I am a big fan of mecha.
The holy grail of video games for me is a mecha game where I get to customize my own mech, which I can then pilot to pummel things that are my size or larger. And the keyword here is pummel. I am not looking to shoot something in my giant death machine with limbs, I am looking to clobber something with said limbs.
However, there is always a niggling thought at the back of my mind whenever I’m thinking about a mech game:
Is this a mecha game, or is it just a regular action game with a mecha skin draped over it? What is the difference between me controlling a person or piloting a mech, aside for how my in-game character looks?
The main thing that separates the two for me is whether the game conveys the feeling of weight and scale of these giant metal machines. The easiest way to do that is with particle effects. Dust trails, thruster effects, shockwaves from impacts, the works. Loud, thumping sounds for every step is also something that’s almost always done as well.
Aside for that, environmental destruction is another common one. Having buildings crumble as you approach, road signs and dustbins flying into the stratosphere as you bump into them, and car alarms blaring when you take a step two streets away is a good way to show how absolutely colossal and hefty the mechs you’re piloting are. EDF is absolutely amazing at this given its almost fully destructible environments.
However, there is one method game developers use to convey that feeling of weight that irritates me to no end. It’s to make them slow, lumbering, clumsy, and as easy to control as a blind rhino that’s on fire. This irks me a lot when playing EDF, although it really isn’t that bad since almost all of them uses guns and missiles. Honestly, the tanks are a lot nicer to use due to the better handling.
However, this issue stood out to me the most in one of the missions for Daemon X Machina. There is one mission of the game where instead of piloting my usual mech, I get to pilot one of the giant boss mechs. And that mission is one of the worst missions in the game, right beside the escort mission and the one where I am suppose to stealth past a whole swarm of robots as the pilot.
The lumbering rust bucket takes about a weekend to turn 90° to the side, and the rest of the week to move ten steps forward. And the absolute worst part of this? The main weapons of this colossal slowpoke is a sword and a shield. A sword. And a shield. Two close-ranged weapons on a clumsy, barely maneuverable hunk of metal. I have more success swatting mosquitoes blindfolded with a teaspoon than to hit anything with its sword.
Meanwhile, the mechs that I usually pilot don’t exactly move at supersonic speeds and turn on a dime, but the controls are at least responsive, smooth, and fluid. At the same time, the mech takes some time before it starts moving at full speed unless you engage boost, and there’s a limit as to how sharp your turns can be when moving at full speed. There is a distinct feeling that you are piloting a large metal vehicle still.
That I think is the key to the feel of mecha games. You don’t actually have to be slow and clunky, but there has to be a sense of weight and momentum in your movement. Every movement needs to feel like there’s the weight of tons of metal behind it.
Of course, having buildings crumble in your wake (or all around you) helps a lot with the feel too.