old kid is thinking when he plays this: "Ha, so gay."

Then again, who cares what Halo teens think; I'm probably reading too much into the matter. The rainbow is a flag-waving symbol of gay pride, diversity, equality and strength, after all. And if Erasure signed the licensing agreement, they must enjoy the game. This wouldn't be the first time I've been a stick in the mud, and missed the joke as a result.

Unfounded controversy aside, Robot Unicorn Attack plays fantastically. The Canabalt comparison is apt, and a compliment. Players navigate a series of purple and pink hills of varying shape and size (and placement), trying to double jump, using the Z key, between the hovering landmasses to avoid certain death, and to make it farther than your previous distance for a higher score. However, Adult Swim's take on the concept introduces a revolutionary second button, mapped to the X key, which causes the unicorn protagonist to vault forward at light speed in a blinding flash of the visible color spectrum -- otherwise known as a "rainbow attack." This is so our horned friend can smash through the giant crystalline stars that randomly appear, and avoid exploding into a bodiless heap of scrap.

The gameplay is simple, and slightly less fresh than Canabalt due to its blatant copy-and-paste mentality. It's still an adequate timesink, and fits right in with the attitude Adult Swim has toward its flash games, which I described in a previous article: be a little offensive, but make sure it's fun. It helps that the animation and character sprites are expertly crafted as well. I'd believe it if someone told me this was a tie-in game for the Hollywood revival of an obscure 1980's cartoon.

The greatest aspect of Robot Unicorn Attack is how it induces feelings of happiness via its ridiculousness. That's the entire point, and you don't have to be good at the game for the game to be good for you. So while I might be misinterpreting the elements of gay culture in the game, I can't find fault in how well the gameplay and the music go together. Leaping from knoll to knoll, collecting rainbow wing-tipped fairies to the repeating tune of synthesized love and heartfelt emotion, is a guilty pleasure. It's obvious that the game is a clever Valentine's present for Adult Swim's virtual horde of hipster kids, and those Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! freaks. (Freaks like me. And that link is semi-relevant.)

So go play the game, and let yourself enjoy it. There will be no shame.

Note: Final play count of the "Always 2009 Remix" audio loop during the writing of this article: 39.