Steambot Chronicles: Battle Tournament
Steambot Chronicles is something of an antithesis to the standard open-world style of gameplay. Instead of over-the-top violence or hard-edged criminals taking center stage, the game was populated with cheerful, airy characters, coffee shops, Victorian architecture, and a relaxed, carefree attitude to completing missions. Of course, it wasn’t totally passive: robot fighting was still the name of the game at the end of the day (albeit, clunky steam-powered robots). Steambot Chronicles: Battle Tournament is an adventure squeezed down for the PSP, stripping Steambot Chronicles somewhat of its leisurely atmosphere.
“Perhaps the most intriguing aspect is the 4-person multiplayer, which can be shared with three friends who don’t even have the Battle Tournament UMD.”Still, the prospect of steampunk mechs bashing each other to bits is always exciting. Battle Tournament suffers somewhat from the PSP’s lack of a second analog stick, leaving the camera in the hands of the computer – not a grand idea, as it tends to get stuck on things – and dividing the controls between the handheld’s limited number of buttons. It takes a while to get used to, but soon, operating the mechs becomes second nature. Each arm is controlled independently, allowing for some interesting battle strategies depending on what the player welds onto their Trotmobile. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect is the 4-person multiplayer, which can be shared with three friends who don’t even have the Battle Tournament UMD. Similar to many DS games, one person can share the fun, although the experience is best with a proper version of the game. Still, being able to give people a taste of the game is a brilliant option.
“Expect plenty of humorous dialog options, ranging from rude to self-referential.”Fighting takes up a large amount of playtime, unlike the game’s console predecessor. Side missions and main quests both spend a lot of time in arena battles. In fact, the central story element in Battle Tournament is literally your character waking up from a dream in a decrepit Trotmobile and declaring they want to be the best fighter in town. It sounds silly, but thankfully, Steambot Chronicles has never been one to take itself seriously. Expect plenty of humorous dialog options, ranging from rude to self-referential. While the conversations don’t carry as much weight as they did in the PS2 game – the large dialog trees are mostly for fluff in Battle Tournament – they’re still a lot of fun to explore, especially given the colorful array of characters there are to meet.
“Like an adorable version of Armored Core, players can sculpt their fighting machine any way they see fit. “While the game is a lot more focused than fans of Steambot Chronicles may expect, there is still a great deal of room to customize in this sequel. Reaching the ultimate goal of Trotmobile champion fighter is no easy task, and requires a lot of robot pimping. Like an adorable version of Armored Core, players can sculpt their fighting machine any way they see fit. Of course, this costs a lot of money, which means doing lots of side quests to keep the wallet fat. The cycle of missions and garage visits are spared from creeping tedium thanks to the amusing presentation and variety in Trotmobile parts. Still, there’s no denying the scope of things to do has been dialed down.
Unfortunately, the graphics have suffered a similar fate. On the PS2, Steambot Chronicles was quite an attractive game; not so on the PSP. While the characters and Trotmobiles look fairly decent, the environments in Battle Tournament are bland, flat, and filled with muddy texture work. Robot fights are well animated, though, and the colors pop well enough to keep them from becoming confusing. It’s a little odd that the characters and mechs are so well defined, yet the world is so dull and ugly – it almost feels like they’re in the wrong game. However, while the presentation is hardly pretty, it’s certainly not lazy: the game is filled with lush character portraits, much of the dialog is voice acted, and the music is nothing short of toe-tapping. It’s just a shame the graphics didn’t get a good once-over.
Battle Tournament takes the Steambot Chronicles franchise in an odd direction, considering it’s the first sequel the game has spawned. The original was something of a cult classic, thanks to its rambling gameplay; this sequel has more drive and more action. The question is: is that what fans wanted? Only time will tell. Battle Tournament may lack some of the charm that made the old game so loved, but it’s a decent action adventure in its own right. Whether or not fans of the PS2 game will embrace it remains to be seen.