When Xenoblade Chronicles X arrived on Wii U, it not only offered an exceptional JRPG experience but also instantly cornered the mecha game niche genre by offering a complete, fully-customisable and satisfying mech-building meta game. One year into Switch's lifespan and not a single developer has tackled the genre. Does Arc System Work’s offering significantly change the mechanised bipedal mechs landscape on the system?
In a most unexpected turn of events (unless you saw any of The Terminator movies) our own giant walking bipedal sentient weapons rebelled during World War IV and turned on their creators, bringing the human civilisation to the brink of extinction. As a rookie mercenary ‘Gear’ pilot joining the Freya organization, you will take part in Operation Tokyo, a last desperate struggle to free the city from the ‘RAGE’ menace.
Now we've established that we're in a full ‘last stand of mankind’ cliché conundrum, it's time to jump into the cockpit and find out how much bang for buck Damascus Gears has under the hood. Previously released back in 2015 on PS Vita and mobile devices, it plays and feels like a Diablo-style dungeon crawler wrapped up in a Front Mission/Armored Core metal facade. If you happen to be a fan of those three games, this tile is most certainly targeted at you.
The game opts for an isometric view of the playing field with your bipedal Gear always on the centre of your screen. The left analog stick moves you in the desired direction, the ‘Y’ and ‘X’ buttons trigger the use of the weapon (any combination of melee and ranged) currently equipped on the left and right arm respectively, while ‘A’ will enable you to fire back mounted super weapons which are not immediately available at the start of your campaign. No mech game worthy of its name comes without a dash button and ‘B’ enables you to elegantly do just that as long as booster power is available. Pressing ‘L’ will patch up your gear mid-mission should the need arise and ‘ZL’/‘ZR’ quickly gathers dropped loot into your Gear. That is pretty much everything you can do in-game. A bit clunky at first but continued play will eventually make all of these second nature.
What makes or breaks a game of this genre is of course customisation of your ride. Prior to each mission, you are free to browse the shop to buy new parts or the hangar to properly set up the ride to your liking. Colour, name and individual choices for head, torso, legs, arms and weapons are all readily available so if your dream is to ride a pink glow mech called ‘Mister Smiles & Sunshine’ with double chain swords, power to you! We did mention earlier in the review this was a very Diablo-style game, so it will not surprise anyone to learn that most of the best parts are not found in the shop, but rather from dropped loot from defeated RAGEs. Often you will find that lower tier parts are actually better because of the type and quantity of buffs they offer and that is exactly what will most likely keep players coming back for more, even after you exhausted all the campaigns numerous missions.
On the subject of missions, there is quite a bit of variety to the types you get to tackle. Among the 50 or so available you will find clean up detail for enemies RAGEs, rescue operations, escort operations, arena battle and prototype tests with even the odd boss battle here and there. Sadly - and possibly a legacy of its mobile roots - there isn’t that much variety to the scenarios you get to spread your metallic legs about, leading you to quickly become way too familiar with the environments you go on about to turn bipedal giant enemies into scrap. Something we hope to see fixed in the sequel Operation Osaka.
The soundtrack is perfectly suited for the action, with electronic dance music serving to complement the (admittedly very satisfying) sound effects of giant sword on metal clashes and ammunition of the explosive, bullet or laser variant packing the expected punch. There's nothing particularly bad about it, but nothing outstanding either. Just like the rest of the package, then.
Damascus Gear Operation Tokyo is a competent slice of mech/dungeon crawler action fest that will mostly serve those who love both genres well. Other gamers might want to look somewhere else for their Switch action fix. There is nothing wrong with the core game and we certainly had quite a bit of fun merrily boosting and slashing metal monstrosities into exploding debris of metal, but the game would benefit from a little more visual spectacle to go with the simulated reality of controlling a giant bipedal tank. Despite its age and not being able to shake off its mobile roots, it is (as of writing) the only option out there for mech game fans and those should definitely consider picking it up. We hope that the sequel Damascus Gear Operation Osaka expands on this game’s solid core mechanics.