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The Rise and Fall of Victor and the Spiders from Mars

  • Cap_H
  • 02/02/2019 09:34 AM
There are two exciting branches in scientific research. The first one is space research. I can't wait for the day we will settle on Mars and I'm looking forward the technology of first colonies. It's a great prospect for both humanity and creative minds as this fantasy opens doors to many interesting narratives.
Space colonialism is a thing in Mechanima, but It's not the meat of its story. The game's more about artificial intelligence and dilemmas future development of androids can bring. In other words the second hot science topic. Without spoiling anything I can say that the game asks some of the same questions as Blade Runner series, especially the sequel. The somehow authentic blend of space themed science fiction and cyberpunk creates a very interesting frame for the game's story. The creators were well informed about methods man could possibly use to build settlements on Mars like subterranean plantations and they showed a good portion of critical thinking, when creating an authoritarian post-corporate society of the colony for the setting.

The writing in general is where Mechanima shines. I followed it thrilled to see how the story unfolds. I don't want to spoil much, but i want to give a shot out to the ultimate one year later twist of events. This is where the game takes themes of Blade Runner and moves them one step further. The territory this twist opens is wast and unexplored.
The story is at its core rather simple. You play as a blank character, who needs to rediscover her position in the world. Girl losing her memory is quite convenient as you can have a more personal line next to your quest for finding your place in the society without any background. You manage to uncover some pretty dark mysteries along the way. They feel almost like a byproduct of your initiation and I think that discovering who or what you are is far more important. The antagonist is there to show you a multitude of opinions and not like someone, who is less valid than you.
I think the gameplay structure manages to support the narrative. Basically, you get one task every day and some of them are very mundane. I would go as far as to compare it with Always Sometimes Monsters. In that game working low paid jobs confronted you with the reality of your existence.
I appreciate the small number of relevant characters. There's Girl, your teenage moody protagonist. I find her lines to be rather well written and it was super easy for me to fall for her brash charisma. She's a very ethic and kind person too.
Pris might be little too moral for her own good. She's there to support Girl in being a better person. Her traits would be supportive, lawful, bold. Her relation to Girl isn't entirely clear. Is she a mother figure to her? Or are the two more equal as friends? Pris could be a far more developed character in a longer story. Here her roles are mostly two. To be an anchor for Girl and to mediate the broader reality of the setting. Her personal arc ended before we meet her for the first time.
Victor, the antagonist, is a very mundane and ordered person at first sight. He's helping you to find your place, but he's doing it in the way, which actually obstructs purpose from you. The plot twist in his character arc is predictable, but the way the game deals with them and what it tries to communicate through his fate exceeded my expectations.
Tanner, the father figure to Girl, is again little underdeveloped as the story doesn't focus on him. I find him to be rather enjoyable otherwise. He's crucial for Girl's personal development and for most events in the game as he's the bearer of knowledge and we usually learn concrete facts through dialogues with him. I love that his side of dialogues is usually informative, while Girl's side tells more about her state of mind and presents her conflicted emotions.
Most dialogues are great but you can still hear a pen scratching on paper sometimes. Some lines just don't fit in the game and sometimes characters speak too much. Other narrative failures would be: 1. One small narrative hole, which I don't mind, because it makes us feel the game's world doesn't end with credits. You pursue these robots attacking convoys only to find out nothing. It confirms my statement that the game is focused first and foremost on Girl. 2. Some scenes with Victor feel forced or abruptly ended. It doesn't break the immersion or my impression. All these negatives are just nitpicking.

You can't travel in Mechanima, but colonies on other planets are hinted.

While enjoying the captivating story, You might end up little frustrated by the gameplay. You fight a lot in Mechanima. Battles are fairly well balanced with bossfights being on an easier side, especially if you exploit a side-quest bug or just fight a lot and purchase Marylin, who is a walking homicide in a robotic body. The really interesting mechanic is that you only equip two of your characters and the other two can be crafted or scrapped at any time and they come equipped with firepower adequate to their price. It introduces an alternative economy, where scraps used for building new companions are more important than money. This is all good and it keeps you invested in battles for a while.
But you fight a lot and it can get fairly repetitive. Battles are fairly straightforward. Items provide you with abilities. Various abilities differ enough, but the variety isn't huge. The strongest weapons have 4 abilities but I only used 2nd tier abilities in most battles as 3rd and 4rt tier abilities require different kind of points than 1st and 2nd tier ones. You usually deplete these points at the start of battle by enabling tactics, abilities of an item.
I was hooked for a while, but the level design makes you fight up to 8 times every time you travel between two dialogue scenes. You can avoid battles or even try to escape from them, yet sometimes encounters can surround you and you're forced to fight your way out. It's mildly frustrating, because you don't need to grind all these battles to become sufficiently strong. And often you only come to that one location to get a short cutscene and then you're sent back to the place you've just come from. I would be much happier if the encounters disappeared after escaping from a battle. And If you wanted to fight them, you would reenter the map. I don't think this is a particularly good level design. There are good bits too like the underground shortcuts between locations. Another thing about level design I can't fathom is why are maps divided differently at the airport, which is this massive hall with scrolling in every direction, and zelda-like screens in the rest of Mechanima. I strongly disliked most maps having rough open edges. There were clear transfer rules most of the time, but it lacks tightness of maps of whole areas. The game contains many cosmetic businesses, which would make more sense if they were on a single map with real vendors. This would be my personal preference at least.

This police officer turns out to be a solid source of income.

The game has a glorious title screen and all custom resources. That gives it a personality and I think I could get more invested in the story thanks to the art. The game can't be called pretty, tho. It's too rough around edges, colours are too dim in an effort to be realistic, movement animations are wacky. You come across both pixelated items and real photos. There's an insane amount of custom stuff but a big part of it doesn't look finished or it doesn't feel properly shaped. If you compare it with Across The Universe, you can see how much Piano's style has evolved and how more defined it has become since.
On the other hand I can't praise him enough for an abundance of custom animations and cutscenes, which are far more effective storytelling device than plain text. An insane amount of work went into this!
Music accompanies the game well and there are two noticeable tunes. The first one is the title screen music and the second is a flamenco guitar playing when you wander around streets of Mars. The rest of tunes fades away. The good thing about the soundtrack is that it lets the game breath. I like music heavy games, but hear it could overpower the realistic tone.

With Amort getting some major attention, Mechanima got sorely overlooked in the aftermath of McBacon Jam 4. Amort probably is an overall better game, but I think this entry can compete with it as a successful entry. It's a great deal of a game for the money. The game's worth playing mostly for the story. If you like Blade Runner, this should be right up your alley.
Four people worked on this game and I know that three of them probably worked hard, but this feels a lot like a game of one man, Piano. It has his graphics and his writing. I appreciate how strong his personal style became in a short period of time and how much he was able to invest himself in his games.
This might be a little abrupt end, so let's jump on it and break down the score:
Story - 1.5 star
Setting - 0.5 star
Characters - 0.5 star
Graphics - 1 star
Gameplay - 0.5 star
That's a total of 4 stars!


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The TM is for Totally Magical.
Thank you so much!

So, I did this goofy thing where I just sat down and drew parallax map, upon map, upon map, upon map...It must have been for two or three weeks I did that. Two to three maps a day. By contrast, Across the Universe is tiled, but I think I'm going to have to do something different for the world maps. Unity can't seem to handle tiling on maps that large. I was initially going to tile all of Mechanima, but it turns out, the only thing I made tiles for was the Martian desert. I know why I did it that way. It was Tanner's workshop. I wasn't getting the look I wanted from tiles, so I drew the workshop as I envisioned it, hoping that actually being able to look at it would help me figure out how to make tiles for it. Then I decided, no, this concept image IS my map, and what followed was what I can only describe as this manic compulsion to draw as many of the maps in the game as I could. The furniture and fixtures were tiled. I at least tiled those.

You have AtlasAtrium to thank for combat and balance. I love his combat design and it seems to be his preferred combat engine since combat works the same way in several of his games. You have me to thank for not doing a great job at making the on screen encounters manageable. I really should have dialed back the amount of on screen encounters in areas. Gourd_Clae helped a lot with text. We both wrote a lot of text. I did a lot of editing because his writing style was actually pretty significantly different from mine. That's probably the pen scratching you're hearing. (He also gave us the marvelous dialogue about Auntie's little poopsies!)

I really wanted to spend more time with these characters. I'm afraid I stopped focusing on Tanner so much when I decided where his arc was going. I suspect Pris was all of our favorite. I really wanted to spend more time with her, developing her, establishing her. Originally, I was going to have her die also, but fell victim to the writer's trap where you fall a bit too much in love with the character.

Again, thank you so much!
The TM is for Totally Magical.
And I just realized that this is yet another completed game that I failed to mark as such.
It might be my personal preference, but I enjoyed the Martian desert the most look-wise. It looked barren like a proper Martian landscape. It might be because I'm more used to traditional mapping in RM and I would judge it differently if I were used to another engine.
It would be great to spend more time with Pris and Tanner. Maybe a prequel taking place during Pris's time in a labour camp?
I'll definitely play more of your games in Summer!
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