Virtual On: Cybertroopers
Sega AM3

For years, all of us who grew up loving those Sci-Fi mecha drama like Gundam, Macross, Orguss, and Five Star Stories and the like, the next step to being able to fight as Amuro Rei, Max Genius, or Amaterasu has finally been taken -- sort of. Called "Virtual On: Cybertroopers," this game allows two mecha to duke it out in an arena battle.

This game borrows on the play interface of Cybersled to give a realistic interface for controlling mecha. While the variety of movements may be limited in comparision to fighting games like Fighting Vipers, this is the second generation of this kind of game (counting the Battletech simulators as the first), and new improvements are bound to happen once things get going. Play itself is very simple, thankfully. If this were as complex as the Gundam GP-03 (the Dendrobium from Gundam 0083), we would all be lost. If anyone out there has played Cybersled or the ancient Vindicators, then they have the same base movements. An additional touch is the installment of Jump Jets on all the mecha to provide almost truly three dimensional combat. To activate them, move both joysticks away from each other. The left stick goes to the left while the right stick goes to the right. The left trigger fires one weapon, the right trigger fires another weapon (generally, the left is a secondary weapon and the right is the primary weapon) while both triggers at once gives the mecha a super attack. The buttons on top of the joysticks give the mecha a limited "turbo boost" for various purposes. Finally, at melee ranges, either trigger makes the mecha attack with melee weaponry. Although the interface is rather neat, the neatest (and sometimes funniest) things are the mecha themselves.

In total, there are about eight different mecha to choose from, each with different weapons and ability levels. For all those gundam lovers, the V.R. Temjin not only has the original gundam's color scheme, but also carries a beam rifle, bombs, and a beam sword. For those who always hated the Federation, the V.R. Radien packs ground-hugging, frisbee-like mines, a Dom-like bazooka, and a pair of heavy chest lasers as its special weapon. The V.R. ViperII suspiciously reminds me of Patlabor's J-9 Griffon, but I could be wrong. It makes the ultimate shocktrooper with its high speed and arsenal of 7-way misles, vulcan cannon, and homing beams. The V.R. Belgdor is equipped with grenade launchers, napalm, and homing missles. The interesting thing about the Belgdor is that its napalm can go through obstacles, should one's adversary like to play hit and run.

Next on the list is the V.R. Apharmd, which at first looks like a mechanical Arnie in camo pants. Carrying a shotgun, bombs, and beam tonfu, he seems to be the "Ken" to the Temjin's "Ryu". The V.R. Dorkas is far from what its name makes it out to be. Packing fireballs, a giant hammer/mace, and a "phalanx" (which is like the Belgdor's napalm), it is the nastiest little mecha you may ever fight. While it is slow, its weaponry (as well as the computer's use of it) make it very deadly. Possibly the worst mecha of the lot, the V.R. Bal-Bas-Bow might have been an excellent machine (loaded withring razors, flying mines, and a 'sound' sonic attack), but its balance of strength, speed, accuracy, weapon power, and other attributes leaves much to be desired. The last mecha to talk has got to be the strangest mecha I have seen yet. For all those Sailor Moon fans out there, this is the ultimate mecha! Called the V.R. Fei-Yen, it should have been called the V.R. Usagi, becasue it looks exactly like a mechanical rendition of Sailor Moon. To top it off, it carries hand beams, bowguns, and a heart beam as its super attack. While the Fei-Yen is the fastest of the bunch, it is also rather weak in the offense department -- its shortsword is very, very short on range, and power of attacks is even worse. If using the Fei-Yen, I suggest that one tries to stay in that grey range between melee and long distance, making advantage of the FY's sped to nickle and dime the opponent to death. Another interesting difference of the Fei-Yen from it's siblings is that instead of being shown a repair scene on the continue screen, one sees the Fei-Yen in some sort of stasis field.

Overall, the game is an excellent, albeit a very simplified version of Battletech (or mecha-Cybersled). Despite this, it is a good omen for the future. While it doesn't differ too greatly from today's street fighter games, it paves the way for a mainstream Macross simulator (like what will be coming out for the Japanese PSX in late spring/early summer), an Ingram simulator, and many other possibilities (depending on consumer outcry). While play is very smooth, the replays could use some work, as the polygons that make up the images of the mecha have a tendency to be a bit lo-res during explosions and other such events. A neat feature this game includes is keeping track of battle damage and representing it as armor blown off the mecha. While other games have shown this before, no simulator game has done this before. Finally, weapons take time to recharge, giving a better sense of realism and making things more challenging, considering the time limit.

Some tips I've picked up along the way:

From catapult launch to the end, this game has given me hours of fun (despite the $2.00/game pricetag), and when it gets to the states in a month or so, most mecha-lovers will enjoy this very, very much. Personally, I can't wait until the next game like this comes out.

-- Theo Moon