Review: Steambot Chronicles: Battle Tournament (Sony PSP)

Steambot Chronicles: Battle Tournament
Genre: Sandbox/Action
Developer: Irem
Publisher: Atlus
Release Date: 06/30/2009

Ah, Irem, it’s good to see you again. Through my childhood, I could always count on the company to bring me crazy games like Kid Niki: Radical Ninja or proven classics such as Kung-Fu Master and R-Type. In the current day, while the company doesn’t release quite as many games as it did in its heyday, titles such as Hammerin’ Hero make their way to the U.S. and, thankfully, Atlus is giving the Bumpy Trot series another chance stateside with Steambot Chonicles: Battle Tournament.

In actuality, there isn’t a lot of meaty story bits behind the title – a young Trotmobile driver (male or female based on the player’s choosing) arrives at Orion City via a boat with ambitions of winning the popular Trot tournaments held at the city’s coliseum. There’s very little substance to your character, so most of the charm comes from the citizens of the city, such as the mechanic Venus, whom you meet during the game’s tutorial. Many of the city’s citizens are fairly bubbly and are more than happy to talk to you about current events and what makes Trots tick, and while there are a few bits of contextual story that arise from the various missions the player embarks on, there is very little more to the concept of the game other than your character wanting to be the very best (… like no one ever was …) in the sport of Trot battles.

The game’s setup has players tackling this single-player story mode for the most part, however, there are a few extra bits of multiplayer sprinkled into the mix. The mode allows for up to four players to jump into free-for-all melees for players that want to take a break from the sandbox roaming and missions of the single-player mode. Surprisingly, the title allows up to three other PSP owners to mooch data off one UMD, making the multiplayer a bit more accessible to others, even though not as many options become available through this method. However, if each player has their own UMD, they can jump into matches with their own personal specialized Trots and partake in more options. While the multiplayer bits don’t add a significant dimension to the game’s modes, it is nice offering, especially considering the fact the title actually uses the single-UMD feature.

Visually, the game looks very appealing, mostly thanks to its unique styling and environments. While the Trots and their respective pilots give the game a steampunk vibe, much of the architecture and appearances of the townsfolk sport looks that would be prevalent in the nineteenth century. The future-classic clash is handled very well, though, as nothing really looks out of place. Players will most likely spend most of their time in the Orion City hub, where these classic buildings and townfolk lie, but outside of the town, players are able to navigate lush forests, mining colonies, a number of different battle arenas, snowfields and more. Everything is modeled in a cell-shaded style, popping out much of Steambot’s anime-styled influences and, overall, the game is easy on the eyes. However, there are a few draw distance uses, which has some of the characters, especially in town, appear to not be there until they pop in as you approach. Furthermore, just like many other anime-styled games, players will spend a large amount of time viewing static images of the character’s top portions. A little more animation to the characters or perhaps a few more emotions could have added a little bit more variety to the game’s presentation, but, regardless, even with what you get, there is still plenty of charm in Steambot.

The voice acting carries most of the weight in the sound department and, thankfully, it’s handled fairly well. Voiceovers will accompany any dialog that will potentially further your “story” and the samples ring through the PSP speakers very clearly. A little bit of attention went into the music as well, providing different tunes based on what time of the day it is in the game. The title’s sound effects are just as you would expect as well, with typical mech hydraulics, gunfire, metal-on-metal punching and explosions that are akin to other titles in the genre. Steambot is one of those titles that will make you realize that your PSP has speakers, as you’ll want to experience the audio the title has to offer.

Given the PSP’s layout, 3D games can potentially be a mess to control, but, thankfully, it is rather easy to adjust to the scheme of Steambot. As I played the title, I got the vibe I received when I first played Mega Man Legends, if I were to compare it to another title – the manipulation of strafing and turning might seem a bit awkward to some players at first, but after the tutorial and a bit of navigation, players should be tackling the Trot controls like they are second nature. The analog stick controls the player’s strafing while the shoulder buttons swing the camera in the appropriate direction, the square and triangle buttons naturally execute the action mapped to the left and right arms of your Trot, and the X and circle buttons are used to boost and jump. There are, however, controls mapped to the directional pad, such as auto targeting and picking up and throwing items, that seem a little out of place, but as players adjust to the controls, they become less of a nuisance.

When a player gets into the heat of action, the controls operate just as described above, leaving very few surprises once players encounter enemies. There are a surprising number of ways to dispatch your enemies, though, using the standard techniques. Players can launch melee combos or attack with firearms from a longer range, a dash straight into an enemy knocks them down, Trots can pick up other Trots to launch them at other enemies or toss them straight up for juggling attacks, and other special techniques become available through the game, but the real treat in battle is what is done before players even step up to an opponent.

Easily the game’s biggest appeal is in its rich customization of the Trots, ranging from its frame to its weapons to its appearance. At your town garage, players can purchase and customize parts, starting with the Trot’s frame and legs, which serve as the foundation for how much weight the Trot can support. While the frame has a very forward progression due to the need to become stronger throughout the game, how players equip themselves from there is entirely up to them. The main hook of the customization is in being able to form any combination of weapons on the Trot’s two arms – players can equip deadly melee weapons and long-range guns on both arms or mix them up to have one of each. There are also other options that are merely for aesthetic purposes, but not only can players customize colors, but they can also use a tool to create their very own custom emblems. While the lack of online connectivity doesn’t allow players to share these or show them off in online competition, artistic players should be able to kill a lot of time in crafting some sprite work to show off their creations.

The depth of customization should satisfy any management nut, as, due to the weight system, your combination of parts really does effect the game play. Heavy, powerful Trots will trudge about slowly and have very ineffective boosting and jumping, while lighter mechs will showcase an inverse performance. Weapons also have durability, as using them either slightly wears the appendage or depletes ammunition, so proper planning is necessary for attacking on top of managing the Trot’s hit points and fuel. Players may also need certain parts to complete some of the missions, so there is quite a bit to mess with in the garage. The customization and testing can be as equally intriguing as the rest of the game and while the aspect might not be nearly as deep as games such as Armored Core, it still creates a more accessible and easy to use game.

With the battling and customization aside, however, some of the sandbox elements leave a bit to be desired and could really turn some players away from the title. While the tournaments are the story focus of the title, each tournament requires a set amount of fame and cash to enter. Seeing as your character pretty much only owns a Trot and a the clothes on his or her back, this means players will frequently be visiting the in-town employment office to garner these requirements. While these tasks get players out into the various environments, they become repetitive extremely fast and any one of them can be summed up as follows – select a job, speak to the person who placed the job, retrieve desired item, return to said person, return to the office for payment. Even among my first handful of jobs, I was sent to the exact same task of fetching lumber three times. There are only so many times when you can handle your own wood before you want someone else to take care of it. While you can free-roam the wilderness, it doesn’t exactly progress the story as fast, meaning a large chunk of a player’s time will be spent on fetch quests through a handful of environments where the same enemies spawn in the same exact spots. This aspect didn’t bother me too much, but it really made marathon sessions of the title hard to swallow.

Seeing as this is a portable title, however, tackling a mission or two can lead to a satisfying 15-20 minute session. If you can get into the customization and collecting of parts, there is a lot to keep coming back for, but with the tediousness of the missions, it is pretty easy to want to set the PSP down after a bit of time. There is a good chunk of content to see in Steambot if players can march through the stale sandbox elements of the title, and it serves as a good entry into your PSP library if you’re into mechs, customization and adventure.

The Scores
Graphics: VERY GOOD
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: VERY GOOD
Balance: DECENT
Addictiveness: POOR
Appeal Factor: VERY GOOD
Miscellaneous: ENJOYABLE
The Final Rating: ENJOYABLE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Steambot Chronicles: Battle Tournament is a nice niche title for PSP owners looking for a different type of adventure. If you can stomach the repetitive sandbox fetching in order to get to the meat of the coliseum battles, it’s easy to recommend this one, especially for those who enjoy customizing with a variety of parts. The title looks and sounds good overall and there’s even some multiplayer options to boot. The repetitive nature of the game will really turn away a good chunk of gamers, but if you can ride it out, you’ll find a satisfying adventure in Steambot.



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