Heavy Metal Thunder Hands-On

We get a look at Square Enix's rock 'em, sock 'em robot-fighting game.

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MAKUHARI MESSE--While Square Enix's special party event was focused primarily on its role-playing games, there was one booth that felt completely out of place, as though some other publisher decided to take over the middle of the exhibit space and place its own booth there. Literally fenced off with wire mesh and protected by a young woman attired in a skimpy "bondage outfit," many gamers had their curiosity piqued.

On closer look, the booth was promoting Square Enix's upcoming PlayStation 2 title, Heavy Metal Thunder. The company hasn't revealed much about Heavy Metal Thunder, though it has released a trailer that showed a lot of odd-looking animation sequences running with heavy metal music playing in the background.

Given that most of the promotions to date have shown screenshots with Japanese-looking anime, we were expecting to see a game that played as an anime-oriented adventure game (similar to Sony's Yarudora series). Instead, Heavy Metal Thunder plays as a timing-based, command-input game, where fights commence with a toy robot.

Heavy Metal Thunder takes place in a fictitious Japan in the year 2980. There's something called the "Robo-ress," which has become the biggest trend in the country, as well as the rest of the world. It's a battle scheme where people challenge one another using 12-inch-tall, automated robots.

The main character in the game is Denki Akihabara, a junior-high-school student whose family runs the local butcher shop. Denki loves Robo-ress, but he's always been a loser. One day, he learns the existence of the world's strongest Robo-ress robot, Heavy Metal Thunder. Inspired by its invincible strength, Denki decides that he wants to become stronger in Robo-ress battles.

As it turns out, Denki's father is actually the world champion of Robo-ress and the owner of Heavy Metal Thunder. Denki one day receives a high-end robot and an invitation to "Titan Fight" from his dad. "Titan Fight" is the most vicious of all Robo-ress tournaments. The loser's robot is blown into pieces, and the operator is sent to Death Island, a burial ground for loser robot owners.

During the actual game, gamers assume the role of Denki and fight with his robot. You'll start off from a menu screen where you have options to start your match and customize your robot (and read a magazine, which seems to give fighting advice).

When you select to fight your match, you switch to a screen that looks like a TV broadcast of a boxing or a wrestling match. Sponsor names flash on the screen, and the game uses known Japanese TV personalities as play-by-play announcers.

Your match plays in a screen that looks something like a 3D fighting game. But instead of controlling your characters directly, you press on a direction on the D pad and the circle button to give a command to your robot whenever you are prompted.

The game plays somewhat like rock-papers-scissors. The options that you're given are guard, strike, and grapple, and there's also a fourth one called beat, which is a special move.

By selecting guard, strike, or grapple, you'll be able to power up your "beat meter," located on the bottom of the screen. By leveling up your beat meter, you'll be able to execute a "beat attack" on your enemy, which will let you do damage to them according to how hard you press your controller's buttons.

When we played the demo and won, the screen switched to a cutscene where the losing robot was tied by chains, and surrounded by toy soldiers with rocket launchers. We were then prompted to press the circle button. When we did, the soldiers shot at the bot and it blasted into pieces. The robot's owner was then marked with a sign on his head and taken away to Death Island, hung by a rope on a chopper.

Heavy Metal Thunder seems to be light on gameplay, and looks more like a game that concentrates on atmosphere and storyline derived from the many full-motion video/anime scenes. As the name of the game suggests, the whole atmosphere relies on the world of heavy metal, with a number of heavy metal types that lend their talents to the game, including Michael Schenker and former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman.

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