Steambot Chronicles - Staff Review  

Pimp My Trot!
by Jerry 'XeroZohar' Swain

25-40 hours


Rating definitions 

   Steambot Chronicles, formerly known as Bumpy Trot in Japan, is a unique take on previous ideas. Though a sandbox game at heart, it aspires to give a fun feel to what can sometimes become a stale offering in other cases. As a sandbox game, the player is given many, many choices of activities to do at any given point. They can play the storyline, fight bad guys, earn money from musical endeavors, and much more. This review could go for paragraphs just describing all the myriad activities available to the player. In fact, it probably will. But first, a little backstory.

   After a calamity at sea, the player wakes up on a beach, knowing nothing about himself or what happened to him. Discovered by a girl picking herbs at the same beach, the two are then attacked by a blue Trotmobile, who fires a missile and blocks the only path out of the beach area with a giant rock. Trotmobiles are the robotic equivalent, or even evolution, of vehicles in the world of Steambot -- as ubiquitous as they are varied in their uses. Fortunately, there's an abandoned Trotmobile nearby, and the pair use it to lift and remove the rock impeding their progress. At this point, you receive your first musical instrument, a harmonica, and with it, your name: Vanilla. Emphasizing the open-ended nature of the game, you start your Steambot life anew. What's a new mech pilot to do? Why, fight baddies of course!

   Being an action-RPG, Steambot's controls and battle system cater to this type of play. You control your Trotmobile using the two analog sticks on the Dual Shock. Each stick essentially controls a leg, and so with various combinations you can make your clunky robot move in any direction, with rotation, jumping, and boosting added in for good measure. The game's tutorial will give you a really good runthrough of the system, but don't expect to master it right away. Unless you've played another dual-stick controlled game like Katamari Damacy, this will take some getting used to. In fact, as part of the tutorial you are given the choice to fight your instructor, and it can and likely will take a while to get used to both your own machine and the strategy involved in fighting another. Thankfully, the basic enemies in the game don't present that much of a challenge. If you can learn to dodge, you can defeat just about any recurring enemy. Just watch your gages. You only have a limited number of attacks with each arm before they wear out and do half damage. As well, ranged weapons have limited ammo, so use them wisely if you choose that path. Finally, you have HP and fuel to be concerned about. If you run out of fuel, your speed drops to half. It won't happen often, though, if at all. Maybe you want more than just bashing robot heads together?


   Beyond battling, there are plenty of other things to be done. One of the main draws is the element of musical performance. Starting out, you are given a harmonica. Now, the question becomes, "What can be played with this?" Well, every instrument comes with practice music, so you always have something to play. As well, whenever you acquire one of the five other songs in the game, you've given sheet music for every instrument. Of course, you can only carry so many instruments around with you. Small ones such as the harmonica, a trumpet, a violin, a bass cello, or a guitar can be practiced at any time and played at save points for money. As well, in areas like bars you can find pianos to play and get money from the drunken patrons.

   Music plays a much larger part later in the game when you join a band. At this point, you play your part on any instrument you have that isn't already in use, and depending on how well you do, the more money you get. Songs are played in a different manner for each instrument. For instance, the harmonica is relatively easy, requiring you to press square or triangle at the right times as well as using the directional pad to line up an indicator. Add in holds and trills and it can be a challenge.

Choices Ahh, choices.

   On the other hand, an instrument like the accordion or drums will require much more precise timing and movement. The accordion has you using both sticks to simulate the compression motions of the instrument, and then other buttons as the keys for notes. The drums use only the shoulder buttons, but you must be extremely precise. The larger the instrument, the more precise you must be lest you screw up everyone else's playing in the band. The vocals for the five main songs are well done, if a bit unwieldy in places. As well, sometimes the vocals aren't in sync with the instruments or the graphical timers used to play your instruments.

   If battling really gets your Trotmobile purring, you might try the Arena. In every major town, there's an Arena where you can fight multiple enemies to earn prize badges. These can be redeemed for special rare trotmobile parts among other things. Arena battles are also the hardest battles in the game, being much harder than just about any storyline battle. If battling bores you, then you can try your hand at trade. Every place on the map has things you can stick in your tank, basket, or flatbed, and transport to another town for a modest profit. You can then use this money to continue trading or even upgrade your Trotmobile. There's many different types of food you can get as well, and you can even learn to cook later on and try making new recipes. There's even multiple costumes you can find or buy in clothing shops, to give yourself the cowboy look, or dress up for a night on the town. Not to mention that you can buy things for other characters later. Needless to say, you'll need lots of money, but there are so many ways to make it that you're never really short of it.

   One thing that must be noted is how wonderful the game looks while you're doing these varied and interesting tasks. The graphics are cel-shaded, but not in a cartoony fashion, and it works well in giving it more of a comic book feel. The robots all look like robots, with pistons undulating in visible motors, and realistic smoke and steam billowing out of exhaust pipes. The animation on the Trotmobiles is very well done, though the character animations can be stiff at times. With all this beauty comes a price, however: the game has trouble keeping a steady framerate, and in larger cities with many people and Trotmobiles wandering around, it can get quite choppy.

   Overall, sound is really good in Steambot Chronicles. Effects are crisp and clear, but some effects like the explosion sound are used way too often, and usually more than once at a time, resulting in a sudden large increase in volume due to the overlap. Music, on the other hand, is really great, and there are very few tracks that get overused. However, for some reason, music can be affected by the slowdown problems as well, and while normally this wouldn't be an issue, the aforementioned musical performances take a hit when the slowdown occurs, resulting in missed notes and sometimes disgruntled patrons. Still, the music is wonderful, especially the vocal tracks. It says something when one can play the same song for the twentieth time and not be tired of it. Localization is topnotch, with voice actors really fitting their parts most of the time. As well, the text is easily readable at any time, and there's hardly any unclear dialogue.

   The game's challenge really depends on how fast you become accustomed to the controls, and then figure out the normal enemy patterns. After that, if you choose to play in the arena, difficulty skyrockets as you face more and more challenging opponents. As such, the normal playtime is likely around 25-30 hours, while partaking in most of the bonus stuff will ramp that up to 35-40. Additionally, there are multiple paths to the game, based on dialogue choices and actions taken during the course of a playthrough. There's quite a lot of replay value here.

   There's so much to Steambot Chronicles that it's hard to fit it all into a single review. From robots to women, from clothes to food, from mining to sheep ranching, there's a lot of activity in this one little quirky, humorous game. If you're at all into the sandbox game-style, then Steambot Chronicles is the sandbox for you. Just be careful not to get sand in your Trot's joints.

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