Thursday, July 06, 2006

VG REVIEW: Steambot Chronicles

Atlus, for PlayStation 2
rated T for Teen (alcohol reference, crude hu­mor, fantasy violence, mild lan­guage, suggestive themes), $49.99.

The poor little town of Neuborg has been taken over by the vicious Killer Elephant gang. It’s up to you and your trusty trotmobile to take the dirty thieves down, free the city and save the day!

But wait, what’s the rush? Perhaps you’d like to indulge in a game of pool first? Or go dig up some fossils for the town museum? And don’t forget, you wanted to spend some time practicing your harmonica. The Killer Elephants will keep.

So it goes in "Steambot Chronicles," one of the most leisurely games I’ve ever played. It’s more interested in letting players quietly explore the world it presents than wowing them with smash-bang visuals.

The fact that I found myself waiting at stoplights while traveling through the city was perhaps my first clue.

Ostensibly, "Steambot Chronicles" is what is known in certain circles as "steampunk." That’s a rather popular subgenre of science-fiction where 19th-century society rubs shoulders with modern technology. Here, everyone dresses in Edwardian outfits but rides around in large mecha-like machines called trotmobiles.

You play Vanilla Bean, a young amnesiac found washed up on the shore by a girl named Coriander (yes, everyone here has food names). After surviving an attack from a mysterious villain, the two head off for the nearby town, where they begin a romance.

Or not. The game offers several branching dialogue paths, in the best "choose your own adventure" manner. What that means is you can be as nice or as rotten to the folks around you as you like, with your behavior affecting storyline developments.

"Chronicles" contains a wealth of entertaining mini-games and diversions.

In addition to the fossil hunting and pool playing, you can try to defeat other souped-up trotmobiles in the battle area, try on costumes and earn odd nicknames, and play instruments including the piano and the pipe organ.

Unfortunately, the main part of the game, operating your trotmobile, is one of the more glaring flaws. While you can trick your machine out in a variety of ways (right down to the color and license plate), operating it, especially in battle, is awkward and at times frustrating.

Still, despite some regrettable problems, "Steambot Chronicles" is so delightfully odd, it’s hard not to enjoy it. When you load the game, a happy voice intones, "Steambot Chronicles: A relaxing nonlinear adventure." I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006


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