Rengoku 2: Stairway to Heaven
... what was so important that I missed this game the first time it came around? Actually I remember having the box in my hands at some point and deciding that there was no way the game could be as good as the hot boxart and copy on the back suggested. It's a problem I have: in situations involving kickass mecha or boobs my judgement gets shot all to hell and it's usually for the worse whenever I give in to the temptation. There are a lot of sad excuses for robot games out there, and now that I'm a card-carrying jaded old bastard my standard response is to curse at whatever catches my eye and move on, because ignorance is more money for beer.
Fortunately the game's digital release performed the miracle of giving me a second chance to pick it up, and support reasonably priced digital games on PSN.
There's something to be said for good robot-in-a-tower games. That's like a whole genre as far as I'm concerned. I got my start way back, renting this absolutely impenetrable Japanese FPS in the 3D0 days. Tetsujin: Iron Angel of the Apocalypse. It's a real thing, check it:
The controls were sluggish and hamfisted, levels made no sense, and the backstory of your adventure was seeing a robot get shoved through some glowing piping or something until it's dumped in some dark room. I trudged the robot (let's call it TJ) through a bunch of the dark corridors finding very slightly less suck-ass guns to shoot spectacularly crappy enemies with... and the first cutscene hooked me immediately, a big shutter opens and you see burning clouds whipping across a dystopian nightmare world outside. Every few floors would offer another treat like that, the cutscenes were impressively rendered (it was the only thing 3d0 could do competently) and administered a burst of color and motion that the rest of the game was designed to surgically remove from your soul, leaving the player desperate to clear the next 5 boards or whatever and get another dose.
It was a nostalgic jonesing for Tetsujin that gave me the itch to look this game up after hearing about it again, despite Jaded Old Bastard protocols.
Rengoku starts your robot in the same straits and leaves you to hack and blast a path of destruction upwards from floor to floor in a massive tower, gradually revealing the nature of your machine and the place it is in. See? This shit does not get old.
not pictured: anything that got old
Fortunately for my childhood memories, Rengoku backs up the timeless concept and sick artwork with a blazing action game and massive character customization.
The robots' appearances are a terrifying fusion of human, insect, and military hardware. Need a big gun? Just jam one through the middle of your chest and grow some protective chitin or spines to hold it in place. Good to go. Where should that axe blade go? Your face is as good as anywhere else. There's a tremendous variety of equipment to collect off of fallen foes, and while appearances do start getting re-used the weapons represented can be quite distinct... one sword may perform a standing combo while an identical looking model later on lets you pounce on guys halfway across the room.
This shooter plays flawlessly on PSP by using a very generous lock-on (tap L) for camera control, it would be a necessity even with a second analog stick available... there would be no way to manually keep a recticle anywhere near your opponent given that one or both of you is pushing twitch skills to the limit with big sidesteps and evasive rolls to dodge the constant storm of incoming gunfire, warheads, and melee lunges. With each battle short and tense, and a vast supply of equipment / fighting styles to try out (and level up through repeated use if it's good) combat never comes close to being a chore as you progress up the tower and deeper into the religious imagery and robotic soul-searching.
By the looks of things, the multiplayer mode should be decent fun and Rengoku 2 supports the ever-elusive Game Sharing feature so you can play around with your friends even when you can't talk everyone into buying a copy.
If you're a shooter, action-RPG, or mecha fan you should do yourself a favor and try this out... especially if you've been waiting for a good fast-paced game on PSP since it's so easy to flop it without the second analog stick needed in traditional shooter control schemes.