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Robotech: Battlecry

My love affair with Robotech is kept strictly with the remarkable animated series, and to a lesser extent, the books and Comico comics to jump off from the show. Sadly, videogames have never been the franchise’s strong suit, and more or less, that trend continues with Battlecry.

A quick explanation of the Robotech phenomenon is in order for the uninformed. Basically, three separate anime series were made in Japan and Carl Macek, visionary or hack (the distinction varies from Robotech fans to anime purists), decided to slap the three together so they could get on television as one complete series in North America.

The result was Robotech, and the three “sagas” as dubbed by Macek were: The Macross Saga, Robotech Masters, and The New Generation. The thread used to tie the three plotlines together was Protoculture, a mysterious energy source used to power the mecha (battle technology) that was the driving force behind all three wars.

Most Robotech games to date have drawn from the longest and most popular of the three sagas, and that’s Macross. That story features hot shot pilots flying planes patterned after F-14 Tomcats, only the planes in Macross (called Veritechs) are able to transform into a robot-like configuration (Battloid mode), and a third configuration that looks to be halfway between the other two (Guardian mode).

Amazingly, there hasn’t been a great Macross game, despite the plethora of titles released across all sorts of platforms. The best two are probably 2036 for the ultra-obscure PC Engine Super CD system, and Scrambled Valkryie for the Super Famicom—both side-scrolling shooters. Now that developers seem to be getting 3D action properly under control, Battlecry had a lot of potential.

Unfortunately, casual action gamers and hardcore fans alike will be disappointed with this newest effort. Things start off invitingly enough, with powerful renditions of the excellent music from the show greeting you enthusiastically from the title screen out. The pretty cel-shaded character graphics too, are in keeping with the authentic, polished tone of the tunes. What better way to pull off a cartoon game than with cartoon styled visuals?

When the promising intro comes to a close, you’ll select your pilot, the heralded no-name ace, Jack. Fans, I know what you’re thinking: Who the hell? Don’t ask me—I suppose Rick Hunter and Max Sterling were busy. Anyway, the missions start off well from a conceptual standpoint, drawing directly from episodes of the cartoon, like Boobytrap, and so on. You’ll alternate between doing battle in outer space versus massive warships escorted by Zentraedi (the big, bad guys)-piloted battlepods; and fighting on, or closer to, the ground versus more battlepods, as well as armoured Zentraedi on foot.

Getting a handle on your powerful Veritech fighter won’t take you too long. If you choose to go the Practice route first, you’ll whip through it in no time and be armed with the impression that you can do anything with this impressive hulk of polished Robotechnology. But once you’re in the thick of the real missions, you’ll find the Veritech to be clumsy and inadequate. You can’t imagine how disheartening it was for me to get a kick out of the intro, then excitedly put the Veritech through its paces in the practice, only to find that in proper application, the feel of each of the mecha’s three modes is severely wanting.

The plane missions seem absolutely static, despite the movement going on all around you. Zentraedi craft will dart this way and that, targeting your ship. All the while, you’ll sit there, Afterburner style, pulling off barrel rolls and loops, but never quite escaping the feeling that you’re attached to the midpoint of the screen and running there on rails. It’s not at all exhilarating, and it should be. It’s actually more efficient most times to preclude on using your boosters, and just bank left and right at a slow hover, firing salvo after salvo of missiles at enemies that outclass you in maneuverability if not at all in intelligence.

The missions suited for your Battloid could have provided some real ‘giant robot in the urban jungle’ type thrills, but the results are underwhelming. The Battloid doesn’t have access to the coolest weapons in the game—your lock-on missiles, so you’ll have to make do with what is a decidedly underpowered cannon. There is zero oomph in each round you let off at the enemies that stalk you between buildings, and this led me to transform to Guardian mode, because it’s got the missiles, and should have much of the agility of the Battloid.

But it doesn’t. The Guardian is all over the place, overshooting intended landing spots on the regular. Enemies right in front of you and slightly below you, will be overshot badly, and an unacceptable turning arc is necessary to bring your ship, which now seems like a beached aircraft carrier, around. Nosing down to descend to the level of your enemies is equally clumsy. It’s possible to get torn to shreds before you manage to get once missed enemies back in your targeting reticle.

Battlecry too, is a missed opportunity. The hardware was there to make the Robotech game fans have been lusting after—certainly aspects of the presentation are stellar. But even with the sights and sounds there are problems. The characters look great, but the backgrounds are wholly uninspiring and bland. The soundtrack is pompous, but could have done with more variety; there are more tracks in the Robotech sound catalog than what was used here.

This lack of polish could be forgiven in a game with tight gameplay, but that’s not Battlecry. Your Veritech feels wimpy and clunky in every mode. Fans will enjoy the transformations, the excitement of loosing a ton of those swarming missiles we loved to see engulf alien foes in the show, the look of the mecha, and the tunes that are present. But really, you can get all that in the intro, without ever having to pick up the controller. And that’s hardly game enough.

4 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in September 2003.

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