Hardcore Mecha (PS4, Steam) is brought to us by RocketPunch Games and was crowd-funded through Kickstarter. When I first heard of this game, I thought it was a 2D side-scrolling beat ‘em up with mechas. What I got when I started the game was something much more interesting, a side-scrolling action platformer with customizable mechas and an immersive story that is reminiscent of anime like the Gundam series.
The game starts off like your typical Japanese sentai show where a giant mechas fights a giant monster. Then it turns grim really quickly. The monster goes down pretty easily and you see that it was actually a television show playing on a TV in a store display. The sentai bit was just a tutorial. The reality sets in quickly as we see a terrorist organization is running rampant and has destroyed a local colony, killing everyone in sight.
The game takes place in A.D. 2221. Mars has been colonized and the resources produced by these colonies have guaranteed prosperity of all mankind.
You play as Tarethur O’Connell, a mercenary and ACE pilot that is currently commissioned by U.N.F. He is contracted with rescuing a person of interest, an intelligence officer codenamed “A,” that has been captured by the terrorist organization. By rescuing “A,” Tarethur and U.N.F. soon learn of the even greater crisis being caused by the terrorist organization.
The story plays like a typical anime. In fact, close comparisons could be made to the Gundam series for both obvious reasons and plot-related reasons. Giant mechas? Check. Space colonies and Earth colonies? Check. Terrorist organization doing something to threaten both colonies? Check. Main character has a rival that loves to challenge the hero? Check. Main character has a mecha with hidden abilities that is only drawn out by a rival? Check. This isn’t a bad thing for me. I love the Gundam series and am happy to see these similarities.
Like I mentioned above, I enjoyed the action platformer aspects of this game. The controls are very smooth and I never had any issues navigating the levels (except for a few narrow platforming spots).
You can fly around the stage, boost permitting, and look for hidden areas as well as attack enemies while airborne. Stages are typically linear in that you go from point A to point B to get to the end of the level.
There are some areas that require you to go from Point A to Point B in order to access Point C but those are few and far between. So, you will be flying in the same direction throughout most of the level. There are 8 levels overall that are mostly broken up into multiple sections. Each section typically consists of 5-7 stages before you get to the level boss.
Most boss battles revolve around fighting enemy mechas, fighting a large group of normal enemies, or a giant mecha fight. The giant mecha fights are my favorite. Some areas within the stages require Tarethur to walk around outside of his mecha. These scenes feel sort of unnecessary since you’re only ever out of the cockpit for a few seconds. It feels like it’s artificially lengthening a level that is already long due to the amount of enemies and stages.
There is also a level that acts as a 2D space shooter, which was a nice change of pace. My only criticism regarding the space shooter level is that the mecha moves very slow.
There are several hidden items to find throughout the levels. Finding these allows you to unlock different equippable weapons to start a level with.
The game offers a variety of projectile weapons to choose from, whether it’s a machine gun or grenade launcher. Your mecha is equipped with 4 different ways to attack: two melee type attacks and two projectile attacks. It’s nice to have this variety, but I could never keep everything straight. I would block instead of using sub weapons, use a melee attack instead of dashing (almost achieves the same effect), and use the wrong guns when I didn’t mean to. This didn’t happen to me all the time, just when there was a lot of action on the screen.
In fact, one major frustration I have with the game is the amount of enemies that spawn and are on the screen during most levels. You typically have to deal with a group of enemies located on one side of the screen. The natural response is to camp out on one side of the screen and snipe enemies from afar. The only problem with that is once you destroy some enemies, more will spawn in from both sides of the screen.
Typically the enemies rush in from off-screen, so I almost always took damage from spawning enemies. After that happens I would try to fly away, but that just led me to getting hit by other things. Just seems kind of hectic. Guess that’s really my fault more than anything. To help with this, most later levels have companion NPCs that assist in the fights.
There are also RPG elements to the game where the main character’s mecha can level up. I’ve never noticed my stats changing due to it; however, your stats can be altered by researching new components. Leveling up just serves as a throttle to unlock new components. It honestly makes more sense than the mechas ability increasing via leveling up like a traditional RPG.
The last 2 levels are Mighty No. 9 levels of frustration. The game introduces new gameplay mechanics that instantly kill you, such as a screen scrolling mechanic similar to old NES platformers. If you lag behind, you die. Simple as that.
The game designers added mazes with locked doors to the mix which adds to the fun. I should mention that when you die in this game, you start from the beginning of that particular section. This can be aggravating when stages are filled with waves of enemies coming after you. The worst is when you’re fighting a two, or more, phase boss battle and you die. If you die during a later part of the fight, you go back to the beginning of the fight.
This is especially frustrating since the final boss is a multiple-phase battle and as he has plenty of attacks that can instantly wipe you out if you aren’t careful.
There are 3 different gameplay modes that you can try out: Campaign, Multiplayer, and Simulation.
Campaign contains the main story of the game (no shock there), Multiplayer allows players to battle it out with their favorite mechas against another player in a free-for-all, and Simulation acts as a survival mode. Simulation allows players to choose from 40 different mechas that were seen throughout the game. You have to defend yourself against multiple waves of enemies and bosses.
As I mentioned before, the controls are satisfying and I only found myself getting frustrated with them when too many enemies were on the screen. Guess I got a bit flustered.
The music and artwork are top notch and it almost looks like I’m watching an anime. There is currently no English audio/dialogue, but all of the text has been translated.
The game was nominated for several awards when it came out and even won best indie game and best platformer from Tokyo Game Show. It certainly does deserve the praise it gets.
My only gripes with the game is that some of the stages feel like they go on for a bit too long and later stages get a little unfair with the instant death traps. The story held my attention for the most part, but I felt like I lost interest in the gameplay mechanics after the first few levels. Enemies got tougher and I felt like my mecha wasn’t keeping up. Plus the long levels got tedious given most of the stages within each level were very similar. In fact, most stages in every level, not including the 2D space shooter, were very similar to one another. I found myself dashing through the stages as fast as possible to get to the end.
Still, it’s a fun game and I recommend checking it out. It’s available on Steam and PS4.