Standalone WiiWare Review: Overturn

Giant robot fighting is as Japanese as umeboshi pretz and as tasty (yum!). Overturn serves up a nice helping of the arena variety of robot combat in a compact WiiWare package which is reminiscent of Sega’s Virtual On arcade game.

The game premise is pretty basic: players control one of four OTMs (OverTurn Mechas, I presume?) and battle others through a series of tournaments in Story Mode, against a local opponent via Local Multiplayer via split screen, or against an individual or groups in 4-way bashes via WiFi.

Much of my time was spent in Story Mode because there was no one to play against in WiFi mode (whether this is because the game came out at the beginning of December and everyone in Japan who was into it has since moved on or I’m coming in at the wrong time of day due to timezone difference I’m not exactly sure) and no mates + non-gaming wife = no local multiplayer for me. Initially you’re presented with a choice of four characters and their OTMs. Chracters are represented by anime-style hand-drawn figures. There are a few “slides” for each character and they’re used to “animate” cut scenes during interaction with other characters — mainly opponents — often with intentionally humourous effect.

Once you’ve chosen a character and their OTM you can name it and choose a paintjob using RGB sliders to either change the hue of the entire OTM or separate colours for the head/torso, base and arms. After this you can have a practice bout against another OTM where you can control the AI (leave it standing still, have it evade, or actively fight), which is a great way to get to grips with the controls.

Basic controls use the nunchuk and wiimote, however there’s an option to use the balance board instead of the nunchuk control stick for moving your OTM. At first this might seem a bit strange, but it’s actually quite appropriate as the OTMs all glide about rather than run on legs or roll on wheels and have inertia (you continue to drift and bounce off of objects rather than come to a dead stop) that is well-conveyed using the balance board. Changing views is done in a way similar to Metrod Prime 3 or other first person shooters on the Wii by moving your targeting reticule to the edge of the screen in the direction you wish to look. This is not configurable, however you get the hang of things pretty quickly. An upward jerk of the nunchuk causes your OTM to jump into the air where you can float around for a bit and deal destruction from above before settling back down to the arena platform. Z fires the left-arm weapon, B fires the right and holding A+B charges a special weapon which then fires when the buttons are released.

Your OTM has two statistics of critical importance: Hit Points (HP) and BP. BP appears to stand for Balance Points and in the game HUD is represented by a rainbow-hued metre in the upper left corner. Getting hit by enemy fire reduces it; pressing and holding the C button refills it — though at the cost of not being able to move during the time it’s refilling. If it runs out the game changes from the normal 3rd person view behind the OTM to first person. You’re in the sky above the arena and see that pieces of the background have been cut out of the background and mixed about. The images in the pieces flip about wildly to confuse you. In this mini-game the object is to use A+B to “grab” a piece and put it in the right hole and do so with all pieces within 10 seconds. During this time your opponent will be taking shots at you. Success returns you to the arena floor promptly, but failure means you lose control for an additional few seconds; in higher-level tournaments this is usually fatal.

When you feel like you have a good grasp of the controls you can go into the tournaments. There are six in total with each one being unlocked after finishing the previous one. Each tournament consists of two to four single-round fights against different OTMs in one of four different arenas which have varying obstacles or different level platforms within them. Your opponents are either generic or other playable character OTMs. The latter are more difficult than the former and fights with them are preceded by a little banter using text balloons and character cut-outs. The arenas are good-sized and your weapons appear to be able to hit your opponent clear across from the other side, though your accuracy may suffer. This is aided by the use of the pointer for targeting, but given that you both drift about getting a shot to land can be challenging.

The end of a tournament returns you to the basic Story Mode menu and you will get access to the weapons used against you by your opponents, so it’s worth having a look at the arm customisation screens to see what new pieces have been added. Outside of changing the OTM colour, swapping arm weapons is the only customisation available, but for a WiiWare game it’s pretty good. There is no automatic save, so manually saving progress is necessary after making changes or between tournaments. When you check the tournament menu option again you’ll see a new tournament is available and your skill in completed ones measured by a grade. This rating appears to be determined by the amount of damage you sustain to your OTM in the course of the matches.

Interestingly there is no selectable difficulty. Whilst enemies do get tougher in skill and the amount of hit points they have as you progress (your OTM HP also seems to upgrade of its own accord), the main means of easing difficulty for the less-skilled players (like me) is to enable an unlimited number of rematches against an opponent who defeats you. After three consecutive losses you’re given the option to restart normally or fight the opponent with only 75% of HP. If you still fail to beat them a further three times you get an additional option to fight them at 50% of HP (I confess the final tournament saw me playing a good deal of 50% fights to secure victory to my shame). It’s a novel system and works well because it’s unobtrusive: if you can beat the opposition as-is then you’re doing well and if you need help it’s freely given without having to feel like you’re taking the easy way out from the start.

After the sixth tournament you can view the end credits and (in the case of the character I was using) a still shot of your character with their OTM in a touching scene (ah, anime characters and their robots looking wistfully over the horizon together…). Finishing the sixth tournament also unlocks four characters which are not initially selectable (but which are the main “bosses” in the Story Mode tournaments) as well as two additional tournaments. One appears to be a time attack mode where you get a status screen showing elapsed time after a match; the other I suspect has an unlimited number of enemies: unlike the other tournaments you get no option to choose to fight an opponent with reduced HP and they are very tough. Needless to say the single player game has a lot of replayability between playing through using different characters/OTMs, extra tournament modes and replaying existing tournaments for a better grade.

WiFi mode is a bit different to other online Wii games by having more of a lobby format. When starting you connect and then choose your character: you’re able to select any OTM you’ve already created and then do any customisations you’d like as if you were in Story Mode. Then you enter the lobby and can view your friend code, add friend codes and see if friends are online. Alternatively, you can choose a random VS or 1-4 player match at which point you’ll see your OTM in a box with either one or three other empty boxes waiting for other players to turn up. Whilst sitting there you can press Z to pull up a range of 32 different Japanese phrases to display in a sort of canned chat for the lobby. I liked this set-up, kind of like Tetris Party, but without having to select available phrases in advance. Sadly after waiting for a few minutes no one else showed, so I have no clue what this is like in WiFi or what potential lag issues there are given the servers are located in Japan and I’m in Scotland.

Visuals are basic, but good with decent use of minimalist textures to give character to the OTMs and a decent feel to the arenas. Music is a basic nondescript techno-guitar soundtrack which works well. Considering the game fits into only 200 blocks when less graphically-demanding WiiWare is using upwards of 300 and it only costs 800 points, it’s quite a nice package and I hope someone decides to publish it more widely. Studio Zan have created a welcome diversion from the normal puzzle games we get on the WiiWare service and it really should be available for people to enjoy who don’t have Japanese Wiis. Gamebridge in the UK have just (as of 07 April 2009) announced they will be bringing this game to Europe, so I hope to see some more people online for matches soon!