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Retrospective: Steambot Chronicles

Taking a closer look at the clicks, hisses, bells and whistles.

Not many people played this one, so here's the cheat sheet. Steambot Chronicles, aka Bumpy Trot, aka That Weird PS2 Mech Game Set In The Twenties Where You Play A Harmonica Or Something, is the story of an amnesiac boy who finds a big robot, but don't hold that against it. By now no-one's more allergic to this particular brand of immorally predictable Japanese storytelling than me. Steambot's different. For starters, your robot is not just used for fighting. It's also lorry, a taxi, a stage, whatever you need. And if I was going to compare Steambot to anything in order to make people sorry they didn't buy this, it'd be Harvest Moon.

Those of you who did play Steambot might call bulls*** on that one. Some of you might even have opened a comment box and are typing a rude word into it right now. Take a breath! Eat a biscuit.

Harvest Moon is a series that's about sinking yourself into a nice world as you would a warm bath, and building something. It's about making friends and petty grudges and taking part in events and strolling through towns. It's about finding a girl and making her fall in love with you through rude mechanics and routines. And that's Steambot Chronicles! The only difference is you're not building up a farm, you're building up a robot, and instead of watering crop after crop as assorted unpleasant thoughts and worries about your real life creep into your head, you're taking part in awesome fights.

The music ranges from so bad it's good to so bad it feels like a physical beating. Welcome to what happens when you hire voice actors with no singing training.

(And finally, and this is a big plus-plus for some of us, unlike Harvest Moon Steambot hasn't yet been ploughed into the ground under the weight of 20-plus sequels until the vision of the original games has been lost and the IP resembles a corpse made to dance with steel wires and glue.)

Irem's thinking, I guess, was that people would come to its game for the robot and stay for the world. You can see this scheme run its course in the first half hour of play. After being woken up on a beach by a girl and answering a few questions about yourself, your character wastes no time in claiming the rustic mech ('Bumpy Trot') that washed up alongside you. By the time you've taken the girl home you've defeated bandits (and been given the adorable option to hand the girl over to them so they'll let you pass) and busted up a giant bandit river dog robot thing, and then been told how to customise your bumpy trot and design a licence plate for it.

Steambot's bandits are dramatic types, seemingly trying to combine mugging with the similarly annoying practice of street theatre.

You've also discovered the combat is pretty fun, like one of the decent Armored Core games but a bit slower and more rooted to the ground. It's all about getting into the right place with the right weapon, which allows for satisfaction when you manage it and tension when it starts happening to you (or you're approaching an enemy you've never seen before). The many arena battles in the game work as well as they do because you can rarely be sure what you're going up against. Your heart pounds as your bumpy trots are raised into the arena, and then just as you're squinting at the figure in the distance he begins raining cannonballs on you like confetti, or leaps up to you like a panther and begins hacking you apart with two swords. And you dash away, you think, you adapt, but mainly you wish you'd gone with a different configuration damnit why didn't you go with a different configuration.

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Steambot Chronicles


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Quintin Smith avatar

Quintin Smith


Quinns has been writing about games for a decade. If you see him online, please be gentle. He'll be using a shotgun no matter the circumstances and will not be very good.