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Cyber Troopers Virtual-On Marz: How Fighting Game Mechanics Make a Horrible Story Mode

For the fifth game I’ve beaten this year, I wanted to keep the Mech trend going and realized that I owned Virtual-On Marz for the Playstation 2.  Virtual-On was a fighting game franchise that started in the arcades, however unlike most fighting games the thing that made Virtual-On stand out was that you sat down in a cockpit and controlled the mech using two flight sticks. Virtual-On was a novel game that made you feel like you were piloting a mech from your favorite mech anime. Against another player, Virtual-On was always fun as each mech was unique with their own attacks and special attacks as amazing upbeat songs played.

The developer Hitmaker accomplished bringing the Virtual-On experience to the Playstation 2. Hitmaker even went so far as to not only provide multiple control layouts for people who never played the arcade game but also re-created the twin stick control experience using the analogue sticks and the shoulder buttons. The soundtrack also comes with songs that fit the arcade game.

However, this is where the praise of Virtual-On Marz stops because Virtual-On Marz comes with a story mode called Dramatic Mode. It is always unique when fighting games include a story mode and I had an expectation that the story mode involved picking a mech fighting each of the mechs that exist in the franchise with a brutal boss fight at the end. Dramatic mode has you play as part of the police force known as MARZ who oversees bringing order from corrupt organizations on the planet of Mars. What starts as being a beat cop explodes where you travel the galaxy uncovering a conspiracy.

What makes Dramatic mode so painful to play is that they took what should have been a simple fighting game and made an overly complex game mode that shows the flaws of Virtual-On as a fighting game against computer opponents.

The gameplay and controls provide the Virtual-On experience and that is great when you are playing against a friend. However, playing through a 12+ hour long story mode only reveals how poor Virtual-On works against computer opponents. One of the big issues is how immobile you are in fights. While you can move forward, back, left, and right without an issue, rotating is incredibly slow that even trying to turn will result in being an open target to the computer’s precise movements. 

Another issue is the targeting and camera. Virtual-On Marz relies on an auto lock system, where if you are facing your enemy you will fire where they are. The flaw of this auto lock system is that the camera does not keep you facing your opponent. To face your opponent, you either must jump, dash and attack, or rotate the camera manually. This makes combat incredibly difficult against the computer as they are constantly mobile and able to turn and attack on a dime.

Finally, there are repair disks that you can use to heal yourself during missions. The problem however is that repair disks are either found in item boxes during missions or dropped by enemy mechs and the drop rate from mechs is extremely rare. Meaning you can find yourself up against a mission or boss with zero repair disks which means is that you’ll have to load an earlier save (if you made multiple saves) or the worst-case scenario being that you must start the story mode from the beginning.

These flaws are what makes playing through Virtual-On Marz’s Dramatic mode a painful experience that the amateur story and voice acting cannot make up for. While most of the gameplay involve fighting other mechs, Dramatic mode decided to go in another direction by having each stage be a mission. Missions can be simple and fair just fighting a single opponent to crushingly difficult that I would like to share with you.

Two of the most brutally difficult missions are escort missions. The first escort mission has you defending multiple caravans against two mechs. However, since these are AI they will aim directly for the caravan and while you can destroy the first two mechs, other mechs will be instantly replaced. You are fighting an infinite number of enemies that directly aim for the caravan that if destroyed result in failing the mission. It was a miracle that I was able to beat that mission. What was more difficult was the second escort mission but instead of protecting the caravans, I had to destroy the caravans that were being escorted by the computer. So not only did I have to fight an infinite number of enemies, but I also had to destroy the caravans. With a broken targeting system, poor camera controls, and being outnumbered beating that mission was an exercise in pain.

What makes Dramatic mode even more horribly designed shift from missions to a race against time trying to acquire fragments to access the final fortress. You select an area, go through a gauntlet of missions and if you make it to the final mission you fight either a team of mechs or a boss that you have previously beaten. If you win there is chance that you get a fragment. It is complete RNG. If the corruption gets to 100% it is game over. If you somehow make it to the final fortress then you better hope you have some repair disks because the final fortress throws in the worst thing any fighting game could throw at you, platforming.

In the final fortress you are not only doing another gauntlet but fighting even more bosses as well as platforming where if you fall off, you are going to take damage from the electrified floor. Where once again, if you find yourself going into the final battle with no repair disks you better hope you have an earlier save file.

Virtual-On Marz’s Dramatic mode is a mode that you should never play. Virtual-On is a novel arcade fighting game where you have the most fun playing against friends or other players. Mechanically the game has not aged well and shows flaw after flaw that works in an arcade setting but not as a single player story mode.

If you would like to watch the streams you can watch here.

Part 1 – https://www.twitch.tv/videos/865600196

Part 2 – https://www.twitch.tv/videos/869332089

Part 3 – https://www.twitch.tv/videos/870617577

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Strike Suit Zero Director’s Cut: Amazing Dogfights, Destructive Mech

For the fourth game beaten this year, I wanted to continue playing games that involved mechs. However unlike most mech games being a third person shooter, Strike Suit Zero stands out by being a space flight simulator where your jet transforms into a mech like in anime series Robotech/Macross.

Strike Suit Zero is a kickstarter game developed by Born Ready where you play as a soldier in the middle of a war between the Earth from the Colonial army. To turn the tide of the war and save the Earth, you end up piloting the Strike Suit, a ship with the capability of transforming into a mech.

If you’re familiar with flight sim games like the Ace Combat series, you know what you’re getting into. Each mission will have a series of objectives for you to complete usually defending or destroying a target as you engage in multiple dog fights and battle against massive battleships. The thrill of flying and fighting in space doing barrel rolls, evading missiles, and being able to turn the tide of each mission is what makes flight sim games enjoyable and Strike Suit Zero certainly delivers. However, there are two parts of the game that makes playing Strike Suit Zero hard to get into and enjoy. The default controls and the targeting system.

First, the default controls. My personal experience with the game was using a controller, not a flight stick or mouse and keyboard. The big issue I had that made Strike Suit Zero hard to play was flying the ship. Born Ready made the design choice where in order to fly your ship in flight mode the left analogue stick controlled rolling while the right analogue stick controlled the yaw (moving left and right). As a result, if you wanted to move around, you would have to use both analogue sticks at the same time. While you could move around using the right analogue stick, the flaw of this setup meant that you were using your right hand to fly, select targets, transform, and fire your weapons. My recommendation is to fix this by switching the yaw to the left analogue stick and the roll to the right analogue stick. Thankfully since you don’t have to worry about crashing too much since you’re in space, you rarely have to roll.

The other gripe I have with Strike Suit is the targeting system. In Strike Suit Zero you have two buttons for targeting. The objective and a visual targeting button. However the flaw with both of these is that neither of them focus on the closest target. Half of the time I’m given a target that is on the other side of the battlefield requiring to spend multiple attempts just to target something closer so you can focus on that enemy. The other issue of targetting is the capital ships. However, targeting capital ships was handled in the worst way possible. The objective targetting system will target the capital ship itself, but to destroy the capital ships there are weak points that the targeting system completely ignores. I should also mention that for some strange reason the only way to target the weapons on the capital ships can only be done in flight mode using the visual targeting button. Thankfully, for the majority of the game you’ll be in dog fights or focused on destroying the weapons on captial ships and not the capital ships themselves.

Outside of those personal issues, Strike Suit Zero is a fun space flight game where they balance between flight mode and strike suit mode. While dogfighting in flight mode is fun there are so many enemies that in order to turn the tide of battle you’ll want to use the strike suit mode. Strike Suit mode is extremely powerful as you’ll have unlimited ammo, auto targetting, and piloting the strike suit turns into a third person action game. However, your ability to stay in strike suit mode is determined by how often you use your weapons and how many enemies you destroy. As the highlight of the game, strike suit mode does an amazing job of making you feel like an ace pilot as you take on entire fleets of enemies by yourself as it is something you earn by improving as a pilot.

Graphically the game looks great as the expanse of space looking at the planets, moons and nebula is breathtaking and while the ship designs are simple they each stand out. The strange part of the game was the choice of music. The songs themselves aren’t bad but is an odd choice as you listen to mantras as you engage in dogfights.

Beating the game took me about seven hours but there is plenty more to do post game as completing challenges will make your ships stronger and the director’s cut has a second short campaign of simulation battles. I had a lot of fun with Strike Suit Zero enjoying its short and self contained gameplay and story. Something to try out if its been a long time since you’ve played a flight sim game.

Watch the playthrough here

https://www.twitch.tv/videos/864441202

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Assault Gunners HD Edition: Simple Mech Games are Fun

For the third game I’ve beaten in 2021, it was at this point where I decided to just beat all the mech games in my backlog. What I do remember about this game was that I couldn’t even play this game as the game would not detect my controller. Thankfully the game has been patched and now works. What I’ve discovered about Assault Gunners HD Edition is that you’ll find a simple third person shooter, simple customization, simple squad AI, and simple bosses.

The story of Assault Gunners HD has you as part of a mercenary group called DATS to help with keep the peace with terraforming Mars. After a few training missions, you’re quickly thrown into the thick as the robotic AI called ANTS are revolting putting the population of Mars at risk. Your mission is to destroy ANTS and discover who is behind making the AI act this way. The entire story is delivered before and after missions with scrolling text so don’t expect to develop any sort of connection. The story does the job to carry you from mission to mission and that’s about it.

The missions you’ll get are straightforward as well capture point, destroy all enemies or reach a destination in a time limit. The latter being the most difficult compared to the other mission types. You will fight hordes of enemies and as long as you stick together with your squad the ANTS are easily destroyed. Thankfully enemies drop plenty of ammo, shield health, health, weapon plans, and discovery points.

When I say this is a simple third person shooter, this is about as basic as you get in terms of gameplay and controls. All your face buttons are dedicated to selecting the weapons you bring into each mission and the shoulder buttons are set for firing and dashing/jumping. While the game doesn’t have auto aim like Armored Core or Metal Wolf Chaos, you have a reticle on screen making it easy to know if you’re going to hit an enemy with your firearm.

However, it wouldn’t be a mech game without customization and that is where if you’re a fan of mech games that you’ll get a nice variety of parts and weapons. Parts and weapons are unlocked as you pick up plans through each mission and while weapons are given to you, you’ll need to buy the parts using discovery points. Parts are divided between upper and lower and support your standard fare of mechs bi-pedal, reverse joint, hover, and tank. However, you’ll also need to level up your parts to gain more health, defense, and mobility. All of which make a notable difference to your and your squad’s performance in combat.

What makes Assault Gunners HD stand out is that for a single player game, you can bring in three additional AI into each mission. You can design each AI unit parts and weapons. On top of designing their mech you are also able to assign the AI (and yourself) one of four roles: Attacker, Heavy Gunner, Blocker, and Supporter. Each role slightly buffs improves your stats only to accommodate your preferred playstyle. During missions you’re able to command the AI to attack, defend, standby and hold using the D-pad. I enjoyed having the AI as their stats will reflect what weapons you give them and the health they have based on the parts you equip them with. The AI are extremely effective in combat but if you want more of a challenge, you can decide to fly solo.

Assault Gunners HD is a nice short game that took me about four hours to beat. If you’ve never played a mech game before and don’t want to feel overwhelmed with customization options this is a nice simple entry point.

Watch the playthrough here.

https://www.twitch.tv/videos/863175648

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Metal Wolf Chaos XD: Believe in Your Own Justice

If you would ask me what are the only two games that the developer From Software makes it would be Dark Souls and Armored Core. While most people know From Software for making Dark Souls games starting with King’s Field to now having a remastered version of Demon’s Souls. The same could be said about Armored Core games even though that is the lesser known franchise today. However, one of least likely of the mech games that From Software developed has gotten a remaster as it was the one of the few games they developed for the original Xbox as well known as Metal Wolf Chaos.

Metal Wolf Chaos XD put simply is just an upscaled version of the original Metal Wolf Chaos. There are no added game modes or any extras bells and whistles. Nor does this game have the standard in depth customization that is traditionally offered in an Armored Core game where you get to design your mech from top to bottom. What makes Metal Wolf Chaos XD enjoyable to play is how cheesy and corny the story is. If you are a fan of B-movies then you’re in for a treat with the most over the top voice acting that will remind you of watching Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

You play as Michael Wilson, the 47th President of the United States that just suffered a coup by his Vice President Richard Hawk. Your mission as the President is to take your mech, known as Metal Wolf, to take back the United States by liberating the nation from sea to shining sea and there is no better way to liberate the United States than by blowing up everyone and everything trying to stop you.

The gameplay of Metal Wolf Chaos is a mission based third person shooter. Each stage you will have a main objective that you will need to complete usually consisting of destroying buildings or other mechs. In each stage you’ll have the option to fulfill side objectives by liberating prisoners or finding energy pods which will result in unlocking new songs and make Metal Wolf more durable.

While you won’t be able to design the parts of Metal Wolf, like Armored Core, you’ll be able to spend your resources to research and build a wide variety of weapons to customize how you want to liberate the nation. Handguns, Machine Guns, Rocket Launchers, Missile launchers and more is at your disposal as you get to bring a maximum of eight weapons into a mission. While you can only use two at a time, you’re able to swap through your weapons on the fly. However, swapping between weapons is cumbersome. There is no quick select to access any weapons. You press the swap weapons button and then you are left scrolling through a list of all the weapons you brought into the mission. When you’re in the middle of a fire fight, having to switch weapons on the fly can result in blowing up prisoners as you fumble picking the wrong weapons.

In terms of difficulty, Metal Wolf Chaos XD is overall straight forward and simple. Some missions will take a bit of trial and error deciding which weapons are the best to use and what objectives or enemies you should focus on first. However, where Metal Wolf Chaos XD difficulty ramps up to an unfair degree is the final boss. Beating the final boss was an exercise in pain that the only way I was able to beat the final boss was being as cheesy as the voice acting to win.

Metal Wolf Chaos XD is a corny, cheesy and simple game to enjoy. The game is self-contained and can be beaten in an afternoon. If you wanted to try out one of From Software’s strangest mech games then you should try out Metal Wolf Chaos XD.

If you would like to see my playthrough, the VODs are available on Twitch.

https://www.twitch.tv/videos/858490122