It's a little known fact that I have what most people might refer to as a really weird taste in video games. My GameCube game list is relatively normal, with a striking amount of Capcom thrown in. But my Playstation (1 and 2) collection reads more like a B-Movie list, punctuated by Katamaris and Tales of this and that. I basically exist to play the really niche games, like any MegaMan after X2 and Brave Fencer Musashi. And now that I've established that I like to be adventurous with my games, I can move on to the topic at hand.
If you pay attention to the gaming media (and why would you be reading this if you didn't?), you probably heard somebody say something about a "Bumpy Trot" somewhere along the line and just dismissed it because it sounded dumb. And you know, maybe that was for the best. But not me. No, when I heard about Bumpy Trot - or Steambot Chronicles as it was renamed when it came over to North American shores - the writer in question said that it was the closest we're ever going to get to a MegaMan Legends 3. Being a huuuuuuge (u's for emphasis) Legends fan, I put my foot down and said that I must own the game!
I'll make a side note here that people are very split on MegaMan Legends. A handful of people like it, and they like it a lot. The rest of the world thinks it's crap. Hence why Capcom only made one sequel. Armed with that knowledge, you may very well dismiss the rest of this review of some stupid kid writing about a shitty game. And yeah, I'm not going to lie, most of the Playstation 2 userbase will not like this game. There isn't a dragon to be seen, it doesn't have any footballs, and there are no foul-mouthed black men. Just mechs. Mechs that look like cars.
Being the fair and totally unbiased man that I am, I've decided that today I'll try a new approach at the video game review. Because let's face it, normal game review are best left to the professionals. I, however, have taken it upon myself to make a short list comprised of the best things and the worst things about Steambot Chronicles. And you as an interweb reader have no power to choose not to read it, because you cannot resist the list. Nobody can.
#1 - Trotmobiles
As the title may imply, the game has a lot to do with steambots. Or maybe not. It's actually about trotmobiles. But what is a trotmobile? I'm glad you probably don't know, because I'd love to explain it.
A trotmobile is basically this game's evolution of the car. As the backstory goes, people had invented the car, but since they didn't have a whole lot of roads outside of the towns, it was a little impractical. So many years were spent researching ways to improve upon the car, and eventually they came up with the bipeal "robot" design known as the trotmobile. Why it's called a trotmobile when the title of the game is Steambot Chronicles is a mystery, but I don't care enough to solve it. Bad translation? No. Definitely not (as we'll see later).
At the beginning of the game, the main character, Vanilla, wakes up on a beach with no recollection of who he is. a young girl named Connie finds him and during a search for clues, they come across a rusty old trotmobile. During about half of the time you spend playing the game, you will be in the driver's seat of that trotmobile, and you'll learn to love it. The controls take a little learning, as the trotmobile moves similarly to a katamari, but they work out really well because they're laid out very efficiently. Your trot is controlled entirely with the L and R buttons (including the analog sticks), with the face buttons being relegated to more generic tasks such as menus and talking.
So now that you've gone through Trotmobile 101, it's time to find out what these machines can do! The answer: pretty much everything! While they're mainly used as transportation for people, trotmobiles can be rigged up for numerous tasks. Some will haul goods back and forth, making a pretty penny along the way. Some will outfit their trot with weapons and take it to the various arenas in hopes of winning fortune and fame. Others will go spelunking in deep, dangerous caves, searching out treasures of civilizations past. Some people may even aspire to find a way to make their trot fly! The possibilities are nigh endless!
Not only can you find plenty to do with your new trotmobile, but you can also customize it to your very liking. You can swap out a multitude of parts - called "frames" - and equip your trotmobile for any occasion. The trotmobile has six main parts; two arms, a leg frame, a body frame, a grill, a windshield, and a back frame for carrying cargo. There are many frames for each part, and while there is a weight limit, you can customize your trot any way you like. you can even change the colours and the license plate if you get tired of them.
#2 - Lots to do!
Steambot Chronicles is not a small game. In fact, it is quite a large game. While the areas may not be as elaborate as a Grand Theft Auto title, there is plenty of terrain to cover, and lots to do. If you stick to it, the main story will breeze by quite quickly, possibly leaving you a little worried that the game is over, but fear not! Steambot Chronicles is what they call a "sandbox game," and as such, you're usually able to go out on your own and do whatever you please. You don't have to follow the story if you don't feel like it, and even if you do, you can still play on as long as you wish in the post-game mode.
So what is there to do in the world of Steambot Chronicles? I suppose we should cover the basics first. Number one would be the arena. There are three arenas across the country, one in each major city. Each of these arenas is host to a number of trot riders, all looking for a good fight. Winning in the arena will lead you to a wealth of victory medals, which can be exchanged for prizes, which consist of valuable trotmobile parts. Not a fighter, but still want to get a piece of that action? If you're not the bravest of trot riders, you can still make a killing betting on trot fights. Not the fastest or most reliable way to increase your net worth, but the option's there if you want it.
If you'd rather keep away from the roughnecks, yet still have that itch for mucho dinero, there are alternatives. The quick way is to invest in the stock markets. Since you can help out businesses with your patronage, you can kinda fudge the stocks and earn a wealth in a few week's time. The most reliable way to earn cash, however, is to play trucker. You can buy goods from many people all over the place, and then sell it elsewhere to line your pockets nicely. Just make sure you're selling for more than you bought for! If that doesn't work out, you could always get into the transportation business and ferry people to and fro. They don't always pay too well though, so if you're looking for quick cash, you may want to take one of the aforementioned alternatives. Keep in mind that this just scratches the surface of all the ways you can earn a living.
There are lots of people all over the place who need your help. Museum curators, lovebirds, mechanics, bandits, movie enthisiats. Pretty much every kind of person you can think of. With each of these people comes a side-quest. And why would you do these sidequests? Well, usually you get money, items, or trot frames. A good percentage of the time, you get a collectible license plate for your trotmobile as well. Getting all 30 plates is no easy task. If you think you're up to it, go ahead. I can tell you rihgt now that you're gonna need a FAQ though.
now that you're rich, what are you going to do with the cash? Pimp out your trot? Buy out all the local stores? I suggest maybe finding yourself a bachelor pad. There are realtors in every major city willing to rent you a place, and all you have to do is find 'em and fork out the dough. Decorating your room with furniture (available at the local furniture store, obviously) and relics (found in caverns and whatnot) is always a fun way to spent the afternoon! Maybe you can even invite that girl you've got your eye on over to your place and see where it goes...
#3 - Hot cocoa!
Honestly, I really just like the dating part of the game because I find the best outcome of the dates to be rather hilarious. Especially when it's Connie who you're gunning for. Hell, even initiating the event is chuckle-worthy. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself. Let's start at the start.
You see, once you're renting an apartment, you can start dating one of three women in the game. There's Connie the main female character, Savory the alternate choice, and Ciboulette the pirate. Hot. All of the girls can and will succumb to your masculine wiles after a certain point in the game, and it's not necessary to exercise your power, but it's definitely entertaining. The only problem is that your apartment has to be in the same town that the object of your affection is in. No town-hopping for these ladies.
So you've got your apartment all prettied up with the 50-year-old newspaper floor mat, and you've progressed far enough in the story. You can now ask a girl to come over to your place. Once she comes over (assuming you decide to let her in), the dating mini-game starts. You get a number of hearts, which you can spend on various date actions, like talking and giving gifts. You can replenish hearts by giving the right gifts, and each girl has different tastes. After you've gotten enough hearts and have performed the proper actions, you can "make your move," as the game so inconspicuously puts it.
But alas! There is one step I forgot! To initiate this process, you have to own a Lil' Swabby. "WTF?" you ask. Yeah, you need to buy a cotton swab from a local shop to complete the dating ritual. If you've got the Lil' Swabby and play your cards right, you'll be having the girl of your choice over for a little "hot cocoa" in no time.
#4 - Good vs. Evil
While it's not the first game to do so, Steambot Chronicles gives you the opportunity to follow either a good or evil path. The choice first comes up about halfway through, and you can change your mind at almost anytime. Heck, I think you have to go evil and then back to get everything, but I'm not entirely sure.
There are a long list of bandit groups in Steambot Chronicles, and a handful of them play large roles in your adventure, but only one truly stands out: the Bloody Mantis. If you play the good guys, you're going to end up fighting against them and their plan for... well, I won't spoil that much. Somewhere midway through your adventure, the Bloody Mantis recruiter will approach you and offer you to join up with them. should you choose the comply, the rest of the game will not be spent thwarting evil, but rather being the new errand-boy for the Mantis. You'll cause plenty of havoc, and more than likely end up making all your previously established friends hate your guts. But hey, life of crime, right?
Obviously, both paths branch out very differently from that point, and you'll get separate endings for each. That should be more than enough reason to play through the game twice. Though you'll probably end up having to do that anyway if you play through sans-FAQ and hope to unlock everything. That's pretty much my situation. On the upside, this, along with the billions of things to do, presents plenty of replay value, as the game has the capacity to be entirely different every time you play through it.
#5 - The manual. Wait, what?
No, I'm totally serious. The manual for Steambot Chronicles rules. It's not like the usual manual that assumes you can't tell your ass from a hole in the ground. It's written very cleverly, with jokes and sarcasm and everything. But how could this come to be? And why?
The answer is a single man - Tomm Hulett. He's a translator for Atlus, and was the one who did the Steambot manual (and was the project lead on the translation of the game itself). He even included a couple paragraphs at the back about how Atlus got the project, how they decided on the North American title, his localization philosophy, and making sure the voice acting was top-notch. A man who truly knows how to please the fans.
Imagine my surprise when I learned that Tomm was a regular commenter on ToastyFrog, spreading news of all his latest localization projects. The man has a sense of humor (Contact scandal, anyone?), and it shows. I mean, really, the game's translation job on the whole is excellent, with plenty of humor and drama and whatnot, but the manual really stood out for me. After all, manuals are usually pretty drab.
I really hate to rip on the game, but I'm going to be completely honest here - it's got its good share of flaws. Some big, some small, all contributing in some way to make the elitist (in their own minds) fags who think Final Fantasy is the shit hate this game. Like I said before, I exist to fill niches, and this game is definitely niche. So, I guess we're going to have to tread into that place I only like to go when reviewing food - negative territory. Bad things ho!
#1 - Oh God my ears!
I'll put it to you straight: this is a really good game to turn the sound off and turn on your own music. I really ahte when I have to say it, but it's entirely true. Well, perhaps not entirely.
The truth is, the sound and voice acting in the game is superb. Stallar, even. the regular game music isn't too offensive either. It's generic RPG-ish music for the most part, but it isn't so generic that it warrants a bad reputation. Hell, the town music is actually kinda catchy; I often find myself whistling or humming along.
The real trouble comes in the form of the Garland Globetrotters. See, they're this band who, in the game, everybody just loves. Connie is the lead vocalist, and if you play on the good side you can choose to join them. The thing is, they make terrible, terrible music. It's bad, man. Real bad. And won't you be surprised when I tell you it gets worse. The singing is absolutely atrocious. Like, makes-the-music-seem-great atrocious. It's not really that the singer has a really bad voice, but the lyrics are just so impossibly bad, and she doesn't handle them very well. The lack of any rhyming or proper song structure just make the songs a physical pain to listen to.
Later on in the game, you can even jam with a second band after you complete a certain sub-quest. This is even worse, with a poor male vocalist and the same horrid songwriting that the Globetrotters' songs fall victim to. It's supposed to be rock 'n' roll too, and the flagrant disregard for respect for the genre makes me die a little on the inside.
I'm not kidding when I say there's loading everywhere in this game. And it really gets in the way too. And it's like ten seconds per load screen, which really drives the point home.
Now, I know that the areas are large, but there isn't a whole lot going on in most of them. A few enemies, maybe some environmental effects and some people passing through. Not that much. Again, I have to compare it to Grand Theft Auto. It's got even bigger ares with tons going on, and San Andreas only loads once when you start it up (and when you start a mission, but that doesn't count). Steambot has noticeably better visuals than any GTA game, but that's no excuse. Shadow of the Colossus is one of the most beautiful and expansive PS2 games going and it never has to load. Yeah, it suffers very heavily from lag, but it still never has to load. Steambot lags every once in a while too. Tell me why you had to have so damn many long load screens, Irem!
Probably the worst part of it all is once you enter a city. The field areas are nigh empty and they have to load on every new map. The cities are full of moving people, and cars. It gets really ugly, to say the least. Not only do you have extended load screens when you enter the cities, but they're sliced up (invisibly, there aren't walls or anything) into districts, and you have to wait for a regular load screen each time you move to a new one. Getting across town should take twenty seconds. Instead it takes about a whole minute. It doesn't help that while in town, your trotmobile moves automatically and observes all the rules of the road, even red lights.
#3 - OMG I win!
There isn't much to say about it, but I really hate the fact that Steambot Chronicles is so easy. I mean, the way the game works, if it were any harder, it would immediately cross the line into frustrating town, but I'd like a little challenge.
To be fair, the game isn't a total cakewalk. Some arena-dwelling trot riders are skilled at their trade and took me down a couple times, but it was nothing a huge steel trident couldn't fix. The "boss" robots, on the other hand, are complete jokes. They're gigantic, elaborate trotmobiles that look nothing like standard trots. Most of them are covered in turrets and/or spikes. None of them ever had a chance. Once you identify their weapon and how to avoid it, they're just big piles of scrap metal. It's even worse if you've got ranged weapons equipped, because then you don't even have to worry about those, as you can just sit back and fire away to victory.
I think maybe the problem is that if you understand the game and it's mechanics, you'll always end up having the proper frames for the job. Some enemies are near impossible to defeat without the right weapons, but it doesn't take long to figure out just where each enemy's weaknesses are. Not that they have actual weakpoints (to which you would be able to cause massive damage), but there's always a hole in their strategy somewhere. Strong enemies are usually slow, and you just run behind them, smack 'em and repeat. Smaller enemies don't often pose a huge threat as far as attack power goes, so you can run in and ruin their shit before they can get a move in. Like I said, the only enemies that come hard are the trot riders you face in the arenas, and even then it's just a matter of figuring out their gimmick and stamping it out.
#4 - Little things
- Having to have an apartment in the same city as the girl you want to date
- Oh, the lag!
- Stupid "Vanilla remembers who he is" sequence
- Basil and Marjoram are annoying
- Can only play the tournament once
- Most CPU players are too good at the billiards minigame
- Flying makes your trot suck
- They should have removed the trotmobile weight limit after beating the game or doing all the sub-quests or something.
- Trotmobile colour editing is very limited
- The sequel is taking too long.
Well, I tried, but I can't come up with any more bad points. At least nothing bad enough that it could be drawn out over a couple paragraphs. We're just gonna have to face it, Steambot Chronicles just isn't that bad a game. It's actually quite enjoying and relaxing. It's kind of like Harvest Moon meets Animal Crossing meets Hulk: Ultimate Destruction meets Robot Alchemic Drive. Now you think it sounds pretty neat, don't you? Yeah. It is a pretty neat game. I know I couldn't recommend it to just anybody, but there is a respectable fanbase behind it, so it's not like I'm the only one.
Like I said, it's pretty relaxing, which basically means slow=paced, so if you're an action freak, maybe steer clear. But if you like something you can just pop in and play at your own pace, then Steambot Chronicles could be just for you. If you liked sailing in the Wind Waker, you'll probably enjoy this one, because there's a lot of back-and-forth over long stretches. Of course, there's more in between destinations in Steambot than there is on WW's ocean, but I'm just saying, there's a lot of travelling involved.
In conclusion, since I could think up more [pertinent] good points than bad, I guess I like Steambot Chronicles. Even if it does sound like it's about steamboats if you're not paying attention. If I were ranking it with a school-type letter grade, I guess it'd be a C+. It's definitely passable and meeting my expectations, but it could most certinaly try harder. Assuming Irem fixes, at the very least, all that loading, I think Bumpy Trot 2 could be a real contender. I know I'm looking forward to it, and maybe you should try out the first one while I wait.
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Note: (it's obvious, but for the sake of good jounalism) all pics stolen from IGN.com.