Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro’s love letter to Japan’s famed Kaiju monster and giant mecha films and anime, was a powerful film that I enjoyed every minute of. While the campy script and paper-thin characters resulted in a third place domestic box office finish, I can’t argue with giant robots fighting massive aliens in some of the most jaw dropping fun I’ve seen all year.
Of course, the logical continuation is to consider how a film like Pacific Rim ties into gaming with an incredibly obvious answer: there’s nothing wrong with giant robots in games. The allure of piloting a massive mech has been a constant theme in gaming so this list pays homage to those giant exo-suits of destruction.
A few things to note. Firstly, this list only has pilotable mechs, so Metal Gear has been notably left off. Secondly, I expect Titanfall to be in serious consideration for the top of this list, just not yet. Finally, I’ve limited the list to only franchises with one particular title highlighted, mostly because I don’t want a list dominated by just Armored Core or Mechwarriors.
10. Omega Boost
Believe it or not, Polyphony Digital used to make more than just Gran Turismo. Launched late in the original Playstation’s lifetime, Omega Boost was a blur of a game that had incredibly fast gameplay running at an unheard of 60 fps all featuring an incredibly nimble mech that would jet around narrow corridors and open spaces while launching an arsenal of missiles. It was simple, it was gorgeous, and it was a great way to blow through a few hours.
9. Shogo: Mobile Armor Division
When Shogo launched in 1998, it was the first time a western company tackled a Japanese inspired mecha-anime-game. The game ran at a silky smooth 60 frames per second and featured missions both on foot and in 60 foot tall mechs. While the game clearly shows its age today, at its time it was considered a gem of a title that offered solid balance between its two gameplay styles and was a technical marvel of a game with its bright colors and fast framerate.
8. Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner
Hideo Kojima, Metal Gear creator, obviously has a long appreciation for mecha. His PS2 series Zone of the Enders focused on fast past combat and flight, inspired by Macross and Gundam that preceded it. While I haven’t gotten to 2nd Runner yet (still plodding through the original ZoE), it is a colorful and incredibly fast paced game that is the sole reason to look at the recently released HD Collection. Although I do have to question the cockpit’s location…
7. Metal Wolf Chaos
A rare Japanese import on the original Microsoft Xbox, Metal Wolf Chaos put you in the role of President Michael Wilson as he pilots his presidential mech against the an attempted coup led by Vice President Richard Hawk. Sound ridiculous? From Software sought to milk this with an opening line of “Let’s party!” and Air Force One hidden underneath the reflecting pool at the Washington Mall.
6. Steel Battalion
Not content in making a fine mech simulator, Capcom packed in a mandatory controller with Steel Battalion that had 40 buttons, twin sticks and pedals at a price of $200. Now a collector’s edition for the mech obsessed, Steel Battalion seemingly had a button for everything. Pilots had to engage a startup sequence, clear debris from the windshield with wiper blades and if player’s Vertical Tank where to ever explode, the pilot needs to eject. Failing to do so would result in the save file being lost.
The newest title on this list, Hawken is a fast paced mech based multiplayer game with mostly standard deathmatch fare. While the game modes cater to the popularity of FPS games Call of Duty and Halo, Hawken is designed entirely by a startup independent studio, making the technical achievements of the title noteworthy. The mechs move with purpose and speed and Hawken is a gorgeous game with a ton of potential. I can’t wait for this to officially launch.
Often hailed as one of the best JRPGs of the PSX era, Xenogears (and to an extent its spiritual successors in Xenosaga) was an incredibly deep RPG that dealt in topics and themes that the more popular Final Fantasies and Dragon Quests would never dream of. While the weight of death and philosophical themes including that of Nietzche, Jung, Freud and the Roman Catholic church was a topic for RPG discussion, at its heart Xenogears was a random encounter RPG successfully integrated massive mechs into its world.
3. Armored Core 2
Armored Core gets a lot of credit for being Japan’s baseline standard for mech simulations. With nearly as many games as its 16 year history (14 console games including continuations), From Software built Armored Core to feature the large, lumbering brutes with a copious amount of customization and plenty of missions to throw mechs at each other. Armored Core 2 gets the nod for the visual upgrade on the PS2 and before the string of mediocre launches on the current generation of consoles.
2. Mechwarrior 4
In the west, all mech games stem from the old tabletop game Battletech. While not as customizable as Armored Core in the east, Mechwarrior was the digital embodiment of Battletech that PC gamers fawned to. Deeply ingrained in its tabletop ruleset, mech loadouts were restricted to certain mech classes making Mechwarrior an incredibly deep title. Though the series has had no rumblings since 2001 (except for the simplified console series Mechassault), a free-to-play MMO is set to launch in the fall, introducing Battletech to a new generation of gamers.
1. Cyber Troopers Virtual On
Two sticks. Four buttons. Virtual On was simple in its presentation, a versus mech fighting game, but incredibly deep when it came to the gameplay experience it delivered. I have never played a game that was so instantly accessible but continually evolved and provided new challenges. I distinctly remember going on significant win streaks in the arcade, so much so that my arms began to burn from throwing those sticks all over the place. Virtual On is a classic arcade experience that should always be played if found.