Steambot Chronicles: Battle Tournament is a handheld spin-off of the original Steambot Chronicles that debuted on the PlayStation 2 a couple of years ago. While I haven't played the PS2 title, I hear that it's a far better game than this PSP version that I've been playing for the past week. Battle Tournament keeps in line with most of the play mechanics of the PS2 title, but it's a really linear progression through a series of fetch quests topped off by a number of tournament battles. It's a really, really boring action/RPG hybrid on the portable Sony system.
The game starts off by introducing you to an unnamed main character, and you can choose from a male or female protagonist, but it doesn't cause a noticeable difference in the way the story plays out. From there, you're introduced to your sidekick/mechanic for the rest of the game, and you'll start to take on jobs within the small town that's not nearly as open or large as it seems. Most of the time, you'll go from the job center to certain sections outside of town, but there are only a few areas to explore, and a number of side areas are cordoned off in between jobs. The jobs have a ranking system that's in tune with your tournament ranking, and as you gain more fame by doing jobs, you'll unlock the higher difficulties and eventually move to the next tier in the tournament that's being held within the city.
The thing that really bugs me about Battle Tournament is how basic the combat is. At the beginning, your Trot (mech) comes equipped with two basic arms with which you can pummel opponents by using the Triangle and Square buttons. As you gain money from the jobs, you'll be able to buy new parts and equip the Trot with different arms, and you'll be able to use different weapons. However, far too many of the weapons are melee-based, leading to the same basic and boring combat scenarios for every single battle you'll get into, which involves turbo boosting toward your opponent and tapping the Triangle or Square button over and over until you wipe out the enemy's health bar. That's pretty much the extent of battle in the game, and since a big part of the game is the tournaments you'll be involved in, it's ridiculously boring. You get a few projectile-based weapons, but they hardly seem as effective or quick as using the melee ones, and you take such a small amount of damage even up close to your opponent that there's no reason to bother with ranged fighting in the first place.
The whole "job" system is also pretty boring, so even when you're taking on the tasks, you'll find yourself yawning in no time. Most of the jobs require you to collect something from the outlying areas around the town and bring them back to an inhabitant, but you'll end up carrying back small variations of the same stuff, and there's nothing interesting about taking three different loads of wood to one guy within the first half hour of the game. It doesn't matter that you get to go to three new areas because while the layout of those areas might be different, you're fighting against the same pink mechs over and over again, and they'll do nothing interesting besides standing in one spot and firing their rockets or grenade launchers at you over and over again until you walk up to them and smack them around. So many of the missions end up with the same result, and although missions are the best way to make money, not all of them are required to progress. Usually you need to do enough until an urgent missions pops up, and then once you complete it, you can move on to the next cycle in the tournament. There's still enough of this mundane fetching involved to make the seven hours of playtime feel much longer — and not in a good way.
Finally, what's with the art design for this game? Feel free to take a glance at the box art, and then see if you can find anything within the game that looks remotely as cool as that. Don't even bother to check the box art; there isn't any anime-inspired design here. The hand-drawn characters who pop up within the dialogue scenes look like something an art student would draw for an assignment, but it's hardly fitting of the high-caliber art direction that should be present. The in-game models are better, but the city employs the same drab color scheme throughout all of its sections, and the character models are pretty limited in detail. The mechs, or Trots, are the best thing about the title; their models will change when you upgrade or switch out parts, and they seem to animate pretty well. The only thing about the Trots is that there's little physical indication that you're taking on damage or dishing it out, which tends to suspend disbelief in a game about giant robots smashing against each other with their fists.
The only really interesting thing about Battle Tournament is the upgrade system and the number of different upgrades you can use. Once you earn some of the in-game cash, you can head back to your garage and scroll through a list of available parts to buy. Once you've purchased a few, you can equip them via the same menu, and you'll be able to perform upgrades to existing parts in a number of levels. There are really quite a few pieces of armor and weapons to change out, which is nice to see, but there's little need to make significant changes, and while the game suggests that you check the shop prior to missions in order to outfit your mech accordingly, it's rarely something that you'll actually need to bother with.
All in all, Steambot Chronicles: Battle Tournament is a pretty bland and boring offering from Irem on the PSP, and it's the first big miss I've played from the company in quite a while. Even if you're a fan of the original PS2 title, you're not missing anything by skipping this one. Other than having some knowledge of the first, I can't see a good reason to pick this up or even rent it. It's a really mundane game with not nearly enough going for it, and it's certainly one of worst mech games available for current systems.Score: 4.0/10
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