Label Art Work["I often import games from abroad and play them. On such occasions, my imagination is sometimes stimulated more as I don't understand the language.” – Fumito Ueda, creator of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. 'The Gaijin Restoration' is a weekly examination of underappreciated Eastern games that never cross to Western shores. This week's title is SCEI's Docchi Mecha!, released for the PlayStation in April of 2000.

The Plays The Thing...

Docchi Mecha! started of, for myself, as a purely financial investment. It was 5$ used and in pristine condition, as most second hand imports I've found to be, often replete with registry cards, memory card stickers and various warnings about epilepsy, or perhaps cautionary tales of bubble economies. The cover, presented here, piqued interest, but, caveat emptor, I've learned my lesson. It was the backcover that made this the companion purchase to Dirge of Cerberus (which was, is, and always will be chocobo guano.) The front featured vector style proto-prince Katamaris and flocks of HR Puf 'N Stuf types consisting of enough ellipsoids to make Ecstatica blush. The kawaii and weird checked out. The back cover, while mundane in comparison, offered the glimmer of hope of being playable.

This wasn't going to be a bunch of text, accompanied with dithered pictures of Japanese girls of questionable age, nor a menu intensive attempt at regulating the temperature of my mech suit as I face the existential crisis of deep space combat. It looked to be some sort of real time strategy excursion, not exactly a console or Japanese staple. Interesting.

Ellipsis Ellipsis Ellipsis

chair5.jpgThe game starts with an odd introduction, with 3D/2D constructs that seems cel shaded and seemingly engine built, but doesn't seem to be the same rendering of the main game. I could be wrong; this could be an export from some tweaked Flash, but it honestly feels like an engine build. Why is this important? Well, in the annals of video game archeology, this could be one of the earliest cel shaded games. With a release date of 04/27/00 it beats Slap Happy Rhythm Busters, Jet Grind Radio or the domestic Wacky Races to market by a couple of months.

After the impressive opening, there is an unfortunate maze of menus to navigate till the game drops you into the first bout. Now this is a 3D world, presented with the choices of isometric camera, and zoomed isometric camera. You control the white cherub flying overhead, on a miniscule map: my enemy's base was seconds away, with only two control nodes between us. At the beginning you call forth little beaked peapods and via a menu, suggest where they head, and what type of activity to partake in. And this is the issue: while I was influential, I was not authoritative. It reminded me of the Sega CD FMV sports titles, where you coached players, but they wouldn't necessarily listened to you. There was no micromanaging of pathfinding, or selecting what specific enemy beak'd peapod to squelch. But I bore my will, and advancements were made.

My peapods harvested enough succulent golden orb food to allow me to summon agreeable one-foot aliens, giant fish obsessed with sucking on the dirty ground, and uncontrollable godzilla terrors, each with their own unique talents. I never had any problems with the latter, as they were literally uncontrollable. They would go over to the enemy and start munching on the peapods until the Lilliputians overtook him. All of these units had a great look, though using ellipsoids, a trick to get a lot of independent 3D objects on the screen, they all featured cartoonish but striking eyes, and an almost bumpy texture of cheap convenience store pinatas. Varying techniques of warfare were used, from blitzkrieg to guerrilla combat, but I was always beaten back to my base, but only ever extinguished by the time limit, expressed by a fuse counting down the across the screen, in time to the wax and wane of the day/night cycle. Repeated plays and repeated defeats.

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... Unfortunately

The tip of the iceberg has been surveyed, and I expect there is some grand treasure frozen underneath. Maybe a caveman. This is when import gaming straddles that line of wonderful and annoying. The internet was initially of little help, with the translated katakana mainly finding empty FAQ pages, or Docchi Meccha! nestled in a list between Do You Remember Love and Dodge Ball. Katakana searches led to a Japanese wikipedia entry, which, Babelfished, makes for an interesting read. The pidgin explanation confirmed what I expected but didn't clear up enough to allow me any progress. Also, it seems my homebase, as well as the enemies, translates to a king-pao, which I thought was a moniker for some sort of chicken dish. Apparently, there is also quite a bit of medium-named voice talent signed on as well.

This is the most frustrating type of game: I can gleam much of the mechanics, I'm in thrall to the art style of both the cinemas and the game, and it plays like a hybrid notion, but I can't crack the cypher. I invite any stalwart GSW readers to comment below, and flesh out any of the games intricacies that you may know.

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[Ryan Stevens is the associate producer on the various Cinematech shows on G4TV, which showcases many of the games written about here. He's been known to do the collaborative blog thing at That's Plenty.]

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