Review: HARDCORE MECHA

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This game was selected as one of our July 2019 Reader’s Choice Reviews. Learn more on our Patreon page.

Everyone loves giant stompy robots, of that I have no doubt, but there’s a unique challenge in making games about them. If you’re piloting a hulking mobile suit of armor, it’s not going to move like a regular person… and it shouldn’t, because if it did you wouldn’t be selling the experience of being a hulking mobile suit of armor. But if you make your robots too slow and clunky, the game itself is going to drag. Every giant robot game has an answer to this quandary, and HARDCORE MECHA might have one of the best in terms of platforming. I’m not quite as impressed with everything that surrounds the action, but I can’t deny that the action can get downright enthralling at times.

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Over the next few hundred years, the people of Earth come together to form a global government that extends across the colonies of Mars. Tarethur O’Connell is a pilot for the Hardcore Defense Corp, a PMC that’s been contracted by the super U.N. to find a missing intelligence agent on Mars, since I guess all their official people were busy. Tarethur and his partner quickly discover that all is not well on the red planet, as tends to happen when it’s governed remotely from Earth. Caught up in a violent struggle for control and survival, Tarethur’s skills as a pilot and resolve as a mercenary will be tested against some of the most powerful weapons ever brought to bear.

There’s a fantastic intro stage to the game that I’d be remiss in ignoring, because it teaches you the combat and controls by way of an old 80s giant robot TV show. I wish this had been a running gag through the entire game and not just a tutorial, because shooting chest lasers at rubber-suited monsters with heroic themes blasting in the background is something I can’t get enough of. The intro makes a dramatic turn from the tutorial, though, an effective move that establishes the stakes and tone of this war epic. Aside from Tarethur’s chatty buddy and a few roughly-translated jokes, this one is played pretty straight and manages a few good high-tension moments amidst all the robot punching.

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But that’s what you’re here for, the robot punching, right? If so, you’re likely to be very pleased. Platforming and brawling in HARDCORE MECHA come with all the weight you’d expect from a multi-ton mech, clomping around, shifting heavily when turning, and slamming down from great heights. But the controls are responsive, your melee attacks have quick advances attached to them, and most importantly, you have a generous boost bar to play with. This bar will let you jet forward, backward, or skyward for up to several seconds at a time, allowing you to dodge hits and weave between bullets at will. Your boost is even upgradable, giving you more time to glide around as you beam saber or gun down foes.

The controls are robust enough to let you fire off rounds from your weapons or use consumables like mines and homing missiles as you maneuver, which will be increasingly important the further you get into the game. Levels are mostly linear, sometimes with big open spaces to jet around or wings to flip switches or destroy generators in before backtracking. Enemies usually come in groups, homogeneous gangs at first and then later mixed teams that you’ll need strategy to beat. Some foes can’t be stunned by your melee attacks, some have big shields, some are too small to hit reliably, and so on. The bosses are a particular treat, split between giant armored assault vehicles you can blast apart and duels with other mecha pilots that behave much the same way you do.

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As much fun as the combat can be, it does start to feel a bit samey a few hours in. There’s a fair bit of variety to the level appearances and layouts, but functionally they’re all pretty simple and static. Unlike the mecha games that inspired it, HARDCORE MECHA doesn’t really feature destructible terrain or scenery, or offer much in the way of dynamic environments. You get to hop out of your mech at will, but generally it’ll be to turn off a lot of force fields or activate a lot of lifts, and that’s about it. There are secrets to find that can earn you blueprints for new weapons or just bits of lore, as well as the currency for upgrades, but other than that you’re just going to be trundling through levels from start to finish, pausing only for the occasional fun brawl.

That upgrade system is another sore spot of the game. You’re stuck with Tarethur and his pointy-headed mech for the whole campaign, but you can unlock new weapons and modules to customize it with. The problem here is that upgrades come super slowly, tied to pilot levels that don’t come nearly often enough. Plus you need to purchase them to use them, plus you need a free slot to stick them in, and so on. Weapons have the added limitation of requiring hidden blueprints to unlock, so you might not even find most of the cool weapons in the game. It ends up feeling tacked on, and really doesn’t add much customization to the campaign.

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The longer you play this one, the more irritations you may come across like the laughably bad translations. But the combat is still there, in all its speedy, crushing glory. Aside from the campaign you have multiplayer to explore, something I’ve not tried due to lack of players but it could be fun if your friends can be cajoled into picking this up as well. In the end, HARDCORE MECHA might not be the most compelling platformer but it’s a very solid giant robot game, something that doesn’t come around often. The thrill of jamming a beam saber through a robot or unleashing a massive particle cannon on a screen full of foes is here in lavishly-animated detail. If that’s enough to keep you hooked on a game, then I think you’ve got a future with these clanky, kitschy robots.

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