If there's one thing that Hardcore Mecha succeeds at, it's being about as straightforward as you can get for a game based around mecha anime. Heck, you can probably fill out a cliche checklist with it. Dramatic story? Check. Over the top moments? Yep. Characters with spiky hair and stereotypical personalities? Definitely. Giant mechs flying around and shooting each other to pieces? 100% without a single doubt check.
There's no denying that RocketPunch Games sticks like glue to the blueprints of SD Gundam here, but surprisingly this isn't a bad thing. Hardcore Mecha might have a ton of cliches but it's nonetheless a great time for anybody that loves seeing mechs fighting or enjoys some 2D sidescrolling action.
Set on Mars in the not too distant year of 2221 the story mode puts you in the role of Tarethur O'Connell, a soldier from a mercenary group commissioned by the government to track down a missing intelligence operative. What follows is a high stakes tale filled with overdramatic dialogue and all sorts of twists that you'll see coming from lightyears away, lead by characters that are about as flat as they look - but this isn't as bad as it sounds. Sure the terrorist organisation you fight against is led by a guy wearing an eye-patch whilst the jokes and outdated memes only got a muffled groan out of us, but it does work overall if you're up for a typical anime story with lots of big climactic moments.
That's because Hardcore Mecha is beyond dedicated to its presentation of looking and sounding just like Gundam (or the many other mecha anime series out there), and it starts right from the title screen with a blazing J-Rock song. The detailed art style and fluid animation are especially great with dynamic cutscenes full of cool action-packed moments (aside from the many dull talking head conversations) and striking visuals. This extends to the gameplay as well, helping all of the many fights look and sound their best throughout thanks to a ton of crunchy explosions and the heavy steps of your mech shaking the screen. It's all very exaggerated of course, just like the Japanese voice acting, which you'll be forced to listen to since there's absolutely no English dub here at all. At least there are subtitles to help out, although good luck reading them whenever the action picks up during combat.
Speaking of combat, that's what you'll be doing for nearly all of Hardcore Mecha along with piloting your mech across 16 surprisingly varied stages that keep changing things up in plenty of new ways. Aside from an awkwardly bizarre stealth mission early on that fortunately never happens again, most of them work; like an underwater base where you have to use special weapons to hit anything or a floating city where battles take place over bottomless pits. They're mostly linear with a bit of backtracking to boot, but each level felt unique and prevented the gameplay from becoming too repetitive. There's even a rating at the end if you feel like replaying them to achieve perfection.
Well, that's if you're able to competently pilot your mech in the first place. It's overwhelming to start off with thanks to a control scheme that we constantly kept forgetting since nearly every button on the Dualshock 4 has a different use, which turned our hands into pretzels during hectic moments. The specific ones we kept messing up were the dash, steady aim and defend moves, leading to plenty of humiliating moments where we flew directly into a barrage of missiles. There really ought to have been a few more control methods here other than just switching the defend and boost buttons but you can at least use the training mode to figure it out.
Once you've got the hang of it, controlling Tarethur's mech is a blast. You'll be flying all over the screen to dodge projectiles, hovering in the air to shoot other mechs with lasers from up high, and pummelling them by mashing the attack buttons. You can also pick up dropped weapons sometimes, from miniguns to rifles and rocket launchers, with limited ammo for a more effective assault. Mind you, whilst the robots and mechs you fight do become more difficult the real challenge comes from the cooldowns (that even apply to melee attacks for some reason). Every few seconds you'll need to reload or recharge so the balance of combat comes from knowing when to flee and dodge to hitting back with good aim. Once in a while you can also unleash an ultimate ability, although the beam you start with is easily more devastating than the other two you get later on.
Fortunately, it is possible to upgrade your mech in-between most levels by spending cash you've collected to research different weapons and power-ups. These range from improving your weapons to adding different items and mods like increased health, stronger weapons, and even a decreased cooldown to obliterate everything in sight. It's customisable enough after you unlock more upgrades with several of them hidden in the levels to boot, although it would've been neater if you could completely change your mech to something else for a different playstyle, like the ones found in the underwhelming multiplayer mode.
Feeling more like a tacked-on addition, the multiplayer suffers from having only one match type; a free-for-all between four players. If you're lucky enough to find a game it's actually alright for a short while thanks to the different mechs you can switch between that have their own counters between one another, like a mech that can fly around almost non-stop and a literal tank. The problem is that there are barely any players around unless you enjoy getting pummelled by the same guy over and over again, and that's along with a lack of meaningful progression and other game types.
The much better mode to sink your time into is Simulation, an addictive endless wave-based survival mode that unlocks after you beat the story. This sounds pretty dull until you upgrade your mech from a rusty bucket of bolts to a devastating war machine that tears through everything, and with enough time you start to unlock dozens of different mechs to play as that have their own unique aspects to make every wave stay fresh. Whilst the waves themselves are the same each time it's thrilling to keep getting further and further with each attempt.
There's no denying that Hardcore Mecha is mostly for people who already love over the top anime with silly writing and explosive action, but even if you aren't there's still plenty to like. Whilst the controls are a bit of a fumbling mess and a few things could've been fleshed out more, we still had a ton of fun in the campaign and Simulation mode. Whether you love or hate the stereotypes, Hardcore Mecha is great if you're a fan of blowing up tons of robots in style.
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