As a longtime fan of Robotech, as well as game series like Front Mission and Armored Core, I found my interest piqued when a copy of Arc System Works’ portable mech title Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo found its way into my inbox. The premise is simple: use your customizable mech to destroy lots and lots of enemy mechs. Let’s see how well it’s been executed.
From a purely functional point of view, Damascus Gear handles well. Each of your three weapons (right arm, left arm and back) corresponds to a face button with “X” activating a quick boost for evasion. The right bumper is used for sustained boosting while the left consumes a repair kit. A tap of the rear touch pad collects any parts that have been dropped by defeated enemies. So far, so good.
What holds the game back, however, is what’s missing. There’s no way to manually aim or cycle through targets; something that feels unnecessary considering the right analog stick goes unused. This means you’ll need to frequently reposition yourself to fire on enemies, since they must be in front of you, and even then you’ve got to hope the game will prioritize the right one.
Cosmetically, the mechs themselves look pretty good with a healthy selection of enemy units that range from smallish cannon fodder to hulking killers. Weapon effects run the gamut with some doing little to stand out while others (such as the back-mounted beam cannon) look very cool. The environments offer little, both in their variety and level of detail, and the result is that it feels like you’re revisiting the same handful of non-descript zones over and over again.
There are issues on the audio side, most notably that the sound effects don’t deliver even the slightest notion that you’re operating a giant mechanical robot. Everything has kind of a garbled sound, like it’s overworking the Vita’s speakers (turning down SFX in options helps this a bit). The soundtrack blends into the background for the most part and is nondescript in those instances where it swells up.
Set near the end of the 21st century, Damascus Gear finds humanity struggling for survival after their giant robotic creations, known as “GEAR,” became self aware and attacked their creators, rearranging the letters of their name to become the “RAGE.” Now it’s up to you, the newest member of Freya’s Anti-RAGE 4th Division, to help fend off that threat and keep humanity from being snuffed out.
It’s a serviceable setup, and though the characters you meet are long-standing stereotypes, including the grizzled veteran commander (Kotetsu) and antagonistic fellow pilot (Licht), none of them do or say enough to become annoying. Then again, the reality is nobody will be playing this for its narrative, as Operation Tokyo‘s gameplay is grounded in pseudo hack n’ slash and loot collecting.
Structurally, the game is comprised of more than 50 missions, spread across six ranks. You’ll start with the E-ranked forays, which are essentially a glorified tutorial, and move all the way up to S rank. After a slow start things start to really pick up steam around the C rank; enemies become more plentiful and better armed, and boss battles get more interesting. Upon completion of each mission you’ll be assigned a letter grade based on your performance.
Missions typically take between five and 10 minutes to complete, an optimal length for portable gaming as you can sneak them in whenever you’ve got a little downtime. There’s a pretty decent variety within the missions as well. You’ve seen them before — clear all enemies, get from Point A to Point B in a set amount of time, take down a fellow GEAR in one-on-one combat, etc. — but that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable.
Fighting the RAGE presents an increasing challenge. It’s not necessarily for the best of reasons, however, as bullet sponging and overwhelming you with sheer numbers is the standard operating procedure for Damascus Gear. As mentioned earlier you’ll be packing three weapons, each of which operates on a version of a cooldown timer, so peppering enemies with strikes and then using your boost to dodge their attacks tends to be your best approach in every meaningful encounter.
Defeated foes drop parts, and upon completion you can return to dock to sift through them and see how you can upgrade your mech. There’s a lot of items to collect, many of which have secondary buffs, and you’re free to mix and match as you see fit. It takes a little while to build up your mech, but once you do the amount of customization at your disposal is impressive.
Operation Tokyo has its share of stumbles along the way as well. The aforementioned inability to freely aim your weapons and general bullet sponging sit at or near the top, but friendly A.I. is also quite poor. It’s a nuisance when they’re simply there to help and incredibly frustrating when you’re tasked with escorting them. It would’ve nice if two-person co-op play were available to eliminate this; that’s not the case, though, as the game is exclusively single player.
At its (armored) core, Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo offers satisfying combat along with enough loot collecting and customization to warrant comparisons, albeit on a smaller scale, to games like Torchlight. It’s far from perfect, but at $14.99 it’s worth checking out.