Game Name: Mechwarrior 3050 (1994)
Developer: Tiburon Entertainment (Soviet Strike, Nuclear Strike, Madden NFL)
Platform: Sega Genesis, SNES (reviewed on a SNES emulator)
Categories: Stompy Mech Combat, One Man Army, 3/4 Isometric Perspective, Customized Loadouts, Nuanced Attack Patterns, Precision Bullet Counting, Bullet Hell, Hard as Hell, Hella Satisfying, Niche Gaming, Finicky Controls, Few Missions, Exceptional Animations/Graphics, Repeat Play Experimentation, Weird “Multiplayer”, Laudable Cheats, and Level Completion Codes
May Appeal To: Battletech grognards, practical mecha fans, battlebot audiences, spec ops military commandos, ammo conservationists, holistic enjoyment gamers
May Repulse: Battletech grognards, Gundam-style mecha fans, conventional military theorists, run-and-gunners, spray-and-prayers, nitpickers
Comparable To: …. Jungle Strike. This game is positively a mech-ridden, slow paced Jungle Strike but with varied loadouts and a hefty boost to the enemy count. The “authentic” ground-pounding feel of Armored Core is alive and well but with more numerous enemies. I wouldn’t go as far as to say this is Dynasty Warriors: Gundam swarms of enemies and projectiles but there is a definable bullet hell element to the game at its pinnacle, up there with the entry levels to a classic alternative take on WWII like the 1945 arcade title. Strangely enough, I frequently remembered the ammunition conservation like the true “survival” games in the Resident Evil series. Finally, the lop-sided power in taking down so many tanks, helicopters, hovercraft, turrets, and a sprinkling of mechs is iconic to the Mechwarrior series, primarily MW3/MW4 and Mech Assault . Mechwarrior 3050 was the second game with “Mechwarrior” in the title but made huge improvements to the aesthetics, mechanics, pacing, and fun of the original.
Learning Curve: 15 minutes to get a handle on the movement controls
Game Length: 3 hours without re-attempts
Difficulty: High; Ammo/pickup deliberation, cheap deaths via OP mechs, unlimited enemy spawning, and hidden turrets or mines can be overwhelming with only 3 lives.
Mastery: There aren’t unlockables, only entertaining cheats that can be accessed at any time. So -as with classic games of yesteryore- mastery could only be measured by artificial limitations. There are…. suboptimal weapon choices and time constraints to challenge yourself though only a sense of pride can commemorate the accomplishment without a bevy of ‘achievements’ like most modern games. Should a pair of friends ever complete the game using multiplayer controls they’d be legends. Legends.
Story: Being a pivotal turning point of historical significance, the radical start of a permeating upset, 3050 persists as an introductory point to newcomers and an epochal milestone in the unbroken warfare of this universe. The Clan Invasion era yielded infamously outlandish villains, drastic territory shifts, the dissolution and forging of alliances, and intentional imbalances across the different platforms of play. All non-‘space chicken’ entities are human in Battletech. But the self-banished dissidents of the Star League military re-entered a war-torn Inner Sphere after 300 years of eugenics programs, emerging as brash, technologically-superior warriors with a penchant for odd colloquialisms and rigid rules of engagement. This game portrays the struggle of a Clan Wolf warrior in accomplishing five distinct missions against Kuritan and Lyran holdings, all just stepping stones to Clan Wolf’s ultimate goal: capturing Earth. The freeborn dezgra should save time and declare hegira, forfeiting their isorla to the ilkhan, quiaff?
The universe isn’t going to conquer itself but you’re still on your own. Well, your commanding officer Conal Ward (wrongly mistaken as a typo for “colonel”) is there to dole out task after impossible task. I mean, a mech lance would have been a more authentic choice for destroying a chain of production facilities, for disabling a satellite station of the IS’s most advanced scientific institutions, for recovering paramount Clan genetic material, and for wading into the very swamps of Tukayyid against Comstar. But despite the suspicious lack of supporting units (at least give me some damn aerospace, Ward!), Mechwarrior 3050 immerses the player with a convincing sequence of briefings, propositions Battletech buzz words on lore-relevant worlds, and showcases a reasonably-accurate affinity with the factions and their hardware. The Jungle Strike model of tactical objectives behind swaths of enemy combatants also plays to the strengths of the militarily-aligned Battletech universe.
Flay me alive if you must, but the canonical inaccuracies pertaining to dates flubbed by mere months or certain garrisons having never fought a clan faction are forgivable. Battletech’s history is broad, deep, and overly catalogued. Having said that, it’s more egregious that a single mech -no matter the skill and design coolness- can tally thousands of kills across this many solo missions. And if they actually COULD, I’d clap my hands until a rank-and-file Galaxy Commander had the power to promote a mechwarrior to Kahn! (It’s analogous to a modern general unseating a president with a tank pilot promotion.)
Anyhow, Clan technology was OP for its time but not THAT overpowered!
(Obviously, you’d need Davions with plot armor to defy these sorts of odds.)
Presentation: The serviceable mission briefings are tense with ominous 90’s synth percussion tapping out the unspoken text as it flits by, “Colonel” Ward’s mouth flapping rapid-fire in describing the occasional objective markers that get displayed slideshow style. You’re treated with a wireframe Mad Cat near the 3×3 weapon select grid, a computerized female voice reading out your armament’s name with a buzzy lisp. You confirm the experimental loadout. A screen wipe ‘woosh’ and spheroid dropship thruster bass later and your 75 ton machination of destruction is on its own, a quick check against the steady ‘meep’ of the radar system revealing a field of distinguishable red icons pulsing with each sweep. The Mad Cat clomps forward as you get your bearings, the promised wave of troops and hovercraft falling in succession to the ‘blat blat blat’ of your own small arms fire. You clumsily swivel for angles that help dodge the inbound tracers, muscling for the cardinal direction that makes your guns auto-lock and guides your 8 axis aim towards the target. Your foot catches a building and it explodes, leaving a hotbed of embers pulsing red. A fresh suit of battle armor jumps past a spray of suppression fire, a pair of tanks emerging from a camouflaged hangar built into the mountainside. You flee to regroup, your blood running cold and mech temperature running hot when you hear the words, “Enemy Mech Approaching”.
Crisp, clean, and varied sprites adorn the game with great animations to boot. The five biomes are unique and present their own hazards: volcanic lava chunks, slippery ice patches, spiked walls, dreaded minefields, pop-up turrets, and several mazes – with or without radar jamming. Mechs rotate 360 degrees which is a bit…. weird, and it’s all the more frustrating that the camera pans don’t always swivel to match your pointed direction. The environments are destructible to some degree – mainly gates, fences, troop spawners, weakened rock mounds, and fortifications. The 3 weapon pickups plus health canister was difficult for me to memorize and it’s probably a personal problem that I had trouble correlating the radar icon with the map icon with the actual bin that gets filled. (A giant briefcase is nonsensical anyways.)
The visuals are a real treat in general but the audio crackles were prevalent, a sporadic smattering of speech representing a decent effort at improving the overall sound quality with real voices. The controls are undeniably sensitive and fidgety though, the mech being visually massive in relation to the hailstorm of projectiles you’re expected to dodge and counter fire. As mentioned above, the cardinal directions you shoot from are limiting until you “paint” the target with a couple rounds bracketing their position at range and the auto-lock kicks in – very wasteful of high damage shots but perfect for the machine gun. Lastly, my emulator’s framerate went up and down several times, seemingly independent of sprites onscreen.
Unique Features: “Unseen” mechs are present and playable, designs which were disputed early in Battletech’s inception. The two player feature of controlling the same machine is the first and only time I’ve seen it implemented. The idea of a third person action-survival bullet hell showcasing bipedal tanks is pretty unique.
Gameplay: Battlemechs endure as fusion-powered machines of doom with very few needs: a pilot, armor, ammunition, and a target. As the pilot, you receive criteria for the upcoming skirmish and -with few exceptions- objectives boil down to “destroy the things pictured”. Stipulations make success all the more difficult like countdowns, volcanic geysers, radar jamming, switchback mazes, or even large ice sections that cause the pilot to swiftly careen into gigantic spikes with momentum or careless weapons fire – so of course there is an unethical amount of enemies there!
You get 3 lives per mission attempt and a bristling throng of smaller enemies rise willingly to meet the approach. Despite the lack of cogent tactical organization, a sheer numbers of these ants -mainly personal battle armor, hovercraft, and medium tanks- is enough to impede progress if not to stave off incursions altogether. Throw in devious patches of magnetic mines and camouflaged anti-mech turrets at choke points and your poor Mad Cat will find itself amidst a grid of projectile paths and surrounded by vehicles pouring from the very walls. And that’s even precluding the enemy’s deployment of wandering mechs, many of which are just as powerful as your own. Sure, you could try to obliterate every unit and spawn point with enough salvos of your chosen armament, but are you accurate enough to make the shots count?
You have limited ammunition and health pickups. In fact, the three ammo types + repair cylinders(?) appear at static locations. Meaning, they aren’t exploitable as randomized drops based on bodycount, making this very much a run-and-gun “survival” rush to break enemy lines after plotting an acceptable course through the fusillade.
About that…. The primary challenge of Mechwarrior 3050 isn’t in determining your favorite loadout, conserving ammunition with judicious shots, learning mission nuances, or any concepts meant to test your tactical capacity. Your biggest enemy is in dueling the fiddly-ass controls in the middle of a firefight. I give certain things a pass, like how this game’s diagonal shots fly farther and faster. (Classic games handled diagonals strangely – look at Turok and his jumping angles.) But the amount of effort to acclimate to a camera that chooses when to pan the right direction, a torso that locks to 8 directions in a SHMUP, and a mech’s resistance to vector changes due to animation cycles gets harder and harder to justify as being engineering quirks of a multi-story war machine. (The movement follow-through is like Geralt’s initial walking pattern in Witcher 3, so this might be intentional.) It’s almost as if the player’s mech was originally intended to be smaller since A) the footprints are narrow B) this is the fattest Mad Cat I’ve ever seen C) the player takes up a good chunk of screen as-is.
Anyhow, control-wise, the shoulder buttons swivel the torso like a Lazy Susan atop legs that walk any direction. Holding or tapping three separate buttons activates the associated weapon – some requiring timing and finesse, all needing precision judgement since a weapon auto-locks after hitting a target. This means that a winning approach is to dance around the fringes of enemy lines, maneuvering your great bulk until the auto aim on a small-caliber weapon triggers, at which point you press forward to mop out targets with heavier weaponry. Watch out for mines!
PPC: A ball of energy with minimal ammo. You charge it for high damage output but that timing makes it difficult to use in tandem with other weapons.
Gauss: The weirdest arc and AOE for a sniper railgun…. Useful for lobbing death over walls towards buildings and enemy clusters. Charge for distance. Pitiful accuracy.
Arrow VI (Arrow IV?): Artillery rounds that function as tactical homing missiles. Highly effective for lone enemies and pelting a larger target at range. Inadequate damage.
LLaser: The fact it has ammo at all is obnoxious but this laser holds few shots at that. This is overkill for most smaller targets that you might be tempted to use it on.
MGun: My favorite weapon due to sustainability, the lack of overkill, and for painting targets to get an angle lock. Too bad it isn’t this impressive in table top!
AC/S (AC/5?): Functionally, it’s a double damage version of the machine gun but with less than half the ammo. I’ll stick with my previous choice, thank you.
Inferno: They set fires and add heat to their target, which is a placeholder for damage until it cools off. Blast mechs with inferno to support your primary weapon. Burn it all!
LRM 20: A competent weapon that has a balance of distance, damage, and ammunition. It’s most useful on turrets, buildings, and similar mid-weight targets.
Thunder Mine: The two second timer is too limited for me to do anything with it. This could be invaluable for certain mech battles if their path-finding wasn’t so wonky.
Feet: Mechwarrior 3050 carries the time-honored tradition of walking over enemies.
Although you incur damage, the allure [or necessity] of sparing ammo this way is great.
What I Liked: Though frustrating at times, the missions are well-designed and varied. I like the weapon diversity, mech cameos, the graphics, the mech-unlock cheat, and the tactical trappings wrapped around an endo-steel frame of nostalgia. The experience doesn’t overstay its welcome and the difficulty is appropriately measured. I also like the coolness of an unseen Marauder folding in half and flying across the opening credits, only to get exploderated by a stationary Mad Cat!
But quite honestly, I’m just happy to have another Battletech game.
What I Disliked: A couple canon inaccuracies just seem sloppy instead of being honest mistakes – like the mech-sized Union dropship dusting off on every mission or the aforementioned typos in the weapon names.
There are a couple design elements that could have used further play-testing. One particularly egregious example is a noob trap which rears its head in Mission 4. A time-bomb is required to access a walled area and the player soon learns they must assemble it in the field, a countdown becoming active after the final piece is seized. What’s unintuitive is that the correct part acquisition order is inverse to their physical proximity. The furthest pieces are impossibly far from the bomb’s dropoff point and a piece within arm’s length of your starting position is ideal for gathering last.
Glitches Experienced: Mines materialize in groups directly at a mech’s feet so deft maneuvering is essential to avoiding extensive damage. However, some collisions appear to be dependent on your mech’s graphical sprite overlap instead of an actual distance based on the isometric perspective. My advice is to just chuck some gauss shots at open fields in order to clear a path.
Hours I Played: ~10 in my childhood, ~8 as an adult
My Personal Reaction: The Battletech community is apparently polarized on the approval spectrum for this entry, but then again, the circle representing table top accountants on the Venn diagram never fully aligned with their video game counterparts who just want animated explosions. Personally, I got a lot of enjoyment out of this game. Perhaps even moreso than days long past when my mom took us to Krogers to grab one of five available SNES rentals off the shelf.
Mechwarrior 3050 stays true to many basic concepts of the IP, which often run counterpoint to the greater popularity of Japanese-driven mecha. Battlemechs are not spiritual extensions of an individual pilot’s ego but rather a tool to get the job done -a valuable piece of metal that supersedes the meat inside. Although mech abilities are greatly exaggerated in the Mechwarrior line, the general precept of deployment is grounded in reality: balance, teamwork, forethought, placement, and attention to detail.
Oddly enough, most of these are general axioms said to persist as themes in anime.
Noob Tips: The targeting can be a little spotty but you can coax weapons into auto-aiming if you’re close enough and within a few degrees of the ideal angle. Boss mechs are by far the most challenging but I’ll typically test the waters by bumping the shoulder buttons until my machinegun catches them off screen and circle-strafing at a speed slower than my torso twist rate. If you spam multiple weapons by holding two with your thumb and tapping the third, you can bring down even the most resilient foes.
Do the following to play as any mech in the game (Wasp, Ryoken (Stormcrow), Wolverine, Marauder, Uller (Kit Fox), Thunderbolt, and Vulture (Mad Dog)):
Hold Down + A, then press X on the Tiburon logo during startup.
Enter this Password on the : XTRM3K
Depth and Replayability: Low depth; Medium to High replayability. I’ve beaten it a couple times but the Jungle Strike game design is very effective and I keep getting drawn back. Honestly, I’d have labeled this game a “pass” if it wasn’t for the cheat code.
Suggested Value: $5, $15 for a physical cartridge
Where to Buy: eBay, local classic gaming store
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