Like any video game genre, the science fiction surrounding mechs contains industry standouts – Zone of the Enders, Lost Planet, Iron Brigade – and blemishes fans wish they could erase – Gundam, Chromehounds, Steel Battalion. NeoMech enters the ring somewhere in that middle ground, rounding off many of the browser version’s rougher edges for its iOS release. The apparent visual upgrade combined with extra levels make the dollar expenditure extremely attractive, but an aggressive progress-blocking glitch bars the way.
Initially, Neomech’s premise borders on unoriginal. In some mechanized future, a military leader simply known as the General dispatches air and ground support to eliminate the red-haired, gum-chewing protagonist. What’s the basis for the unspoken feud between these two? I wish I could say; the developers waste what little text NeoMech offers on horrible puns. The General’s shouts of “Hadouken!” or the heroine’s mockery of John McClane’s catchphrase – “Yippee Ki-yay Melon Farmer” – elicit repeated groans, considering your robot companion never summons blue fireballs or throws Russians out of skyscraper windows.
The EMPs are more visually impressive than Hadoukens.
The gameplay and retro art, however, warrant a second look. Your mech continually shuffles forward while you drag the weapon crosshair around the screen, annihilating wave after wave of foolhardy reinforcements. The formula’s akin to an endless runner peppered by hints of Infinity Blade. At first your lumbering metal puppet trudges onward too underpowered to survive more than a few levels against hostile militants, but once you start collecting coins and power-ups, it’s the army’s turn to go on the defensive. Rambo-like infantry that previously drained your health reserves fall over in heaps of pixel gore, tanks detonate in groups of bright 16-bit explosions, and those unlucky enough to be scorched by the flamethrower run off screen wrapped in suits of flames.
You cannot control the game’s speed beyond activating the shield to halt the machine’s movements briefly. Along with the flamethrower, a familiar minigun, rail gun, and missile launcher round out the minimal weapon variety, and power-ups include EMPs, artillery strikes, and small-scale nukes. Each of the armaments fulfills a specific purpose that should not be squandered. For example, an EMP only affects helicopters, while the artillery strike floods ground forces in a rain of missiles. The rail gun rips through enemy tanks, yet the nimble infantry evade the fatal laser. The flamethrower will finish off foot soldiers, though you’ll just preheat a vehicle’s armor. And obviously, the nuke levels the playing field.
Although power-ups cannot be upgraded, you’ll need to invest some serious money into your mech’s firepower if you hope to best the bosses. Other iOS releases seem criminally obsessed with in-app purchases, and NeoMech makes the temptation almost irresistible. Tougher enemies horde massive gold reserves, forcing you to farm earlier levels for the cheapest improvements until you are able to withstand more RPG volleys. Sure, you could level up the weapons and armor through continual hard work (if you have a couple dozen hours to kill), but the inbred repetition of restarting from level one every time your mech explodes will have you eyeing the transaction screen between stages. When an extra $13.99 will buy you every available enhancement, weaker-willed gamers such as myself must abstain from frittering away our dollars. (I’ll have you know I only bought the $5.99 bundle.)
You'll accrue enough ammo from defeated enemies, so spend your hard-won gold elsewhere.
Now, I was passing level nine (rather than failing on level four) and cutting rifts in the enemy defense, leaving nothing but trampled bodies and metal husks in my wake. With the minigun’s improved cooling, the rail gun’s increased piercing damage, and the missile launcher’s faster firing rate, I felt like an untouchable tyrant. Then a game-breaking bug appeared. NeoMech crashes randomly on levels nine and ten, yet the glitch occurs more often when you expend power-ups during those stages. Though you may never encounter this mishap based on your commitment to the asking price, a meager dollar does not cleanse the bitter aftertaste.
Still, flaws with NeoMech's browser origins also appear in the iOS port. Instead of collecting money and ammo drops as your towering robot passes over them, these necessities can only be gathered by tapping each in turn. This means you have to remove your finger from the screen – sometimes when you’re being assaulted by a combination of two dozen helicopters, tanks, and infantry – or forfeit the spoils. NeoMech cannot recognize simultaneous inputs, either. As you guide the crosshair around the touchscreen, you cannot use power-ups or activate shields. You must constantly choose one command over another.
But again, the satisfaction of slowly upgrading your mech, then curb stomping enemies that previously posed a challenge, refuses to falter. Not even the handful of backgrounds or identical enemy waves phase the replay value. If you cannot resist the the call of rampaging robot action, play the free browser version or hold off until a patch releases, because $0.99 remains a modest price to pay for a noteworthy revenge simulator.
Release Date: October 10, 2012
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign)
Platforms: iOS (Reviewed), PC