Don’t you love it when a plan comes together? As a two minute timer ticks down, four players look down on a board and plan out a series of moves, trying to anticipate their opponents plans and lay the perfect trap to secure victory. There’s a few of us that could get one more coin and win the match, another on nothing, and me with just one. Putting my plan into action, it comes into fruition as another mech walks into my firing line, destroying it and earning me a coin before, a few tense moments later, my mech stands on the coin square, earning me my third coin and the win. As my opponents jokingly rage, a new game begins. Welcome to Mini-Mech Mayhem.
Mini-Mech Mayhem is a tactical strategy game that pits players against each other to seek coins and destroy enemies, using their mechs as proxies. The end goal is simply to reach the score limit of three coins, be it through collecting them from specific places on the board or making a mech explode into pieces.
Planning and anticipating begins as soon as each player has placed their mech on a starting point on the board; the cutesy graphics hide a game that has some deep strategy built into it. Before venturing online it’s a good idea to go through Mini-Mech Mayhem’s expansive tutorials and challenges that not only teach the basics, but also certain strategies that can be used to best opponents. Once you have those under your belt you can play some single player games against bots to get a better idea of how things work and pluck up the courage to head online.
Of course, you wouldn’t want to do meet other players before making sure you and your mech look good, would you? There’s no tactical advantages to any of the customisations for your avatar or mech, but you can certainly try to stand out, levelling up and spending coins earned from playing to unlock new parts. My cute little mech had a samurai helmet with a green and yellow colour scheme, but there’s plenty of possibility to swap head type, gun style, chest, arms and legs.
Once all of that is out of the way you can go online by either quick joining, searching for lobbies, or hosting a lobby yourself, where you can invite friends to play or just wait for randoms to populate the table. With the game launched, there can be a little wait for players to join, but you can choose to start a game without a full set of four if you like.
The game itself requires each of the players to input three commands per turn, either moving in four directions on the board, or shooting in eight. The board features the coin square that you’re squabbling over, blue orbs that generate crystals, and hazard squares. If you step on or get pushed onto a hazard square your mech will fall through and be taken back to the starting area. The same reset happens if they get shot and blown up. All of that has to factor in when issuing commands.
Even the best-laid plans can fall apart though thanks to intercepts, which is where the crystals come in. At the beginning of a round, players will have two intercept powers assigned which can be used to changing the direction a mech will walk in, adjust the angle of someone’s shot, call in a bomb drop to deal damage on everyone, and more. Intercepts require crystals to pull off – earned through grabbing orbs of at the end of a turn – but can be played at any time and will impact the mech who’s acting at that time. It’s quite satisfying to see a mech walking towards a coin square, only to intercept, give them one extra step and make them fall into a hazard instead. Players can even play intercepts at the same time and change the board further.
A big part of the game is being able to banter with your rivals, but you don’t have to. You can always mute them, and can even turn off movements to make their avatars static, though I personally found that a bit more off-putting! Though a static, seated VR game, Futurlab has thought of various comfort options, like being able to move adjust the virtual command console in front of you so its closer, and fiddling with your avatar’s height. There is also an option to change the display for those who are colour blind.
You can choose to play with the DualShock 4 or Move controllers with the latter feeling much more immersive as you input the commands on the control panel. While the DualShock 4 is fine to sort out commands, you do miss out on some little touches, like fist-bumping your little mech buddy when they win a match for you. The arena in which this strategic battle takes place is incredibly colourful and accentuates that friendly feel to it, making it a welcoming sight for both younger and older players.
While it all looks great, we did find some glitches. Mechs could sometimes keep laughing even when not being patted by their owners, and there was a more significant moment where one player simply couldn’t see where an enemy mech was standing, causing them to shoot at where they thought it was and missing. I also had an issue where the host disconnecting trapped me on the quit screen but unable to choose the option, meaning the game had to be restarted. Hopefully, these niggles will be sorted out in a patch.