• Hardcore Mecha Review - PC Steam

    Rocket Punch were a small Chinese developer with no games under their belt when they launched the Kickstarter for the then-named Code: HARDCORE. Details were scarce, but the kickass art, and the promise of sidescrolling fast-paced giant robot action was enough to draw backers in, including myself. While still under development the game garnered several awards wherever it was shown, and after a change of title due to Japanese copyright laws, delays typical of Kickstarter projects, and Arc System Works picking the game up for release on PS4, Hardcore Mecha finally launched on Steam and PSN worldwide (albeit with slightly different regional dates for the latter).

    And the wait was well worth it. Hardcore Mecha is a quality product that oozes love and passion, not unlike what the now-defunct Dracue Software did with GunHound EX, another robot-based sidescroller.

    But where GunHound EX was a clear love letter to Masaya's Assault Suit series, Hardcore Mecha mixes elements of those games (like the weight of your robot and the inertia of its thrusters) with a leaner, faster-paced structure, in somewhat more linear levels. Hardcore Mecha's single player mode is a decently long campaign mode where players take the role of Tarethur, a mercenary tasked to stop the terrorist organisation, Steel Daw, in taking over Mars. The story is told by the standard portraits talking and, more importantly, by animated cutscenes using in-game sprites. Decidedly anime in nature, Hardcore Mecha's narrative is nothing to be amazed at and merely used to string together stages. In turn, the stages are awesome, and Hardcore Mecha clearly gets action videogame storytelling right by giving players an active part in the events.

    Using in-game sprites for cutscenes is an excellent choice because the mecha design and the details every single vehicle has been infused with are a spectacle to behold. As all mechas are available for multiplayer mode, every single one of them, even the most basic enemy grunt, has been lovingly drawn and animated. More complex mechas piloted by named characters like Tarethur's Thunderbolt are a notch above the rest, but all robots and vehicles in Hardcore Mecha are cool.

    Stages start off in a linear fashion, with maybe one easily accessible secondary objective. As the game goes on, they do however become more elaborate, with stage traps, secret areas, and other rewards. Exploration never takes over the combat and traps never go overboard; everything flows perfectly in a steady and well-crafted increase in difficulty.

    Hardcore Mecha doesn't shy away from shaking the formula up a bit. In a few sections you can abandon your mecha to go around on foot, and unfortunately one mission is almost completely on foot and features stealth elements. That mission is the low point of the game, because at times you need to be very precise with your inputs and controls aren't really suitable for delicate inching around vision cones. But after that the game is back in full force with mecha-on-mecha battle, and the twists do not end there. Getting back to Masaya's Assault Suit series and Dracue's GunHound EX, Hardcore Mecha leaves them in the dust in terms of pure excitement when you get to mission six. And that's about as much spoiler as you get.

    Controls work well, although it might take a bit to get fully used to them. The left analogue stick controls movement and aim, with face buttons dedicated to the main weapon, close range attacks, and jumping. Dashing, blocking, and secondary weapons are assigned to the shoulder buttons. There are two control schemes available that move buttons around, but in the current build, no chance to fully customise them. The dash/jump mechanic is probably the single control element that will take the most to get used to; the jump is short and most obstacles must be cleared with the dash, which is much faster and with more inertia. When jumping or dashing the mecha is effectively flying, and the left analogue stick also controls movement direction. Once the dash has been mastered however, you'll gracefully fly around the stage, avoiding enemy bullets, landing for a short while to score a couple of hits, recharge thrusters, and then it's back to the skies.

    In the single player campaign Tarethur will gain levels, which in turn will open customisation options. All levels include one hidden secondary weapon blueprint. The Thunderbolt in the campaign is a versatile design, and while it's possible to increase its close-range effectiveness, the focus will always be skewed towards long to medium range firepower. Some support items are a bit useless, like the Tailing Drone or the Smart Missile, while fast-firing secondary weapons are quickly eclipsed by Thunderbolt's standard rifle. Hard hitting weapons, on the other hand, are usually held in reserve for use against bosses.

    Combat is fast, but fits well with the control scheme and the weight of the mechas. A few levels have enemy fountains, some of them with stage hazards, and those are the most chaotic of battles. Boss battles are epic, although most of them don't have a lot of attack patterns and usually the larger the boss is, the less entertaining the fight is. Hardcore Mecha is at its best when fighting robots of the same size; those encounters are intense and they completely draw players in, while larger bosses tend to be slower and have a bit too much health.

    Multiplayer is playable, but far from perfect. It might take a while to find other players, and the net-code does require some improvement. Multiplayer is where you can pilot every single mecha in the game, and while balancing still requires some tuning, it's great fun and a perfect companion to the single player campaign. Skins and special weapons unlock the more time that is spent in this mode, so despite the lack of polish (compared to the single player campaign), multiplayer is far from being something thrown in at the last second.

    Hardcore Mecha is completely in 2D, so medium-power PCs will be able to run it without a hitch. The game is stable, with no critical bugs to report. Rocket Punch is still working on the game though, delivering quality-of-life improvements, bug fixes, and even a new arcade mode (sadly still not available at the time of writing). If there's something Rocket Punch have to improve is the English translation, being very janky in certain places and with questionable choices (like jet thrusters referred to as "propellers"). The translation does reduce the overall enjoyment a bit, mostly because it requires an extra second or two to fully understand what developers meant.

    Hardcore Mecha speaks directly to fans of Masaya games and giant robots. It's a quality game that well deserves to be played through and through, and shines brightly among sidescrollers, reaching or even surpassing productions of more experienced teams.