|There has been an onslaught of Capcom fighters released on the
Sega Dreamcast. Everything is available, from the king (the Streetfighter series), to
crowd pleasers (Marvel vs. Capcom), revamps of unsuccessful titles (see Plasma Sword), and
occasionally a new and inventive franchise (a la Powerstone). They seem determined to
exploit every angle they can, and hey, more power to them. After all, at least one of
these titles is sure to please even the stingiest of fighter fans (Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is
on my list of must-have games).
With Tech Romancer Capcom is again trying to bring something new to their fighter formula by applying it to the world of mech-warriors and adding a heavy dose of Japanese anime. The rivals in Tech Romancer are giant mechanical battle-suits with human pilots. They tower over cities and tear apart the landscape in their battles. As always, Capcom excels in character design. The robots range in style from nimble humanoids performing rocket-aided acrobatics to hulking tanks on legs, grounded and powerful. Some are sleek, intimidating; others are round and silly, waving their arms and squealing when they get hit. Although there are fewer characters in this game than other fighters, it does not suffer from the cloning problems others have. Instead of pairs of combatants with nearly identical fighting styles, each has unique weapons and abilities, and an individual story.
Yes, Tech Romancer boasts a Story Mode. Between battles you follow your robot pilots adventure through animated sequences, and even make decisions that, in true "Choose Your Own Adventure" style, affect which character you will encounter next as well as the outcome of the story. Here, the anime influences abound. In a flurry of action lines and sound effects, head shots of the pilots enter into frame over their posed robots and voice their origins and courses of action, make their threats, etc. The tone is perfect, the presentation is flashy and aggressive, but overall there just isnt enough substance to hold my interest. The dialogue is spoken in Japanese with English subtitles. Most of the translation is broken; some of it is absurd. Decisions often consist of no more than leaving the scene or pursuing a conversation. And the stories are never more complicated than "I must protect the secret of my robots engineering," or "oh no, my worst enemy is my father, how can that be?" But, it is a rare anime piece, or fighting game for that matter, whose story is its selling point. We want action (or perhaps in the case of anime, graphic sex and violence, but you wont find that here) and this is how it plays out
Besides Story Mode, you may choose from Hero Challenge Mode, Dr. Tatsumis Techno-Dome, or Versus Mode. Hero Challenge Mode is the quickest route to actionjust pick a robot and fight each of the 12 characters to unlock special features. Dr. Tatumis Techno-Dome gives you a series of challenges to play on the VMU, again to unlock special features. However, the VMU challenges are simplistic (example: watch the screen and if the correct character appears, kiss em, if the wrong one comes up, whap em), and merely add up to a diversion. Versus Mode is exactly what you think--you against a friend.
You may notice the lack of a Training Mode. This is an unfortunate oversight, as the control and timing of this game is quite different from other fighters. This combat is projectile heavy with a wide variety of ranges, blast radiuses, and effects. There are weapons that can lock your robot up, send it into an electronic seizure, or draw it into mid-air where it is vulnerable to other attacks, among other things. The offense and defense is a little tough to master without some target practice, and the best you can do here is set up a second player as a dummy to fire at, which will only take you so far.
Tech Romancer is a fully operational 3D fighter. The inclusion of both a guard and a jump button, as well as a dodging attack, allow you to move more freely around the battlefield. However, the camera resets to the standard left-to-right perspective after power hits and knockdowns, and doesnt zoom in and out to compensate for distance as much as it just drags your character into frame.
The set-up is designed to operate more like a mechanical gage-system than the life meters we have come to expect. First, the gages are placed vertically on the side of the screen and read damage received rather than health remaining. So, instead of depleting, the gage fills as you take damage. Second, they read two kinds of damage: repairable and not repairable. Repairable damage shows up yellow, and will go away if you are able to break from battle and avoid being hit. Not repairable damage reads red and is there for good.
The robots are also defended by armor that can be broken by substantial attacks. Its integrity is represented by a shielded figure in the bottom of the screen. Your armor sustains damage when you are hit and when you block heavy fire. Once your armor is broken, your robot will be more vulnerable.
Otherwise, in terms of combat, Capcoms trademark turbo-speed action and big hit combos are intact, but less emphasized than in other titles. Instead, as in Powerstone, your success in battle depends upon attaining and using a variety of power-up items. There are Healing Items which restore health or armor; Ability Items which enhance your robots offense, defense, speed, and so on; and three Weapon Items unique to each robot. To be honest, I found few of the Weapon Items to be very spectacular. Most were either oversized boulders or bombs that materialize out of thin air and do nothing special. And all seemed to be incongruent to style or function. There are also one-time only finishing moves that are hard as hell to land, as they should be since they can take out an opponent at 50% damage. But some are cool (in one the conquering robot takes its victim into orbit and throws him back down to Earth to crash into a million pieces) and they definitely add tension where you would normally feel healthy.
Although it is a diversion from other by-the-numbers Capcom fighters, Tech Romancer is ultimately a shallow game. The projectile heavy game play is reminiscent of the fireball-crazy Ryu from Street Fighter II: Turbo, and most of us know how fun that was. The control is conducive to button pounding. Other than some sizzle, the Story Mode isnt very interesting. And despite their efforts, I never once felt like I was in control of a massive war machine, more like I was just trying to knock the other guy down. Take your local video stores copy for a spin before you pay retail for this one.