MechWarrior FI

SNES A Day 190: MechWarrior


Approximate Release Month: May 1993
Genre: Action/simulation
Developer: Beam Software
Publisher: Activision

Although MechWarrior is basic and repetitive, this loose conversion of the 1989 PC classic is… fine.

Mech simulation isn’t a genre that sees a lot of play on consoles. Trading in a keyboard and joystick for a controller lessens the experience because a controller doesn’t even begin to emulate the fantasy of being in a giant robot. Steel Battalion and its ridiculous 40-button controller was an attempt to both create that illusion and also provide enough buttons to do everything a player would want to do.

Guess what? The Super Nintendo controller does not have enough buttons for MechWarrior, and Beam Software seems to have simplified the game to make do. Every battle takes place in a small, flat Mode 7 arena in which enemies fall from the sky to assault the player. They then just run straight at you, firing their weapons the entire way.

Anything more than that would have been frustrating given the player control limitations. The mech can’t strafe side-to-side to dodge attacks. Holding the Y button lets you use the d-pad to adjust the aiming reticule, but you can’t move at the same time. Jumping is disorienting and enemies will run under you where you can’t hit them, anyways. The most effective strategy I found was to run at the enemies and mash the A button and hope my barrage of missiles and lasers could cut through the mechs before I took too much damage. Which is basically what the AI was doing, in retrospect. Sometimes I would back up while mashing the A button in an inspiring example of human ingenuity over machine.

These skirmishes aren’t the bulk of MechWarrior’s gameplay. Most play time is spent in a series of icon-based menus that let you do standard sim stuff. There’s a pub where you can talk to locals for some world-building and gameplay pointers. I was hoping for some light adventure game elements here, but there’s none of that. The command center lets you accept missions to raise cash and advance the story. Some missions have you defending your base and others have you searching for an item, but they all feel the same.

The shop menu is bare bones. I generally approached any upgrade decision with an “if it’s more expensive, it’s probably better” attitude. Upgrading my mech didn’t make me feel more powerful, just slower. I loaded my mech up with homing missiles and it was unclear whether more expensive munitions were more powerful or just had a longer range. New mech chassis are absurdly expensive, so I couldn’t see if a different robot made a gameplay difference.

MechWarrior‘s core loop is time-tested: complete a mission, use earnings to upgrade your robot, complete a harder mission, and repeat. The simulation side of that loop isn’t fleshed out enough to make up for the rudimentary action. The game needs more to it to sustain interest, and cool graphics aren’t enough to be better than fine.

Next time: We have another simulation with the lure-id Super Black Bass.

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