Right Robots, Wrong Mission

HIGH The concept is gold and the art style is fantastic.

LOW Finishing the game missing crewmembers and robots.

WTF Who thought all this grinding was a good idea?

Thanks to the popular resurgence of both giant robots and kaiju – the word and the oversized, monstrous creatures themselves – the concept of huge things battling it out while towering over ruined cities is back, baby. As a fan of such material I couldn’t be happier, and I was thrilled to dive into Volta-X. That thrill didn’t last long, though.

Coming from GungHo Online, Volta-X puts players in control of a team of anthropomorphized animals who pilot giant robots. At first they’re just in it for the sake of competing against other ‘bots, but a kaiju threat soon surfaces and they’re called into action.

From the get-go, I was in love with this concept, and especially with how it’s implemented. Rather than a simplistic beat-‘em-up, GungHo has gone in a different direction by featuring realtime team management inside the robots.

As the game begins, the player will get the opportunity to set up a 2D ‘ant farm’ base that can be built to spec with energy generation, science labs, R&R activities and more. The team goes about their business while in the base – eating, sleeping, constructing giant laser cannons – and leveling up stats related to progress. It’s pretty basic, but I appreciated the flavor.

When it’s time to throw down and the team straps into a giant robot, the player’s screen is split into two halves – one is an exterior view showing the massive combatants squaring off in an isometric perspective, and the other is a cutaway view showing the inside of the player’s robot with each vital area displayed as a room.

The animals on the team can move back and forth between sections of the robot, and their placement is key. Having the right crew member in the right room might increase the damage output of a giant fist, speed up reloading of a cannon, or they might just put out fires and repair damage.

While all this is going on, the player is also triggering the robot’s attacks as they come off of cooldowns and targeting specific points on the enemy for maximum effectiveness. Hit the shoulders to stop the guns mounted there, bash the chest to crash the enemy’s generator, or just go for a quick KO by focusing on the pilot in the head.

Managing these fights keeps the player pleasantly busy by offering so many things to monitor at once — it almost feels the way I imagine piloting a four-story mechanical gladiator would. Changing loadouts is also a good time, and the old-school gearhead in me enjoyed tinkering with builds and trying to find synergies in the weapons.

However, while I was absolutely on board for this content as described so far, it wasn’t long before things started to go sideways for me – I was surprised to find that instead of a tight campaign with standard progression, the devs pivoted towards online PVP action, prolonged player engagement and a long road of grinding.  

As far as battles go, there are options. There are a limited number of character specific sidestories and some campaign-specific battles (the narrative can be completed in 3-4 hours) but the real meat of play comes from doing ranked battles and climbing a long ladder to the top, either against AI or real people online. For the record, I attempted to try the online PVP multiple times, and was never able to find an opponent.

Regardless of whether it’s against real players or the AI, unlocking new weapons and items requires the player to increase their combat rank, and this is done by doing lots and lots and lots of battles. This might not be a bad thing in theory, but there’s not much to unlock and it comes in bursts that get further apart as the game goes on, so the player can expect to spend a significant amount of time grinding for little reward.

What’s worse is that Volta-X features several different types of robots — a humanoid, a squid, a tank, and more – but they’re unlocked by earning components via random drops. Hours after the credits rolled, I still had three incomplete and unusable ‘bots, and I have no idea if there are more. The same random unlock system goes for new crewmembers. Without a clear goal to work towards, the randomness becomes dispiriting and the lack of available options turns the experience stale.

Other aspects of Volta-X are similarly misguided. For the vast majority of fights, there’s no way to see what kind of mech an opponent is using, or what it’s kitted with. These blind battles kill the ability to strategize since gear that’s great for blocking physical damage gets burned to a crisp when enemies are rocking flamers, and bringing a ‘bot equipped with internal sprinklers means the tech is wasted when the enemy’s using aerial drones. There’s no way to switch weapons or systems during battle, so victory often comes down to a roll of the dice – hardly a quality that strategy games should rely on.

I was also dissatisfied with Volta-X’s focus on grind beyond the player’s ranking. Weapons for the robots have to be leveled up by finding items that are (you guessed it) dropped randomly in battles, and once a player has gone all-in on a loadout, it means a lot of grinding for more materials if they want to change it up.

The last annoyance is also a fairly serious one — Volta-X can’t be played without an active online connection. Forget about taking it on the bus or anywhere that the Switch can’t stay connected. Even putting it in rest mode for a minute or two will drop the connection, and along with this comes increased battery usage — my playtime between charges was notably reduced.

This laundry list of issues breaks my heart, because Volta-X has a great concept and could have easily been a killer eight-to-ten-hour adventure filled with lasers, rocket-powered fists and awesome explosions. Instead, the experience is brought down by stretching it into the sort of neverending online game-as-service that it isn’t suited for. Time to take this ‘bot offline and reboot.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by GungHo Online Entertainment America. It is currently available on PC and Switch.This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the witch. Approximately 8 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the story mode was completed, with additional time spent grinding for items and rank. No time was spent in multiplayer modes because opponents could not be found. The game also offers a Clan system, but no one joined, so I have no input on its function or how members interact.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10+ for Fantasy Violence and Users Interact. I was not able to find opponents online so I can’t say how users interact, but the violence is totally bloodless. Large robots punch each other or shoot missiles at each other, and so on. No gore and nothing explicit here. It’s kid-safe.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the entire game on mute and had no issues whatsoever. All dialogue is subtitled, but there are no options to adjust or resize the text. This title is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. The controls are fairly simple – the left stick moves a cursor to select options, A selects, B cancels. During battle, X is used to select pilots inside the mech and move them from room to room.

Brad Gallaway
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