If you’re looking for a quick bit of robot-blasting action, Assault Gunners HD Edition might just mech your day!
Assault Gunners didn’t make much of a splash when it released on PS Vita in 2012, but now it’s got a second chance at providing its brand of robot-on-robot action — and it still has the benefits of portability if you play it on Nintendo Switch. This release is also the new, HD edition, which includes shinier graphics and a whole host of additional content.
The game begins with a little exposition about the need to blow up robots being used to terraform Mars, which have gone rogue. You and three AI companions are part of a team sent in to deal with this threat and reassert control over the red planet. Whilst there is a little more to the plot than this as the game goes on, it really isn’t important in the slightest — there’s a good chance you won’t really be concerned about the developments. The fact that some cutscenes play out in Japanese and don’t have subtitles doesn’t help, but it really does play second fiddle to the action.
After a couple of brief tutorial missions, you are dropped into a mission and basically told to blow up everything that isn’t friendly. Your ‘mech comes with a main and sub weapon, a shoulder weapon (which tends to be your heavy hitter) and a melee attack. You switch between these using the face buttons, whilst ZR handles firing. LR gives you a boost, a dodge or a jump depending on holding, tapping or being stationary. Finally, the directional buttons let you order your allies to attack, defend or stay where they are. Everything controls well enough, although I found the vertical aiming a little twitchy and the horizontal a touch slow. There weren’t any options to alter the sensitivity of these, which is disappointing.
Assault Gunners feels somewhat like the EDF games, with hordes of enemies on screen at once, lightning-fast missions and power-ups popping out of every other defeated enemy. You can also find new weapons and equipment in these missions, which let you customise your ‘mechs between missions.
These parts all change your playstyle up somewhat, as they all control differently. Lasers penetrate lines of enemies, whilst assault rifles fire much faster. Will you go for a high-impact cannon or a launcher that can lock onto multiple enemies? You can alter your body and legs to change your speed, defence and other attributes, too. There is, however, a lack of explanation regarding these statistics. I had no idea what ‘Disruptor %’ was by the end of the campaign and I had to make some assumptions about others. Regardless, this level of customisation was appreciated.
An interesting mechanic was the use of your shield meter. Your ‘mechs come with shields and stamina and, as you might expect, your shields recharge whilst your stamina does not. What’s interesting is that your shield energy is also your boost and dodge energy. It adds an interesting risk/reward element to fighting. You could tank the damage or risk dodging it for a lower loss to your shields. The speed of Assault Gunners makes these decisions difficult, and you’re likely to fall into one of those two categories naturally (I tanked the damage), but it’s another nice feature that was included. In some ways it reminded me of Dark Souls in its trade off between defence and dodging.
Whilst it is a fun game to play, it certainly does lack depth. The customisation options are great but you’re likely to find something that works for you and stick with it. Considering the aiming is somewhat twitchy, a lock-on launcher is the best in almost all situations so long as you maintain your ammo with pick-ups. Because of this, many weapons appear useless. If you take a shotgun, you’re likely to be torn apart as you close in on enemies. Lasers fire too slowly to be really useful and the melee attacks are hard to use with any real success.
The enjoyment is there, and the fact it’s so easy to pick up and play is great, but it can become quite repetitive in longer play sessions as each mission plays out in mostly the same way. If you’re really into games like Dynasty Warrior and EDF, you may well find some fun in short bursts. If not, you may well get tired of the core gameplay loop.
For those it does engage, though, there is plenty of content. The campaign has twenty missions which take around three hours to get through, plus this release of Assault Gunners has an additional fifteen missions to unlock by meeting specific criteria as you play the main story. Then there are survival missions on a number of unlockable maps if you’re into that sort of thing, so you get a fair bit of content for your money.
Just to address the obvious point: Assault Gunners is not pretty. Even considering it’s a six-year-old Vita game, it still is pretty unappealing, visually. Everything is very blocky, but some of the weapon effects are nice. On the plus side here, everything runs very smoothly with no frame drops in docked or portable mode. But considering how it looks, I would hope that’s the case! The music and sound effects are equally weak, with repetitive music and the same sound effects being used for multiple weapons. The graphics and sound weren’t great back then, and they certainly haven’t improved with age.
Having said all that, the gameplay can be fun if you’re looking for something to play in short bursts and, if you’re really into optimising, you’ll likely enjoy customising your ‘mechs. Assault Gunners HD Edition is certainly not for everyone, but there’s fun to be had if you can overlook its flaws.