Volta-X is anything but your run-off-the mill mecha beat ’em up. By going the opposite direction, it might even set the bar for how mecha games can be besides a mindless beat ’em up game.
Instead, it does quite a lot in making players literally think on their feet, arms and head in a unique blend of RTS combat. The game is also a love-letter to the kaiju and mecha genre – both of which grew as Power Rangers, Pacific Rim and Ultraman were picking up steam worldwide. But don’t let the game’s anthropomorphic animals throw you off – they’re the only thing keeping the game from taking itself too seriously (and that’s a good thing). Volta-X features a fully fleshed-out plot with dramatic Hollywood bite and delivers just enough of your favourite mecha-on-mecha thrills to make you a part of the action under an online game setting. Impressively, it’s all pulled off without bogging down the giant mecha spectacles. Just as you’re getting lost in Volta-X‘s grand, welcomingly-campy world, its high production values by veteran Ragnarok and Ninjala developer GungHo Online Entertainment Inc make this an optimal RTS gateway for newcomers and an absolute addiction for die-hard kaiju fans.
Over my weekend playthrough, I’ll admit the game was a bit overwhelming as it jumps straight into the action. It took me about a full hour to fully understand the game’s mechanics, which masquerades as a story-based back and forth dialogue between characters. I was surprised to see some no-nonsense depth in the story, which is set in a post-kaiju Earth. Years after an invasion, its animal citizens were able to fight back with the Voltas – the game’s term for mechs which defended the planet. From there, the World Volta Association was created to put the mechs to competitive use. Pilots with teams of three and their own mechs could fight with others for their own glory as they brace for future kaiju attacks.
So far so familiar? Volta-X takes you into the World Volta Association as its latest oddball Pilot who was arrested for taking a broken-down Volta on a joyride. At the choice of a male fox or female tiger , you’re bailed out by someone who knew your parents, particularly your dad who was an esteemed pilot mysteriously killed in action. As you fix up a custom Volta to join the WVA, a mission to be the best, defend Earth and learn about your father’s fate all branch out into subplots. Volta-X‘s animal companions also bring their campy humor to keep the plot going across a live season-based single player campaign.
But Volta-X‘s premise is all around mecha-on-mecha combat with AI or online opponents. The twist: players need to strategically know how and where to attack, as the main goal is to use your Volta’s body part to destroy another Volta’s body part. Players win by destroying more parts (which scores a point) or to take out a Volta’s head (which is easier said than done). I was impressed at the game’s level of precision, forcing me to think under pressure as my Volta was also being pummeled by an opponent. The result is a fast-paced RTS game that could only work with Volta-X‘s towering mechs. Adding to the frantic fights are your AI teammates inside each Volta. Each attack is intricately mapped to a room in your mech. By clicking-and-dragging, you can land an attack and also command your characters to enter a particular room. This is crucial in keeping your Volta alive, as characters can repair parts and put out fires which chew away at a room’s HP. You’ll also find yourself moving them around a lot, as each character comes with a perk that can buff up a ranged or melee attack for damage.
Apart from choosing your character early on in the game, I also got to pick a choice of four different Voltas. But choose carefully – each one comes with a special attack and their own perks. My choice of Raiden came with a Mountain Strike that temporarily fried all of my opponent’s systems – giving me a window to strike back with a flurry of hits. Though rare, a perfectly timed special attack can help players score one more point over their opponent or reduce their odds of winning drastically. Worry not, because the single player campaign also lets you unlock the rest of the Voltas if you can defeat them. Eventually, you can mix and match different mechs with their own abilities, crews and loadouts depending on your play style.
Knowing your enemy is also half the battle, as each player-made Volta comes with their own setup of weapons. This also means each opponent has their own weaknesses players can focus on, such as a light cannon or arm which can be taken out for points first. I found myself going for the weaker parts first, in order to win by scoring higher before a timer ends the fight. Each attack also has their own cooldown time, forcing players to think about which of their seven parts to use first (and even time their attacks for character buffs). But if you don’t keep an eye on your Volta’s head, it’s incredibly easy to lose if a character isn’t stationed there. That’s why it’s important to know when to use them for a buff, or to send them on a repair run. It’s also not just your Volta you have to worry about, as you have to move your characters out of harm’s way. As opponents attack a certain part, you only have a few short seconds to get them out before they take some damage. This adds a stake in keeping track of where your squadmates are and if they’re in the right rooms – things that only make Volta-X‘s strategy much more dense. Losing a crew member also means your Volta damages less and becomes more vulnerable when fights are already heated.
Despite my early victories, the game also made me familiar with losing hard to both online players and the campaign’s progressively-challenging AI. Thankfully, each match ends with a rundown of where your Volta took the most hits and which teammate was the most vulnerable. This information can be used to upgrade your Volta, with each weapon having their own levels for damage and cooldown speeds. It serves you to invest in special parts, like a medical room to heal crew members or a generator which trades a weapon for faster overall cooldown. In grooming my own Volta for battle, I was also sucked in my own cliche of bonding with it. Strategically, I started to focus beefing up my Volta’s weapons where they needed it most. Some like the Missile Launcher deal more damage than light cannons at the cost of time. Others like a Flying Punch can be devastating to opponents, if a character is there to buff its melee strength.
It’s worth noting you can also strategically map each weapon to a room/part for easy pickings. They also grow with their own HP as you upgrade them, making it harder for enemies to take out later on. Characters also come with their own skill trees, which branch towards different perks like faster room repairs and more health for surviving a battle. Of course, the single player campaign will give you newer crew members along the way with their own abilities. GungHo’s own MMORPG experience in Ragnarok comes into play here, with a thought-out progression system which keeps players well-rewarded and well-invested with every session. Simply put it, Volta-X keeps you addicted in getting better and getting even.
GungHo Online Entertainment has clearly taken notes from Fallout Shelter to tie Volta-X‘s progression with real-time management. All aspects of leveling up characters and Voltas take time, while it’s a way for players and crew members alike to rest and rethink their tactics. The base components, from Mess Halls, Machine Rooms to Power Generators all add to resource gathering for building upgrades and new weapons. These projects are also started with a timer, forcing players to wait from shorter to longer minutes before completion. But it also makes the upgrade more satisfying to get when the Volta needs it most. Unfortunately, it’s a one-room-an-upgrade rule and players are encouraged to expand their base to progress even more. For characters, a status board lets players know when they’re in need of resting or eating before helping out with progression again. Though I still can’t wrap my head around how the base’s happiness index affects combat (or if it’s just a fun management goal). Once crew members are healthy, you can assign them to different rooms and put them to work, according to their skills. As the roster grows, so does the base’s population and interactions. Each character also has a relationship meter, telling you how well they work with others in the same room.
Often, characters will also come with chat prompts to give combat tips or to further the plot. A few special segments between the player’s main character and a mysterious NPC will shed more family secrets and other strange quips before they’re cut short. But a lack of voice dialogue makes these parts forgettable as players have less reason to keep track of Volta-X‘s predictable story.
The game is also far from perfect in its Early Access phase. A few missing live animations threw me off when I activated my special attack, resulting in me staring at a blacked-out HUD and hearing some snazzy sound effects before things are playable again. A hodgepodge of menu items outside of fights can also make Volta-X a claustrophobic case of management for some players. My only lifeline through the game’s early parts included the button guides below, which I would keep my eyes on. Its base building gameplay also features less-than-snappier controls which work better with a touchscreen than a mouse and keyboard. This is where actions like assigning characters become harder as you also have to scroll over to particular rooms. Right away, it becomes evident that assigning jobs can get harder as bases get bigger. The game also makes building rooms a confusing experience when it tells you what you can and can’t build. You might have the funds and an elevator in place, but can’t put a perfectly good Machine Room under another one for organization. The result is having to make one at an edge, adding to the base’s messy layouts.
Problems aside, one of Volta-X’s best features isn’t actually in the gameplay itself. The game features an incredibly stylish soundtrack that fits the wacky fun of fighting mechs. If you’ve heard the campy, jazzy sounds of Pixar’s The Incredibles, then it’s going to electrify your senses during matches. The fast-paced music pushes Volta-X into the superhero-like grandeur fans have come to expect from the genre, while it’s backed by an equally amazing sound design. Every effect (like changing menus) comes with a familiar kick that calls back to over-the-top transitions from kaiju flicks. Heck, I even switched back-and-forth between menus just to hear a satisfying power-up sound in the likes of Voltron and Power Rangers. During combat, aiming your weapon activates a crisp and clear holographic ring that makes every attack a heavy, high-tech maneuver. I absolutely loved an attention to detail GungHo Online added as they wanted to make their own game that fit in the genre. It’s definitely safe to say the developers used kaiju element to great use, often making me forget the game’s use of animals. You can also expect to hear the sounds of rocket fists crunching against steel as Voltas clash. It’s a nostalgic action-figure feeling that’s been made more civilized in a video game. Yes, you don’t even have to break a Gundam or make sound effects with your mouth.
I could only ask for more time with Volta-X as its limited PC Preview event closed off. The game had re-injected a love for good old-fashioned super giant robot fighting, which owes itself to being a solid competitive strategy game. It’s a refreshing take on the genre that actually throws away the mindless button mashing in favour of deadly precision. Volta-X‘s fights also make players react to every internal hit, just like the pilots you’ve seen in countless animes, cartoons and big-budget movies. The trumpet-filled jazz music also deserves a soundtrack of its own, because it does a great job in making Volta-X more over the top as nature intended. For matchmaking, players can expect wait times to be quicker when it launches for the PC and Nintendo Switch on August 12, 2020.