Kitsch is king in Robot Alchemic Drive (RAD), the latest game from Japanese developer Sandlot. Mecha anime kitsch, to be specific, and no clichÃ© is spared. Though the theme of the game will be familiar to mecha fans, the gameplay itself is fresh. And while the game is sometimes hampered by its nostalgia, it successfully and entertainingly captures the feel of controlling a giant robot like no other game has in the past.
Part of the game is finding a proper vantage point to control your meganite from during missions. Thankfully, it's easy to do so.
As one of three characters in the role of the sole heir to the Tsukioka family legacy, you become the controller of one of three meganites, which are 40-meter-tall robots built by Tsukioka Industries and outfitted with an array of weaponry. The meganite is humanity's best hope against the volgara, a mysterious alien race that has invaded without warning, sending its own giant robots to lay waste to the Earth's cities. RAD's plot and dialogue will make you either giggle or groan, depending on whether or not you have a fondness for the simplistic plots and bad English dubbing of old anime shows or martial-arts movies. Not only is RAD's plot rather familiar and predictable, but the localization team, for effect, also purposefully mixed some nonactors in with some talented voice actors who were obviously directed to add extra ham.
The visual style of RAD's mechas matches its archetypal plot and dialogue, harkening back to the early Gundam and Macross styles, looks which distinguished themselves from their predecessors with a focus on believable articulation and a less rounded, more angular construction. A few modern touches are added, and the texturing is much more detailed than the flat coloring of the era, but the overall look has a great retro feel without seeming completely derivative. The weapons and moves of the meganites have appropriately melodramatic and wordy names like harken laser, gigantic booster, gravity zero, and grand charge crypt drill. The human character design and setting is distinctly from that era as well, though there are some things that don't quite fit in, like Abrams tanks and Apache helicopters.
While the art style of RAD is reminiscent of the styles used in the late '70s and early '80s, RAD's unique gameplay mechanic has its roots in the very first giant robot show, Tetsujin 28-go (known in America as Gigantor). Specifically, your meganite is remote-controlled, not piloted. In fact, part of the game involves finding a proper vantage point to control it from during missions. Thankfully, it's easy to do so, as the hero comes equipped with an antigravity belt that allows him or her to float up to rooftops. You can even get on the meganite itself using the belt. It's not a good place to be in a fight, but if the battle is on the other side of the city, it's good to be able to ride there quickly.
Once you hit the select button to take control of the meganite, the PS2 controller acts as the meganite's remote control, with the four shoulder buttons controlling the legs, the analog sticks controlling the arms, the directional pad controlling the torso, and the buttons controlling your beam and projectile weapons. Even the L3 and R3 buttons are used, each transforming one of the meganite's fists into an alternate weapon like a drill or a flamethrower. Most of the buzz surrounding RAD was centered on how complex this control scheme sounded, but the learning curve is actually very shallow. Your meganite won't fall over unless you jump into something or get knocked down by the enemy, so while you may flail around for a bit now and then, it's easy to recover and not frustrating. The game's two tutorial missions set you up for success very nicely, and RAD's designers struck a great balance between the complexity of the controls and the difficulty in using them. If you just can't get the hang of controlling the legs, you can take advantage of the game's easy mode, which lets you move the meganite with the directional pad.