Mini-Mech Mayhem Review: Watching Carefully Laid Plans Implode In Glorious VR
Need something completely different to get you back into playing PSVR regularly?
Although there's been a fairly wide variety of games hitting Playstation's VR platform in recent months, Mini-Mech Mayhem offers up a style you didn't even know you were missing — a thoughtful and hilariously randomized strategy title with both single player or online multiplayer that's fit for audiences of all ages.
The basic idea here is that four adorable mechs with a huge combination of cosmetic body parts and gun types are trying to duke it out for supremacy by taking control of the victory point, pushing each other into harm's way, or directly blowing up the competition.
How you reach those goals is where Mini-Mech Mayhem sets itself apart, and this homage/deconstruction of the board game genre is both fun and clever.
Before we dive in, I just want to leave a quick note about the images below: taking screenshots while playing PSVR can sometimes give off a false sense of how the game looks since a 3D experience is rendered into a flat image. In the pics we're using here, the board looks much farther away and the mechs seem smaller than they actually are while playing Mini-Mech Mayhem.
Despite the name, this is actually a slow-moving game strategy game and not a fast-paced action shooter. That's not a negative by any means.
While the tutorial is quite in-depth, the game itself is simple to grasp once you have the basics down. Essentially you assign three actions (two for moving and one for shooting in whatever order you want) simultaneously with the other players before each round starts.
Mechs who move fewer tiles across the game board go earlier in the turn order, as do mechs who aim at the chest or limbs instead of the head when shooting, so which player will move first and how your best-laid plans will inevitably unravel is a mystery until the round kicks off.
The "mayhem" here isn't from speed or wild explosions, but rather in the utter insanity of how each round will play out since you don't know how the other players will move, and you can all mess with each other's plans through interrupt actions.
Another mech might collide with you and push you out of your intended path (or even through a red hole tile where you plummet to your robotic death). A stray shot could hit your legs and redirect your movement another direction, or hit your arm and send your next shooting action towards a different part of the board.
Interrupt actions accrued randomly at the start of each round can wildly change the battlefield, entirely re-arranging everyone's positions, adding or subtracting a step from a move plan, bumping a mech onto another tile line while they move, or even stealing energy from an opponent so you can use more interrupts.
To put it mildly, this isn't a strategy game in the vein of Into The Breach where you will have a pretty good idea of where your mechs are going to end up at the round's conclusion.
Wherever you think you are going and whatever mech you thought you were going to shoot is almost certainly not how the round will actually end. The main strategy here is in trying to guess what the other player will do so you can reach a more advantageous position. That gets easier with practice in single player AI mode, but in online multiplayer, all bets are pretty well off.
For the most part, this random chaos is a lot of fun, although there are at least two instances I found where that element of the gameplay needs an update.
First up, one tutorial challenge level seems to be bugged, as it randomly re-assigns your action at the start of the turn even though none of the other players are using interrupts.
Second, I sadly found an exploit the AI takes advantage of in normal mode that can also be used by unscrupulous players in multiplayer. Each board is randomly generated, and sometimes a red hole tile is placed on the outer edge near where players re-deploy after dying in a round.
In these cases, occasionally you get into a situation where the player who moves before the one who re-deploys can just constantly push the unlucky player into the hole at the start of each new turn.
When this particular scenario occurs, it effectively prevents that player from getting a turn and you get a victory point for free every round. That certainly needs a fix.
The Bottom Line
- Adorable graphics
- Tons of customization options
- Plenty of strategy tempered by a wildly chaotic turn system
- This would be more fun with local multiplayer or as a real board game
- There are a few ways to exploit the respawn system
- The way that your plans always fall apart won't sit well with some die-hard strategy players
Once you've mastered the mechanics, the replay here arrives from the utter unpredictability of each match, as well as in leveling up to unlock new body parts and emotes for your avatar and your mech.
Both online and offline matches can be a great time, but much like Dick Wilde 2, this is a game that is screaming for local VR co-op or some sort of way for people on the couch to interact with the game (like in The Playroom VR).
Everything about this experience feels like it would be more of a blast with people you know, watching their plans unravel as everything goes sideways. On a Friday night with your gaming group and a few beers, a local version of Mini-Mech Mayhem could be the ultimate icebreaker game that keeps everyone coming back for more.
To be perfectly honest, this game might actually work better as a tabletop experience with an app that keeps track of positions and lets you know the turn order. Each player could set down three cards in order in front of them, then the app would let you know how to re-position the mechs if interrupts are played. With mix-and-match mini parts, you wouldn't even lose out on the mech customization aspect.
That style of lo-fi board game meets high tech mobile title has been done well in the past, from the simplicity of the app timer with 5 Minute Dungeon to the complexity of tabletop war game Golem Arcana where the app calculates all the math and lets you know if your move is valid under the rules.
Wishing for local co-op aside, Mini-Mech Mayhem is a welcome addition to the PSVR lineup, especially if you've been craving something beyond the normal stable of action shooters or walking simulators.
If this were a freemium mobile game without the virtual element, I'd probably give it a 7, but as a PSVR exclusive that gives you a reason to pull out your headset again, this is a solid 8 that's great fun even if there are some elements I'd like to see changed up.
[Note: A copy of Mini-Mech Mayhem was provided by FuturLab for the purpose of this review.]