Well, having played this for several hours now, I can say I’m wowed. This is definitely a very distinctive, fun and enjoyable game.
WT:SnR could be said to combine aspects of 3 Japanese fighting games, each of varying popularity. From the Virtual On series, it draws vectored dashing (controllable and cancellable in mid-dash), which, like in VO, also affects the nature of the characters’ distance attacks. From Psychic Force, it draws a 2D playing field and stick+button special move combos, and defensive force fields. Gauge management, an aspect of both aforementioned games, is also present, but much more in the vein of Virtual On than PF. Finally, from the Power Stone series, WT draws immense, screen-filling powerup modes for all fighters, allowing them to unleash over-the-top attacks that can, if used well, turn the tide of a fight.
8 mechs, or Rounders, are available from the start – I think there are 4 more unlockables. Each has 2 settings or Cartridges, which essentially tune the mech’s fighting style more towards dashing attacks or special moves, as well as adjusting power and offense stats. In a welcome touch, each Rounder (and pilot) also has 3 costumes per Cartridge for a total of 6 costumes. Visual style on the Rounders is rather chibi, with cute little cat-ear or bat-wing like structures on most. In fact the game’s primary graphics on the mechs put one somewhat in mind of a Dreamcast title rendered in vastly improved resolution. This isn’t to say the game looks at all bad, just that its level of detail is lower and simpler than more recently-developed titles. Too, the game’s speed and emphasis on distance combat keeps you from noticing the lack of detail too much (especially since the backgrounds are rather better detailed and quite nice).
Play is basically a competitive shooter, just as advertised (if you’re, you know, one of the three people in America who actually have heard of this game). Each Rounder has between 2 and 3 basic forms of attack, some of which can modify each other; Dashing and Shielding also modify some attacks. A Charge gauge also allows access to stick/button special moves which combine the properties of existing attacks or have unique qualities. Shielding reduces the damage of incoming attacks, but absorbing hits on the Shield also reduces the Charge gauge, limiting your offensive potential. The emphasis is definitely more on moving than guarding. Without being exhaustive on the details, each Rounder appears to have between 12 and 15 normal attacks, which is quite enough for variety in movement-based combat.
There are also the B.O.S.S. mode attacks, which come in a limited stock. In this mode, your Rounder docks with a much larger mechanical shell or construction that basically makes it into a shmup boss. This adds extra armor and trades off almost all movement abilities for gigantic screen-filling bullet-hell swarm attacks. Though more easily dodged than they appear, these mass attacks are still formidable and dangerous. Used well, B.O.S.S. mode can also allow a fighter on the ropes to recover some armor. If used in absolute extremis (i.e. your Rounder is about to die), you’ll enter Final B.O.S.S. mode, which adds more damage to your attacks and grants a Final-only super Boss attack. You can still be defeated while in B.O.S.S. mode, which, if in Final mode, ends the round immediately regardless of your smaller Rounder’s remaining health. Only one fighter can enter B.O.S.S. mode at a time. There’s also Overdrive mode, which significantly enhances your speed, attack, and defense at the cost of constant armor depletion (this is usable only by normal Rounders and can’t be used while either fighter is in B.O.S.S. mode).
WT’s presentation is slick, especially given its age. Menu and battle screens are detailed and convey a lot of information without being overwhelming. Rather than using traditional bar gauges to represent remaining weapon charge, circular arcs around the Rounder show both a weapon’s status and its melee range for CQ attacks. These arcs will swivel in relation to what the Rounder is doing, and learning to interpret their action is pretty important to knowing when you can do what (and what the result of a command will be). The game’s music isn’t going to agree with everyone. While not quite the funkfest of warped weirdness that was MvC2, it’s still got its fair share of odd brass-heavy mutant lounge tracks and discordant choral singing. However, several of the simple techno beats are refreshingly uncluttered and form a serviceable audio backdrop for onscreen blasting. There’s a surprising amount of voice-over too, as all the characters vocalize when attacking and taking damage. Thankfully Ubisoft didn’t record English-speaking lameness for the voice; it’s all in the original Japanese, subbed with just enough malapropism to be comedic but not annoying. One negative caveat to the subbing is that spoken voice during battle is the game’s lone concession to storyline expression. Since most American users won’t be fluent in spoken Japanese, this is likely to result in some frustration as players try desperately to read the (small) subtitles before being blasted into bits by an AI opponent’s attacks.
What matters most is that the game seems pretty damn fun to play. The only mild complaint I have so far is that some of the attacks are really inaccurate. Some normal Rounders’ bullet-hell specials can be “dodged” by just sitting perfectly still at the right distance. I guess this is better than having all attacks be torturously hard to dodge, which the AI would no doubt abuse (it seems pretty competent BTW). Also, a lack of accuracy in individual attacks makes the emphasis more on learning which combinations of moves work best together to lay down a withering field of fire from which there’s little or no direct escape. Each Rounder’s defensive strengths vary, but none of them seem to be paper tigers. Some focus more on long range offense, while others can create rings or waves of miniature explosions in their immediate area, serving both as short-range offense and defense against incoming fire. All in all, as a bonafide mech-head, I definitely like what I see. While it would have been nice if Ubi could have managed a budget price off the shelf, the product seems potentially worth the $60 if you like its antecedent genres.