Release Date: February 20, 2007
You fly through the air, whizzing loudly past a bunch of opposing jets. First place sure feels great — but not for long, because some jerk just fired a heat-seeking missile at you. The rocky cliffs and the heated sand of the desert whirl about you as you roll to avoid certain missile-packed doom. Unfortunately, those cliffs aren't going to move out of your way. You explode in glowing blast of smoke and fire, but that's not the end of you. Time to reclaim first place and win this thing!
That's what a race is like in MACH: Modified Air Combat Heroes. If it sounds exciting to you, that's because it is. There's just one problem, though: try removing the words "fly," "through," "air," "jets," "missile," "roll," and everything about exploding. Now replace all that with "drive," "down," "road," "karts," "blue shell," "swerve," and "drive straight into a wall," respectively. Can you guess what game MACH most resembles? If "Itsa me, Maaaarrriioo!" just echoed through the chambers of your mind, you're on the right track because MACH is very derivative of Mario Kart. Is it as good, though? Well, just read on.
When you start up MACH and get a race going, you'll notice that it's a very pretty game. Racing games always tend to push the PSP to its limits, and this title is no different; the art style is semi-realistic, but it works very well in this instance. Bright, sunny vistas, summery ocean fronts, and iceberg-packed tundras are a few of the areas through which you'll race. It's all very bright and colorful, and even though you'll be speeding through it at 500mph, you'll still notice its beauty.
MACH is an arcade-style racing game, so it can't be hard to control, right? The game controls quite well most of the time, but there are some sticking points. For instance, in order to turn sharply, you have to hold the X and Square buttons while also pushing the d-pad (or analog nub) in the direction you want to turn. Thanks to the PSP's cramped layout, those sharp turns are sometimes quite difficult to pull off. If you want to fire a missile while turning, tap the L button. On top of that, if an opponent's missile is headed your way, you'll need to tap the Circle button to narrowly roll out of its path. The situation I just described is very possible in MACH, so your hands may be contorted into uncomfortable claws before it's all said and done. The only other control of note is the afterburner, which requires you to double tap and then hold the X button for increased speed. Hopefully, you won't do that while making a sharp turn, or else you'll become intimately acquainted with a nearby wall.
MACH has almost no story. The instruction manual says the game is about unemployed fighter pilots competing in underground races because they lost their jobs to robots (I'm not kidding), but apparently that doesn't matter enough for the title to mention it.
MACH has a scant three modes: Arcade, Career, and Challenge. In Arcade mode, a race is a couple of button presses away, but you won't be unlocking anything; it's just quick action.
Career mode is where it's at in MACH. You choose which cup you'll compete in (more are unlocked over time), and then you select your flying, death-dealing jet. As you collect money from winning events, you'll be able to customize your jets, which not even Mario can do. MACH is no Forza, though; you can only choose between a few types of parts, and there's some simple appearance customization, but that's not the focus of the game. Once you hop into the cockpit, races are fast-paced and fun, but a little bit short. In between races, there are aerial dogfights which take place in wide-open levels, and the person with the most kills wins. If you botched a race, a dogfight is a good chance to get back in the running and/or take out your frustrations.
MACH's last mode is Challenge, which varies slightly from the average race or dogfight in that each tier consists of the same five challenges, only in different levels. For instance, MACH Melee places you in an all-out war with other planes (dogfight), but with a laser. In a similar manner, MACH Dash sees you collecting coins as you proceed through an otherwise normal racing level. They can be pretty tough, but they should have been used to add variety to the career mode, rather than being given their own mode.
That brings us to MACH's biggest problem: it's really repetitive. After about a half hour, you'll have experienced most every facet of its gameplay. Fly and shoot is all you'll ever do, and even worse, there are only five levels in which to do it.
Even with each mode I've described, MACH is pretty short. Once you've beaten the career mode and had your fill of the challenges, you're basically done, and there really isn't much lasting appeal of which to speak. There's no online multiplayer, only ad-hoc, and in a game that seems perfect for single-UMD play, it's an afterthought, since one dogfight on one level is all you'll get. Realistically, you'd need eight friends — each with their own PSPs and copies of MACH — to experience everything the multiplayer has to offer.
To answer the initial question, MACH: Modified Air Combat Heroes does not reach Mario Kart's level of quality. It lacks longevity, has some gameplay flaws, and has no personality whatsoever. The jets feel like fast-moving hunks of metal, and you won't care which one you choose, aside from the differing stat bonuses. It's all very disappointing, too, because MACH could have been an excellent arcade racer for the PSP. Instead, it's just a half-baked Mario Kart clone.