Mechs, Mechs, Mechs! And More

Back in the days when Mac OS was in single digits there was a mech-like game that consumed huge amounts of my time. That game was Avara, Created by a Fin named Juri Munkki and published by Ambrosia Software. I’ve mentioned this game before in several of my articles here at TMO, the reason is that I found it to be the best online experience I’ve ever had that didn’t involve my naughty bits. [Editor's note: ::blink::]

Mech games are old hat nowadays, but back then online first person shooters were new and there were desperately few for the Mac platform. In my opinion, however, Avara more than made up for it, not because it had stellar graphics - they were blocky geometric figures, or that the online experience was always great, it wasn’t - online game speed depended on the the player with the slowest connection speed, and many played via dial-up modems back then.

Still, when the stars aligned and you had a group with good connections you had a game that sucked you in and held your attention for hours on end. I was always impressed with the level of control I had over my online avatar, the HECTOR, which was a bipedal, somewhat bird-like creation that could skip, scoot, run, jump, stoop, and, of course, walk all while lobbing grenades, firing missiles, or blasting away with canons using an articulated turret. No plodding, move-point-shoot game here, if you stood still longer than a second you were dead.

While playing Avara you quickly forgot about the uninspiring graphics, you never had much time to think about such things. You hunt down your opponents and dispatch them as quickly and as often and possible without getting dispatched yourself.

That was just the gameplay, outside of the game there was a very social community of players who formed leagues, created game levels, and even create some fairly heavy-duty mods to improve graphics and modify how the game was played. It really was something cool to be a part of.

Unfortunately, the game’s creator, Juri Munkki, had a life and just didn’t have the time to port the game to OS X, so, as players began to move to the new Apple OS, fewer could be found on the servers, and the game now sits collecting digital dust on Ambrosia’s servers.

I mention all of this because, after all this time, I still long for the hours spent sitting in my virtual mech, lobbing grenades, dancing out of the way on opponent fire.

I’m a busy man. these days and I can’t spend the time online as I did when I was younger, so even if Avara somehow came back into the land of the virtual living I don’t think I’d devote so much of my free time to playing it. But, it surely would be a blast trying to.

I also mention all of this because I’m going to talk about three battle-mech games on this week’s Free on iTunes.

Let me say up front that there are no games that can come close to Avara’s environment. Just ain’t gonna happen. But, there is one battle-mech game that hints at Avara’s gameplay, and that game is Mech Gladiator Lite from Act 1 Corporation.

I say it hints because the mechs in Mech Gladiator are about as nimble as I’ve seen in any iPhone mech game, though admittedly that’s not saying much. The upper torso rotates separately from the direction of travel, and there are places to hide from enemy fire. The downside is that you don’t control the direction the upper torso faces. When you shoot it always turns toward your opponent, which, I suppose, is a good thing because it’d be tough to control otherwise.

You can shoot with a standard blaster to pumps out damage in 4-shot increments, or you can use one of several power moves that can knock the other mech on its metal butt. It’s all fairly fast paced and rounds tend to last no longer than a few minutes at most. You can play against the computer or challenge others via Bluetooth or on a local network. No Internet play here, sadly.
The single player game gets interesting as you go up against smarter mechs.

All in all Mech Gladiator is a nice little game and definitely worth a download and tryout.

If you’re into Japanese style mechs that battle each other with metal fists and swords then you’ll probably enjoy Robo Fighters Free.

These are Gundam type bots that run around an arena shooting at each other with a variety of weapons or dicing each other up with light-saber like swords. It’s kinda fun playing against the computer, but the real fun starts when you play against others. There’s a local WiFi game, but I wanted to play over the Internet. There’s seems to be a provision for that, but could never get it to work.

I’m not a huge fan of the controls, but once you get the hang of it you can get some pretty decent fights going.

For a freebie, Robo Fighters Free is pretty good. Grab it and see what you think.

If you like your mech a bit more plodding with a bit more control then try iMech. Here, you get the full treatment; single and online play, fully controllable heavy-duty mechs. Your view is from above and behind your mechanized avatar, and you fight in an enclosed arena with power-up scattered about.

The screen is very busy and dark, and the controls leave a lot to be desired making it a bit frustrating to play. I balance that by remembering that the mech in Avara was a handful at first and it took a bit for me to get good at playing. I’m not so sure I want to invest that much time and effort in this game, but you might.

Like Robo Fighters, iMech is supposed to let you fight online, but try as I might I could never connect to the server. Unfortunately there’s no local WiFi or Bluetooth settings.

Still, iMech looks good and plays ok for a freebie. Grab it and try it out for yourself.

OK, that’s a wrap for this week. Next week I’m going to look for some free video content that you may not know about, so see ya then.

More free stuff below with direct links.