The Japanese seem to have a strange obsession with big stompy robots [Don't we all - Ed], taking in videogames, comic books, movies and any number of bizarre anime cartoon series, from Sunday morning kids' fare to the excellent Bubblegum Crisis. And while western mechs tend to be slow and clumsy, the oriental mecha is a fast moving and agile mechanised armour suit, while still having enough armaments at hand to level an entire city.
Witness Phantom Crash, developed in Japan by Genki and due for release in the west through Korea's Phantagram later in the year.
Rumble In The (Urban) Jungle
Phantom Crash is set in a derelict Tokyo a couple of decades from now, the entire city abandoned due to pollution and overheating and everyone moved, in true anime tradition, to the artificial island of Neo Tokyo.
But while the government was happy to leave the old city to collapse in its own time, a new sport called Rumbling is hurrying things along. Put simply, it involves dropping several heavily armed mechas into Old Tokyo and leaving them to blow each other (and their surroundings) to smithereens. The result is fast-paced and anarchic, with the vehicles charging around the streets of the Shinjuku district blazing away with heavy machineguns and pounding each other with rapid-firing missile launchers.
The first thing to catch your eye is the gorgeous graphics on offer, with nicely detailed urban arenas and a variety of curvaceous mechas. Missiles leave smoke trails across the sky, spent shell casings spray out of your weapons and explosions rip through the city. Your vehicle, known as a Scoobee, also sports an optical camouflage system, which is similar to the Predator's cloaking device. Although you can still see camouflaged enemies, they can only be spotted by watching for the slight distortion they cause to the backdrop as they run past, and the visual effect used in the game is impressive.
Phantom Crash has more in common with a first person shooter than the likes of Mechwarrior, and the basic controls are apparently similar to those used by Halo. More complex options are available for experienced players though, which should allow you to carry out additional moves.
Players can also customise their Scoobees, picking from a wide range of basic designs and body parts with varying numbers of legs and wheels, and then adding your own optional extras. As your rank in the Rumbling community rises, sponsors can be attracted to help fund the purchase of new parts for your vehicle, while defeating special boss mechas within the game brings you rarer components. And, on a purely cosmetic level, you can give your Scoobee a custom respray or add different logos and camouflage colour schemes.
Phantom Crash has already been released in its native Japan, and made it into the all-formats console top 30 - perhaps a reflection on improving sales of Microsoft's black box in the Far East since its recent price cut. From the information and fast moving in-game footage we've seen so far it looks like western gamers should be in for a treat when it reaches our shores, hopefully some time in October. With frantic deathmatch style gameplay, glorious graphics and the lure of a four player splitscreen mode for those essential post-pub gaming sessions, it's shaping up to be a fun addition to the Xbox's ever-growing portfolio.