April 7, 2006 6:02 PM | Danny Cowan
Not your grandma's mech game.
I don't get mech games. I can't find the fun in Virtual On, the complexity of the Armored Core series scares the hell out of me, and even though Carnage Heart would be a perfect fit for this column, I just can't make myself play it. I'm not quite sure why, but it seems like the appeal behind controlling giant robots will always elude me.
Bulk Slash is the only game in my experience that has been the exception to this rule. It's the mech game for people who hate mech games; the number-crunching statistics screens inherent to the genre are nowhere to be found here, and it's one of the few games of its kind that doesn't make a huge ordeal out of something as simple as a 180-degree turn. The game further differentiates itself from its peers by being playable without the use of a ridiculous and expensive controller. That, and it's actually fun to play.
Neither fat nor fanfiction.
Simulation-minded mech fans should stay far away from this one; Bulk Slash is an action game through and through. You pilot a robot through several fenced-in 3D stages, blasting everything that you can get a lock on and hunting down assigned targets as quickly as possible. Your mech has the ability to change from a ground-based biped into an airborne jet (and vice-versa) at any time -- a necessity, since there's often a lot of ground to cover in every level.
Graphically, the game takes advantage of the hardware's strengths without trying to push it too hard. There's a bit of a pop-in problem at times, but the framerate is fast and consistent enough to make the concession worthwhile. The Saturn isn't exactly known for its ability to render 3D graphics, either, so it's impressive to see a game of this type handled so well on the console.
More man than machine.
Other aesthetic touches further add to the game's charm; the use of bright colors is refreshing to see, making the game stand in stark contrast with the muted tones present in many other mech games. The weapons are pretty cool too: the lock-on lasers and napalm bombs arc crazily, and there's a certain specific thrill involved in marching up to a huge gun turret and destroying it with a laser sword.
With its easy-to-master controls and a simple stage-boss-stage-boss structure, Bulk Slash feels like less of a mech game and more of an action game with a mech in it. Where other games of the genre are bogged down with simulation aspects, Bulk Slash places its focus on action throughout. This may be where the game succeeds in places others fail; stilted realism may appeal to only a select few, but the allure of giant robots shooting things is universal. If you like robots but don't want to program them, put them together, or guide them along a hex-based grid, Bulk Slash is a great alternative.
[Danny Cowan is a freelance writer hailing from Austin, Texas. He has contributed feature articles to Lost Levels Online and 1up.com , and his writing appears monthly in Hardcore Gamer Magazine.]
Categories: Column: Bastards Of 32-Bit