Mecho Wars Review—Like Advance Wars on Something Besides Just a Handheld
When Oyaji Games announced Mecho Wars for Minis a couple of years ago, it really caught my eye due to the nature of its gameplay (basically an Advance Wars clone) and the unusual style of the artwork. Apparently it was finished a long while ago (the iOS version came out in 2009), but for whatever reason, it didn’t finally come out until just now, published by Creat Studios (who, despite the name, mostly seem to be a publisher of Minis these days).
As mentioned, Mecho Wars is an Advance Wars clone, the long running and popular turn-based strategy game mostly found on Nintendo handhelds. To be fair, though, Advance Wars really only popularized the genre among console (or handheld) owners; the basic gameplay really dates back to Empire, which has spawned dozens, if not hundreds, of games over the last 35 years, including a Mini, History Egypt, and even a full-blown PSP game from Sony itself, Field Commander.
Still, the colorful graphics and presentation pretty much scream Advance Wars, and when you see the maps, it’s hard to think of anything else. But that impression alters once you start playing and see the units and cutscenes. While the gameplay might be familiar, Mecho Wars has a style all its own. It’s hard to describe the style, to be honest. It reminds me vaguely of the artwork from Ralph Bakshi’s classic animated movie Wizards.
If you aren’t familiar with the gameplay in Advance Wars and games of its ilk like Mecho Wars, it’s fairly simple. You and an opponent take turns moving units around a small 2D map, trying to destroy each other’s units and capture cities and factories, which let you produce more units. The cities provide gold every turn which is used to buy the units, and the units must be constructed at a factory.
These units come in several different types: infantry, tanks, artillery, air, and even ships. They all have different strengths and weaknesses and generally use a rock-paper-scissors model for combat. That is, certain types are very good at destroying a certain other type but, in turn, are weak against a different category.
What makes Mecho Wars different from Advance Wars is the sides of the conflict. On one side is the Winged Crusade. On the other, the Landians. Instead of using simply named units like Infantry or Heavy Tank or Artillery, you have names like Elpho, Birdie, and Bob. They mostly play the same, but it feels somewhat different.
There are three main modes to the game: Single Player, Multiplayer, and Challenge. Single Player is a campaign—you play one scenario, win, then play another, with little cutscenes in between. You can go back and replay any ones you’ve beaten. Challenge lets you pick a map and victory conditions.
Multiplayer works basically the same as Challenge, except you play against another person by handing the PSP to them rather than the AI playing the other side. Or if you want a real mental test, you can try to beat yourself.
One very nice thing is that it will keep track and save the game in each mode separately. While there isn’t anything like achievements or unlockables (other than stages in the campaign), there is a lot of content to be found, and strategy games like this have almost limitless replay value.
The graphics are very nicely done, vibrant and detailed. The animations for the battles are lively and, most importantly since you can’t turn them off, short. The music is excellent, perhaps some of the best I’ve heard in a Mini, almost like a musical score from an epic movie.
Technically, the game runs very well—no loading times during play, nor really any while transitioning from gameplay to a menu. It does show its iPhone roots a little by having a somewhat minimalistic interface, as opposed to using every button. I would have loved to have been able to scroll through my units using the shoulder buttons, which don’t seem to be used for anything.
There is one major technical hitch though: you can’t actually quit the game. If you hit the Home button and try to exit, nothing happens. So basically the only way to exit it is to turn off the PSP completely and have it boot up again. I’ve seen this before in a few Minis, so it might just be a case of my hardware, a Gran Turismo Mystic Silver PSP-3000, with a 16-gig Sandisk Memory Stick.
Mecho Wars is very polished and full of content. I wouldn’t say it’s quite as good as History Egypt, as the maps are much smaller (reducing the strategy involved) and there’s no upgrading of cities, but it does feature better graphics. If you like turn-based strategy games or enjoyed the Advance Wars series, it’s certainly worth purchasing. The problem with not being able to exit is annoying, but not that much of a hassle, since usually I quit playing because I was simply tired, not bored and wanting to play something else.
Correction: Thanks to my middle-aged eyesight, I missed that there was an option to turn off battles in the options menu, as well as that you can actually exit the game; it’s just that the X and O controls have been reversed (which I’ve never seen in a non-Japanese title…).