An old friend came over to visit this past weekend, and I was sure that it would be the perfect opportunity to get reacquainted with Super Smash Bros. Brawl. So imagine my surprise when it it was Armored Core 2: Another Age that ended up getting all the love and attention, once again relegating poor Mario and company to the scrap heap of my gaming collection. Don’t worry; they’ll get over it.
As for Armored Core, it was the incredibly deep design and customization mechanics that sucked me back in — the kind of stuff that can keep a junkie like myself busy for hours. It’s such that the balance of power between two mechs can turn on something as simple as which pair of legs you decide to use or how big your energy core is, which meant that we spent a large of our battles furiously swapping out parts as we tried to find our rock to the other’s scissors. Needless to say, I love it. Sure, It’s something that pretty much only appeals to lost causes like myself, but Armored Core does its job and does it well, and I appreciate that. It’s more than enough for me to be able to look past the archaic lack of dual stick support and the occasionally chunky graphics…mostly because it involves giant robots, and giant robots make anything better in my mind. Unfortunately, mine is not a feeling generally supported by the average critic, nor the general populace.
Part of the problem, of course, is that this is the kind of game that thrives on experimentation and a powerful sense of ownership. It doesn’t hold up particularly well if you just slap together a mech and run through the single-player campaign, which is of course what most reviewers have to do under time constraints. Taken like that, it’s easy to see why all of the games seem to run together, even as each new edition adds new parts and tweaks the mechanics in such a way that each feels substantially different from the last. Much as I liked Armored Core 3, for example, I still prefer Another Age for all my split-screen battling needs. The missile selection is just that much better.
But even if they were willing to spend a couple days tooling around with the design utilities, they’d only really be getting a cursory feel for what the game is really all about. It’s not until you sit down with a friend who’s familiar with all the minutiae that the game bears fruit, but few seem to get that far. For some reason, American gamers just don’t get as excited for giant robots as they seem to for Cadillacs and football. Crazies. [Editor’s note: On the plus side, Detroit’s recent problems suggest that interest in Cadillacs is waning. Maybe there’s hope?]
Much as I lament the mainstream dismissal of Armored Core, though, I rest easy knowing that there’s a devoted, if slightly crazy, niche out there supporting the series. And having picked up and enjoyed Another Age as much as I did, I’m now kind of tempted to go and grab something like Last Raven, the franchise’s apparently excellent (according to the fans) PlayStation 2 coda. Regardless of what anyone else says, you could do a lot worse than Armored Core. A hell of a lot worse.