With games so often set across sprawling open worlds, procedurally generated galaxies, and exhaustively mapped cityscapes, it’s a refreshing change to see a game that takes on a far more domestic space. The environment of Tyler: Model 005 is a single house, albeit one that’s visited through a number of time periods, and this setting, combined with the diminutive stature of Tyler, makes the game highly reminiscent of the excellent Chibi-Robo, one of my favourite games. I was therefore keen to take a look at this new tiny robot adventure.
The tone of Tyler: Model 005 is far more melancholic and low-key than the surreal cartoon world of Chibi-Robo, though. In fact, the delivery and characters are far more in keeping with Marvin the Paranoid Android from the classic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The 1950s setting is well realised with period features and a stripped back wooden aesthetic, but this does unfortunately result in a lot of brown – at times it looks like a higher resolution original Xbox game with its colour scheme. On the whole this isn’t a bad thing, but there were a couple of times where the lack of clear difference in the background made navigating more confusing than it needed to be. It’s perhaps a bit telling that one of Tyler’s abilities scans the surroundings for objects that would otherwise be almost invisible.
While the palette brings to mind the early 2000s, the gameplay is right out of the N64 days. Tyler: Model 005 is a 3D platformer with tons of collectables and simplistic combat. There are occasional environmental puzzles but exploration is the main aim. It’ss here that the comparisons with Chibi-Robo become most obvious, with Tyler sharing its predecessor’s ability to turn seemingly banal rooms into interesting obstacle courses. Finding your way up to the rafters of a room can be a real challenge and the sense of achievement from doing so is welcome, although the slightly woolly controls and an intermittently responsive climbing mechanic can lead to some frustration. Too often I found myself falling when the auto-grab animation seemed to either not kick in until too late or not at all. When the main part of the game is platforming it’s a real shame that these basic aspects don’t work reliably.
The issues with jumping and climbing controls are exacerbated by the energy mechanic. When you begin the game Tyler has a very small battery capacity and will quickly lose charge. This makes the very start of the game a frustrating experience. Once you realise that this battery charges when in a light source (any light source, somewhat bizarrely) and unlock the first few battery extenders, things become less annoying but it isn’t a positive first impression.
The tutorial also neglects to tell you how to unsheathe your weapon, which makes combat overly difficult until you stumble upon the right button to press. Once you’ve figured it out, the combat itself it is skill-free and dull. It feels as if it is only put in to allow the XP system for unlocking upgrades. Tying this to exploration or collectables would have felt much more in keeping with the core game. As it was, I soon became weary of facing another barrage of insects that seemed strangely obsessed with disassembling my metallic form. This aspect was particularly disappointing, as the combat was necessary to enable the upgrades that made the exploring more enjoyable so couldn’t really be avoided.
So, with dodgy jumping and pointless combat, this review so far hasn’t been terribly enthusiastic, but despite these issues there is a charm to Tyler that stems from its intimate focus and surprisingly emotional story. Waking to find himself alone in his creator’s workshop, Tyler must discover what has happened and why the house now seems deserted. This seems a generic story at first, and in many ways it remains a traditional amnesiac protagonist narrative, but the emotional aspects are handled in a surprisingly delicate manner.
Learning the origin of Tyler’s name and discovering the fate and behaviours of the robots that came before him provide a melancholy note more in keeping with a Pixar film than your standard video game. Rather than the light hearted adventures of a tiny robot the narrative takes on grander ideas of loss, sacrifice and family. It was these aspects that kept me playing even when I was annoyed by the gameplay flaws.
All in all Tyler: Model 005 is a real mixed bag. It doesn’t get close to the heights of its spiritual predecessors, but instead goes its own way to produce a surprisingly effective and heartwarming story that surpasses the limitations of its flawed mechanics to leave a lasting impression. Tyler: Model 005 must go down as a fleeting curio rather than a game I can wholly recommend. Maybe in this case an animated movie would have been a more suitable choice for delivering the story being told.
PC version tested. Also available on Xbox One