Capcom. Any gamer worth their salt will be familiar with the efforts of the company who practically defined fighting games with their breakthrough Street Fighter series and made fighters the force in gaming they are today. Capcom is known for their colorful characters and hand-drawn art which is intimately familiar to gamers across the world, and now Capcom strikes out in a bit of a departure from the norm to introduce an all-new, 3D cast of giant robots and pilots in place of the usual assortment of martial artists (Street Fighter), mythical monsters (Darkstalkers) or super heroes (Marvel Vs. Capcom). These new characters are featured in the recently released Dreamcast game Tech Romancer.

Tech Romancer is a fast-paced, 3D robot fighting game for the Dreamcast in the same vein as its close competition Virtual On. The battles take place in fully 3D arenas, but true to Capcom's roots, most of the action takes place on a 2D plane (i.e.- face to face similar to the Street Fighter series). In addition to the frenetic battles full of laser blasts and explosions, Capcom adds a new twist. Rather than relying on a simple formula of action, they have included a heavily anime-influenced system of storytelling with multiple paths, in addition to a wealth of secrets and extras to unlock through a points system very similar to their recent effort Marvel Vs. Capcom 2.

The combat system is elegant and easy to learn, while having a reasonable amount of depth — mostly consisting of simple direction-plus-button commands; and features most of the attacks you'd expect from hundred-foot robots — an incredible abundance of rockets, lasers, satellite attack systems, detachable projectile fists and giant swords being the order of the day. Not as combo-heavy as the Vs series, but with enough there to satisfy people who love a good juggle.

During play, the combatants are free to move into and out of the background and foreground at will, with the side view of battle shifting accordingly. This works well by allowing the freedom to dodge and parry using the entire arena for movement, but keeps the simplicity and effectiveness of a classic 2D matchup. Scattered about the areas are power-ups hidden in houses, bunkers, radio towers and other breakable structures.The power-ups include extra weapons, which usually deal out much more damage than the standard attacks, as well as various health, speed and armor-ups, which makes paying attention the the surroundings important instead of simply ignoring the backgrounds as in most fighting games since one or two items acquired can turn the tide of battle quite easily.

Another feature which hasn't seen much use in fighters is the "Final Attack." After accumulating a certain amount of damage in the deciding round, each robot can activate their Final Attack which will end the match instantly if it hits. Visually impressive and generally hard to connect with, the Final Attack adds a nice level of tension since it means that the player who has the upper hand in a match can quickly find themselves on their face if they get careless and let their guard down before they see the smoking wreck of their enemy.

Unlike the competition, Capcom wasn't content to rely solely upon the game's enjoyable fighting engine to induce replays. The programmers have also included other very tangible incentives and extras — such as a sound test with a huge amount of voice samples, extra characters, a two-minute long hand-drawn anime film, as well as a selection of shorter CG movies featuring the robots launching into battle — a nod to virtually every robot series in movies or TV. All of these are unlocked by earning points in battles or in the three downloadable VMU minigames.

As if these extras weren't enough, the branching storyline system is an excellent addition which offers significantly different plots for each character, most of whom are based on instantly recognizable anime influences. In the roster of available fighters, there are characters designed to give props to famous japanese influences such as Ultraman, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gundam, Macross (and yes, the faux Valkyrie does transform), Great Mazinger and even to Virtual On. The only common thread between all the plots is the battle against the final boss (who happens to be a friendly swipe from Power Rangers). The tone of each plot is wildly different. From a serious wartime mood in one, to the wacky "too many lovestruck girls" schtick in another, there's definitely a lot here for even a casual anime fan to enjoy. And according to which story requirements you fulfill during gameplay, it's possible to unlock between one to nine different branches and endings depending on the robot and pilot selected.

As a total package, Capcom beats Sega at Sega's own game with a title that is not only more accessible and easier to get into, but which also offers a higher level of personality and flair as well as having a healthy dose of extras for those gamers who like to have objectives in their fighters. A solid purchase definitely recommended for fans of Virtual On, mecha or anime, and another great addition to an already strong library. Rating: 8.5 of 10

Brad Gallaway
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