The Hugh Jackman flick Real Steel made $85 million domestically with its "What if Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots was a real thing?" concept. That may or may not be enough money to warrant a sequel, but Reliance Games feels there's more life in the franchise to make Real Steel: World Robot Boxing for iOS and Android. It's free-to-play, simple to learn, and full of cool visuals, but some unfortunate design decisions keep it from being a knockout.
Set after the events of the movie (and knowledge of the film is absolutely not necessary), World Robot Boxing features Atom, Noisy Boy, Midas, and some of the franchise's other stars, but also expands both the scope and the cast of characters. Your ultimate goal is to dethrone Zeus, the WRB champion, by fighting your way through multiple increasingly difficult circuits of robot fighters. Three bots are yours to choose from to start, with a fourth available if you can convince a friend to play too.
Let's get the obvious part out of the way: boxing robots is just a flat out awesome idea, and one that appeals to the five-year-old boy or girl in all of us. This game doesn't disappoint in its efforts to bring those clashes to life, sporting better graphics than the first Real Steel mobile game and some creative robot designs. The themes are great – there's a football-inspired fighter, one with a blackjack motif, a cowboy bot with arms shaped like six-shooters, and more.
Pitting them against each other is fairly straightforward, with a virtual d-pad on the left and buttons on the right. Boxing is a strictly 2D affair here, which limits you to punching and blocking, but there's still some strategy required as you look to counter when your opponent's guard is down. The game doesn't explain this fully, but pressing the pad while hitting the light or heavy attack buttons throws a slightly different kind of punch for each direction, so there are more options than it may initially appear.
A meter charges as you land and block punches, and each robot has its own well-animated special attack sequence available once it's full. Finishing moves? Yep, those are in here too, provided you tap the right spots that pop up once your foe's energy is down to zero.
Should you prove victorious, you earn money that can be spent to upgrade your robot's armor, power, and special ratings. There are five levels of upgrades possible for each of the five components, though a wait time is put into effect for the top two levels. Real Gold, the game's premium currency, is the workaround, and you can earn it by leveling up as well as buying it via in-app purchases.
That's pretty standard stuff for a freemium title like this, but World Robot Boxing sadly takes things to another level of annoyance by being aggressively in-your-face about monetization. An energy system allows only five fights per session, forcing you to spend Real Gold or wait to play more. Pop-up ads for other games are rampant and appear without warning. Moving up from one tier to the next also necessitates either spending Real Gold or asking for a fight pass from a friend, a holdover tactic from older social gaming days that's better off left in the past.
All of these tactics combine to ruin the experience a bit, which is a shame since it has definite potential. The various championship leagues each have their own set of contenders leading up to a title fight of sorts, and you can purchase and upgrade new tiers of robots as you progress. Multiple skins grant bonus cash for wins, as well as just making your bots look better, and daily challenges have increasing rewards when you log in on consecutive days. Online head-to-head play sounds like it would be a blast, but it's not ready yet.
Hopefully that means this is a game that will improve with future updates. Similar to the movie that inspired it, Real Steel: World Robot Boxing isn't a runaway success, but it's a solid effort at keeping an idea alive that's too awesome to let go. Until we get boxing robots in real life – and hopefully someone is working on that – this will have to do.