It's hard to imagine a crazier name for an open-ended mech-driven adventure than "Bumpy Trot," but the good folks at Atlus normalized the title and changed it to Steambot Chronicles for domestic release. Steambot Chronicles is an interesting little beast that's part mech combat, part role-playing game, and part insane minigame collection that'll leave you running around trying to decide what to do next. A lot of the appeal here is in exploring the sandbox-style world and the many quests and games you can dig into, though Steambot's not without some control issues and other problems.
Our blond and bemused hero is Vanilla Bean, a strapping youth who wakes up on a beach with a problem: He's lost his memory. Fortunately, he comes to his senses in the company of Coriander, a bright young lady who's out plucking herbs for her sick mother. The only strange thing about it is that shortly thereafter, the pair gets missiles fired at them from a nearby cliff from what can only be a mysterious villain with some moral objection to botany. It's at this point that Vanilla is introduced to the trotmobile, a robotlike machine capable of walking upright that's supplanted the automobile in the Steambot world. He and Connie (as she prefers to be known) kick-start a rather homely trotmobile that was abandoned on the beachfront, use it to shift rubble from their path, and then set out for the city of Nefroburg.
That marks the point at which Steambot Chronicles starts to evolve for players, because the game allows you numerous options and activities into which you can sink your time. In most conversations with characters, you'll have multiple dialogue options to dictate how you respond. You can choose to be polite or argumentative, or you can lie and whine, and so forth. This is in addition to choices at certain story junctures that can influence how you proceed. Depending on which options you choose, not only will characters respond to you differently, but Vanilla's title and such will also change to reflect how the populace sees him. You can be rude to characters without necessarily changing key outcomes, but it's interesting to see how always greeting people politely is reflected in your title.
Your trotmobile is completely customizable almost immediately, as you can visit individuals and garages that will let you purchase new parts, swap parts out, change accessories that you've equipped, and even alter the color scheme. An interesting thing about the trotmobile is that, while it's a mech unit with obvious offensive capabilities, a lot of the add-ons you can purchase are actually used for actions completely outside of combat. For example, you can equip a pickaxe arm to pry fossils from stone, or hook up a flatbed to the back to cart supplies to and fro for customers. Frequently playing around with your mech is neat, and the only drawback is that you need to be at a garage to equip parts and such--you can't adjust them on the fly. Fortunately, garages and pit-stop shops are fairly plentiful.
A real strength of the game is the breadth of activities and jobs it offers. You can turn your trotmobile into a bus and carry people from place to place, take your trotmobile into a battle area and duke it out with foes, while away time in a bar playing billiards, dig up fossils for a local museum, play music on a wide range of instruments, including a harmonica, trumpet, or piano, and much more. You'll go from smashing bandits on country roads to donning a chef's hat and cooking their leader a steak to perfection. The number of activities you can take on and personalities you'll meet while engaging in the various jobs help give the world a really well-rounded, charming feel. As you complete tasks and take on new jobs, you'll receive a bunch of license plates for your trotmobile, get new parts, and you'll come across new outfits for Vanilla. Some of these minigames work out better than others (some of the music minigames, for example, have strange control schemes involving a number of buttons, and what comes out doesn't always sound particularly musical), but the variety ensures that you can find some good ways to kill time. You can even play billiards with a friend, or challenge someone to a trotmobile battle if you so desire.
Technical performance and controls are where things start to break down a bit. Tankmobile controls are handled by using the dual analog sticks for motion, in addition to shoulder buttons, face buttons, and the directional pad. The turning and tight maneuvering of a mech can be a chancy business, especially over small bridges and the like where you'll constantly have to tweak your sluggish trotmobile in the right direction. But while motion using the dual sticks is largely fine to run and strafe around, combat is where complications come into play. While your shoulder buttons are used for attacks, quick dodges, and leaping around in the air, you need to press square to lock onto an enemy, and use the directional pad to change locked targets. Since you've already got your thumbs on the two sticks to manage motion and your other fingers on both sets of shoulder buttons for abilities, having to take your thumbs off the analog controls to manage targets is awkward at best. Since you'll run into plenty of enemy packs and huge structures with weak portions that you'll need to target to defeat, you'll run into this aforementioned awkwardness a lot.
The game also has a noticeable tendency to drop frames when matters get busy onscreen, or when you're panning a large vista. It's not as if the game has all that much going on graphically, either. Characters and the trotmobiles are done up in a visually pleasing cartoon style that's generally bright and well detailed, set against backdrops that don't fare as well. Landscapes tend to have more drab colors and bland textures. There's a whole bunch of voice work on offer, which is average, with a few bright spots in certain characters, and it's matched with music that's of about the same level. The music from the Garland Globetrotters band doesn't always sound like it matches very well with the song they're singing, which makes the music minigames a bit underwhelming.
Steambot Chronicles is a game with a lot of charm that sometimes gets hidden with control and performance issues. But if you get sucked into the world's crazy population and the variety of things to do, you can find yourself easily whittling away the hours. A voice at the game's title screen pegs it as "a relaxing nonlinear adventure," and there's definitely something to be said for being able to take on the job of a bus driver as you try to help a bandit king eventually land on the moon. If you're looking to spend upward of 25 hours on a wacky experience and you don't mind a few blemishes, consider giving Steambot Chronicles a try.