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Steel Battalion

In Steel Battalion, Capcom and Nudemaker approached mecha gaming in a distinctly uncompromising manner. The game hinges on a massive multi-button controller that allows the player to pilot a large bipedal mecha known as a "vertical tank." Resolutely focused on the "real robot" end of the mecha genre, Steel Battalion takes the arcade setup of games like Armored Core and turns it into a very exacting simulation. From the need to wash your viewing cameras when they get dirty to hitting the eject button as your mecha explodes around you, the game accounts for pretty much every theoretical aspect of piloting a giant fighting robot. It was ferociously hard as well, with enemies able to dispense you with terrifying one-shot ease. As such, Steel Battalion and its sequel, Line of Contact, are now very much the touchstone for mecha simulation.

Herzog Zwei

Forget Command & Conquer - Technosoft's Herzog series is where the RTS genre started. In Herzog, players control transformable mecha from an aerial perspective and can also create units and protect bases over a large map. The original Herzog is quite simplistic, but its sequel, Zwei, manages to use more of the Genesis' technical superiority to make the gameplay a bit more involved. Zwei also received a Western release, one that curiously pre-dates all of Westwood's early RTS efforts.

Bangai-O

Niche developer Treasure approached the original Bangai-O almost as a reaction to shmup elements seen in Leynos II on the Saturn. As in Leynos II, the camera pulls out when the action kicks off, effectively prioritizing the mecha's abilities over its appearance. Treasure used the lesser-known Hover Attack as a reference point, which treats its protagonist as a miniscule dot on the gaming horizon and allows greater screen space for the titular Bangai-O to fill the screen with hundreds of missiles. Using anime references from Macross, Layzner and Ideon, Bangai-O approaches mecha based around what they can do rather than what they happen to look like.

Carnage Heart

Unlike the other games listed here, Carnage Heart doesn't allow players to directly control their mecha, called Overkill Engines. Instead, players have to program their A.I. to accomplish certain tasks and survive specific scenarios. This means Carnage Heart is more about setting up your mecha to deal with different contingencies in order for it to survive in battle than it is about taking control yourself as a pilot. Though not entirely successful, it was a unique and interesting premise that birthed a number of sequels, including games like the original Armored Core Formula Front.

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Despite mecha games' obvious and slightly misleading aesthetic commonality, the above examples show it's a remarkably diverse and unique genre in terms of gameplay. So to all those who would believe that one giant robot is just like any other in terms of how it moves, operates and fights, you might want to look again - you'll find they're more than meets the eye.

Ollie Barder works as a Senior Games Designer at doublesix and helms the mecha gaming blog Mecha Damashii. In his spare time he plays lots of games and dusts an ever-growing collection of die-cast robot toys.

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