Niche genre Switch owners have had a rough first year attending to their unique appetites, yet slowly but surely several releases have been filling those tricky gaps. The potential for a Switch mecha game has remained untapped bar the odd eShop and SD Gundam re-release title, but we all know that something rather special is on the way in 2019. So, can a six-year-old PS Vita re-release appease the mech-loving masses until then? We're about to find out with Assault Gunners HD Edition.
It was just another peaceful day of military drills at Deimos when communications with the Mars colonies strangely ceased. Your peacekeeping force (read: mercenary enforcers) of DAT (DESTROID ARMS ASSAULT TEAM) is ordered to put metal boots on the Martian red soil to figure out what went wrong. Your four mech squad is soon attacked by the local ANTS (Autonomous Terraforming Units) that somehow have been reprogrammed to attack the colonies. Every successful mission in the campaign will take you closer to the truth.
Right off the bat, you may want to spend some time in the hangar. Every expected customization option that one could possibly want from an Armored Core clone is present and accounted for. You can pick torso and leg types, up to four different weapons (main, sub, melee and back-mounted), extra stat-boosting parts, the mech's name and colours (sadly only using pre-determined sets). Since you can play with up to three other AI partners, you may want to spend some time to customize everyone’s machine. It is, after all, part of the fun of these games.
You don’t have to worry about money in Assault Gunners. Completing missions will unlock parts and ‘resource points’. You use the latter to choose which mech body parts to develop or reinforce. There's a pleasing amount of variants for both body and legs, including some of the classic Armored Core staples like reverse joint, tank and hover legs. From the customizable mech standpoint, Assault Gunners more than delivers.
Sadly, some design choices fail to elevate the game to its full destructive potential. We have some issues with the controls, namely the weapon selection. ‘A’,‘B’,‘X’ and ‘Y’ are used to select a type of weapon and ‘R’ to fire. This is a bit silly since you’re wasting the immediacy of a fire button by having to press two instead. This is particularly troublesome when you want to connect with a quick melee hit; instead of simply pressing ‘Y’ to punch an enemy unit in its stupid metal face, you need to press ‘Y’ then ‘R’. It feels unnatural and almost as irritating as the fact that this game uses the ‘B’ button to confirm and the ‘A’ button to cancel, a setup the Japanese are fond of and something we can assure will drive you insane navigating the customization menus.
The main campaign is nicely paced, with Mars providing a suitably barren landscape on which to unleash your squad’s deadly load-outs on the unsuspecting ANT units that spawn out of thin air in groups of around a dozen. While it is very satisfying to boost around the battlefield and turn everything into scrap metal, you will eventually notice that most of the missions simply recycle the objectives from previous ones and paste them onto new art assets. It is not something deal breaking in itself, and the plot presented by the cutscenes is enough to keep you going. Just make sure you play it on hard; we found very little trouble ploughing through missions with our four-mech squad and we suspect that this is not because we are the second coming of Char Aznable.
The graphics are very bland and use the most basic of textures; you can tell this is an old PS Vita game, put it that way. This might be an issue with other titles, but considering that the developers have also given the mechs a clean look and allow everything to gloriously explode without a hint of slowdown, it doesn’t really affect the overall experience. Music is of the electronic, high-paced variety and the game includes three top quality male and female voice actors to deliver objectives and narration during missions.
Once you're done with the main campaign mode, there's some DLC to consider that offers a few more missions and extra parts for you to mess about with; you can also take your best creations into the endless ‘Inferno Mode’, where you can freely satisfy your appetite for mech-based destruction. The biggest flaw that jumps at you from the get-go like Amuro Rey onto a stolen Gundam cockpit is Assault Gunners HD Edition multiplayer mode - more precisely, the complete lack of it. This would surely be a far more satisfying experience if you could take on the campaign along with three other friends or pit your mechs against each other. That's a huge missed opportunity right here, considering the Switch's multiplayer-friendly design.
Assault Gunner HD Edition is (at the time of writing) the very best mech game available on the Switch. It provides more than enough bang for your buck but sadly doesn't do it in the spectacular fashion one would expect when controlling a gigantic robot. We still heartfully recommend this to mech game lovers out there, but other players will simply not be converted to the genre by this one. The wait for the definitive mecha Switch game continues, and hopefully, DAEMON X MACHINA will fill that gap.