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Where have all the mech games gone?
Games featuring giant robots have been with us since the days of the NES and perhaps even before. Without them we wouldn’t have games like Mega Man, Metal Gear, and Xenogears. Whether we knew it or not, they were there influencing some of the greatest game designers out there! Today, you’re hard pressed to find a great Mecha game. They are out there, if you know where to look. It saddens me to say that a great majority of them are found overseas and not readily available to many here in the States. While we do get an okay mecha game every once in a while, it normally doesn’t compare to the mecha games in the early 90’s to early 2000’s. In the 80’s we were introduced to Battletech, which spawned Mechwarrior. This franchise set a pretty high bar for mech games at the time. Customization of your towering behemoth and excellent, responsive controls were only some of the features that made the Mechwarrior series a mecha-fans dream come true.
What is a mecha game?
My definiton of the genre is that of a very loose one. I easily accept the Metal Gear games as mecha genre because, let’s face it, you would not have Metal Gear without some sort of giant robot. From the originals on the NES to the newly shown Metal Gear Rising, there is always at least one giant robot as a main advesary. Of course Metal Gear is also a stealth/action game, so it definitely fits into several categories but will largely be a mecha game to me. Games like Mechwarrior and Armored Core are easily mecha games first and action and strategy second. This is because as the player you take control of one of these mechs to achieve certain mission objectives and to totally annihilate your enemy.
The good mecha games.
Some of the best mecha games I’ve played have been from imports. While Gundam had some very good releases here in America, we never got to see the cream of the crop. Gihren’s Ambition is a stategy game that let’s you control every aspect of the battles in the Gundam series. From which mobile suit to mass produce, who will pilot them, and where to begin the assault, it is up to the player to take up the reigns as commander and win the war. Because of how indepth the game is, the player even has a chance to alter some of the main events in these battles which gives the game a superb amount of replayabilty. Armored Core, which most American gamers will actually be familiar with, is another of the good mecha games. Like Mechwarrior, Armored Core lets you customize your Armored Core Unit. Thats pretty much where the similarities end. The customization in Armored Core is second to none. You can paint any part of your AC any color you want, give it any weapon, generator, targeting computer, etc. The choice is up to you! There are a few limits though. The player will have to look at the weight limit for the legs and energy consumption from the generator. This adds an amount of stategy to the game that really hasn’t been done since in any mecha game. The bad part of the Armored Core series is that is has hit a bit of snag. Each game that has come out since it’s days on the old Playstation one have been noticably… I don’t want to say worse but theres always something they took out, or changed and these changes culminate to make the series only a shadow of it’s former self.
Where did the good mecha games go?
This is an interesting question. They really haven’t gone anywhere, you just have to know where to look as I stated earlier. While we do still get a good one everyonce in a while ( The Transformers War for Cybertron and Dynasty Warriors Gundam are excellent examples ) most good mecha games are never localized and stay in Japan. Super Robot Wars has been going strong in Japan for over a decade now and while one game maybe better than another in the series, they never seem have a drop in quality. Super Robot Wars takes robots, Super or not, from many different animes and mixes them all up to make grand stories about the epic struggles of good versus evil! Some gamers will remember that here in America we did get a few titles from this series. The name was changed slightly ( Super Robot Taisen ) but they were there in their full glory. The ones that were localized by Atlus only featured characters made up for the game itself by Banpresto, they company that actually makes the games. This was easier to do then to go through all the licensing issues with the titles that featured specific anime characters and robots.
So wait, I have to go to Japan to play good mecha games?
Thankfully, no. Otherwise I never would’ve played them myself. Some consoles feature region codes, like the Wii and Xbox 360. What this means is if you wanted to import games from websites that sell Japanese games, you’re outta luck. Fortunately, the DS, and Sony’s PSP are not. The PS3 itself is but, for once, America and Japan share the shame region code. From what I’ve found, these three systems are the best for import gaming, especially ones that feature giant robots. You might be intimidated since, let’s be honest, these games are in a completely different language. This actaully isn’t as much of a problem as you’d imagine. Not only can walkthroughs and translations be found online but if you just take your time and press every option and button, you will be surprised how fast you pick it up. I cannot understand a word of the language but can get around enough to fully enjoy an import Super Robot War or Gundam title.
But what about America?
If I had to take a guess, I’d have to say mecha games will remain a niche group here in the states for some time. With the recent anouncements at the VGA’s one can be a little hopeful. Metal Gear Rising is looking amazing and Transformers Fall of Cybertron will be sure to captivate mecha fans and just general gamers alike ( Grimlock. Who doesn’t like a robot transforming into a giant metal T-Rex that spits fire? ). Amored Core has announced another release that focuses on multiplayer. Here in the U.S., mulitplayer is even bigger than single player gaming so hopefully if it is released here, the multiplayer crowd will have an excuse to love mechs aswell. Will they ever be big here in America? I really don’t think so. America’s idea of giant robots usually consists of giant walking tank types of bots but in Japan, a robot is flashy, brightly colored, can wear a cape, and have giant metal wings. Most Americans would see this as childish and therefore stupid. I love my robots flashy! From their appearance to their personal super moves, I love watching a robot taking down a monster or another bot in style! Until more people can appreciate this, we mecha fans will have to keep importing to get our fix.