C.A.R.L. (PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One, X/S, PC)

Back in the early to mid 90s, many PC owners got their games via shareware.  With shareware games, you usually could pick up a free disk at a computer store or in a magazine.  The disk would have demos of games you could try, and if you liked them, there would usually be info on how you can order the full game, or even get a shareware catalog!  Keep in mind this was before the internet was big.  Many popular games back then started out as shareware: Commander Keen, Jazz Jackrabbit, heck even Wolfenstein!  If you want to play a new 2-D platformer that has that old ‘shareware’ DOS PC feel, then C.A.R.L. is for you!  C.A.R.L. stands for Computer Automated Resource Locator (acronyms are a running gag in this game).  You are a robot equipped with a blaster and you must infiltrate a robot factory owned by a engineer who wants to take over the world.  The game is available on all current consoles and PC, but reviewed on PS4 here.

In the game you’ll start out in the D.U.M.P. where all the robots that have been thrown away from the factory go.  This is the main hub area where you can talk with other robots and get upgrades later on.  On the sides of the area are levels for you to tackle.  In each maze like area, you’ll solve puzzles, bypass obstacles, and defeat enemy robots to collect three chips.  After you collect three, you can find a checkered platform and exit the level.  Each area has about five levels plus a boss fight.  When you defeat a boss, you’ll learn a new skill.  At first all you can do is jump and shoot, but after defeating a boss, you’ll learn new moves like a double jump, ground pound, and dash.  You’ll use these moves to reach new areas and levels, and backtrack to older ones to nab secrets you missed before.

Aside from the three chips in each level, you can also find other collectables.  These include bonus chips, joysticks, blueprints, medals, and more.  When you get enough of these, you can take them back to certain robots to get upgrades and other goodies.  You can get health increases, more powerful weapons, new moves, and more.  Some of the collectables are just for fun, like trading cards with all the characters in the game, or joysticks that let you play mock ups of classic arcade games like Galaga or Arkanoid.  Before you start each level, you can see which items you’ve collected and which ones you’ve missed.

While the game is mostly fun, it does have some problems.  Controls, especially while jumping, feel a bit loose.  Plus the game gets WAY too hard toward the end.  If you thought the antigravity levels in Mega Man V were hard, hoo boy you should see the ones here!  If the game REALLY wanted to have the classic ‘shareware’ feel, they should’ve added cheat codes!  If the game wasn’t so hard at the end, I probably would’ve beaten it and given it a better review!

Kid Factor:

C.A.R.L. is rated E for Everyone with an ESRB descriptor of Mild Fantasy Violence.  Robots just explode into bolts when defeated, and that’s it.  Reading skill is helpful for the text, and younger gamers may find it too difficult.

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