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Steambot Chronicles (PlayStation 2) artwork

Steambot Chronicles (PlayStation 2) review


"Steambot Chronicles is cool like that; there’s an overlying story, sure, but progressing it rarely requires you to do anything hard. Hell, it rarely requires you to do much at all."



In Steambot Chronicles you play as a guy named Vanilla Beans.

I’m willing to bet that a lot of people, when they read the above, either stopped reading or decided that Steambot Chronicles wasn’t the game for them. When you hear a name like Vanilla, you probably start thinking goofy anime heroes with blonde porcupines for hair. And you’d be completely right, because that’s what Vanilla is.

If you want him to be.

See, Steambot Chronicles is all about choice. Well, it’s actually more about fighting robots called trotmobiles, but choice runs a close second.

Dig this.

Throughout the game, you’re routinely involved with a girl named Connie (actually, her name is Coleander or something like that, but everyone calls him Connie because her real name sucks) Connie is the first person you see when you wake up on a beach without your memory. The game gives you plenty of opportunities to do nice things for her. Buying her presents, escorting her, saving her from gangsters, stuff like that. It’s pretty obvious she’s supposed to be your girlfriend.

!BUT!

You can be a total ass to Connie, treat her like crap, insult her at every turn, keep talking when she asks you to be quiet, wake her up when she’s sleeping, charge her money for everything she asks you to do, and, instead, hit on her hotter fellow band member, Savory, and make her your main squeeze.

!OR!

You can do a little careful maneuvering and come out as a pimp. You can even get a little pimp-fro to go along with it

Now, dig this.

Steambot Chronicles likes to sing. A lot. The band that Connie and Savory are in, the Garland Globetrotters (yeah…) spends a lot of the game running about, going to concerts, getting into trouble, and…well, they suck. The game’s songs aren’t American-Idol-auditions-stage-William Hung bad, but they’re fairly generic, sappy tunes that someone could have thought up in the time it takes to sing them. Love, love, love, trouble, trouble, trouble, kisses, kisses, kisses, stuff like that. Unfortunately, progressing through the game requires you to play along with them, listening to the same songs over and over and contributing with timed button presses.

It sucks. I won’t embellish it. It sucks.

But you can make the most of it. The game doesn’t require you to be good at the stupid minigame; you don’t even have to press a button if you don’t want to. You can just let the song play, go get a sandwich or something while the game boos you for not doing anything, and it won’t make a lick of difference unless you actually care what a bunch of polygons think about your ability to press buttons.

Steambot Chronicles is cool like that; there’s an overlying story, sure, but progressing it rarely requires you to do anything hard. Hell, it rarely requires you to do much at all. When you have to cross a desert to reach your next gig, you can protect a group of merchants from bandits and get paid, or you can just…not do it, and run across the desert in your trotmobile, alone, with the bandits on your tail. When a stereotypical gangster threatens to stereotypically make your friends sleep with the fishes if you don’t throw a battle in the arena, you can either win the fight and suffer the consequences, or…actually, I wouldn’t know what happens otherwise. I’m nobody’s bitch; I won that damn fight. It all worked out.

There’s plenty to do even when you’re not advancing the plot, too. You’ve got the necessary side-plots; fetch quests, some errands you can run for money. You’ve got the arena; you can place bets, win your own fights, cash-in for top prizes. You’ve even got a Billiards game that, believe it or not, does not suck. Surprising.

That’s the Chronicles part explained. Now for the Steambot.

Trotmobiles are, essentially, cars with legs. And arms. And occasionally cannons, shields, water guns, chainsaws, and stuff like that. You get yours early on and you can do pretty much whatever you want to with it so long as you’ve got the money; swap out parts, change colors, fine tune until you have the machine you want to have. Equip a shield if you’ve got the defensive mind, equip a sword if you’ve got the offensive one. Get skinny legs for speed; get bulky ones armor. Different bodies, different hoods, different designs…it’s like Armored Core. Kind of. Sort of. More or less.

Like most mech games, the control scheme was made different from the average 3rd person vantage; you move around by tweaking the analog sticks. Left stick moves the left foot, right stick move the right foot. Simple as that. What’s not so simple is the erratic camera; while you can center the damn thing by locking on to the enemy, all it takes is a simple misstep to put him completely out of your view, breaking the view and giving him a chance to smack you from the back. Quite a few matches come down to your ability to keep your foe in sight. Not the easiest feat.

But that’s not to say you can’t have fun with the average battle; when you’re up against a good opponent, when you’ve spent some time modifying your trotmobile and you’ve got a decent chance of winning, things get interesting. Evaluating weaknesses, coming up with strategies, learning to work with you’ve got and make what he’s got work against him, it can all very intense, very involving, very tight. But only if you let it.

It’s choice. Really, truly, honestly, it’s all about choice. If you press, Steambot Chronicles can be a tough, challenging game; fighting your way to the top in the arenas, going up against the toughest challengers, striving for completion. Or things can be simple and clean; you can do the bare minimum and still get by. It’s an acquired taste, for those wanting a more relaxed tone out of their games, and I’d wager that a lot of people wouldn’t like the game at all.

But I do.

Rating: 8/10

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Staff review by Zack Little (May 29, 2006)

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