Review by Johnny Cairo

"An epic journey into the seedy underworld of robotics, and your guide is Criswell."

I honestly didn't know what to expect when Joy Mech Fight first started up. I had heard absolutely nothing about this game, and, for once, I was thinking for myself. Finding Joy Mech Fight and deciding to play it was more impulsive than anything else. I confess; the title grabbed me first. Who COULDN'T it grab with all of its Engrish absurdity? The land of games with names like Irritating Stick and Happy Bell Fan Disc and all of its woefully inept translators would have likely failed to find an audience in the United States with this goofball title, with its strange mix of Robotech, TNT Monday Nitro high-jinks, and Tenchi Muyo humor. In the case of some games, odd genre blendings worked out rather well. Look at Deus Ex or Wild Arms, for instance. Although in Joy Mech Fight's case, the end result is just too strange to accept on its own terms, like an Ed Wood movie that tries to be serious and meaningful but ends up as gibberish. And those movies are FUN to watch.

INT - TOMB - NIGHT

A loud THUNDERCLAP is heard. On a dais, a coffin sits. Suddenly, the lid OPENS to reveal...

CRISWELL

I am Criswell! For years I have told the almost unbelievable, related the unreal, and shown it to be more... than a fact. Now I tell a tale of the threshold, people, so astounding that some of you may faint.


Settle down. I know that Edward D. Wood Jr. has little to do with an obscure NES title from 1993, but this game, now that I'm probably holding you rapt, possesses some of the qualities that made his movies so likeable in spite of their glaring, obvious amateurishness. We know it's gonna be a bumpy ride when the gripping opening sequence features two scientists in a laboratory Way After Hours slaving over a Frankenstein-like creation sitting idle in a tank. There's the Einstein lookalike and the tall, Whiplashlike one with the innately twirlable mustache and toupee getup. Suddenly, the BIG SWITCH in center is pulled down, and after the suspense wells, we discover, after a crash cut, that they have created something else entirely...

And then we're in the game. Hold tight, kids. Criswell predicts that you'll be very happy and ''filled with joy'' after you've been properly introduced. Boldly thrust from the title screen to the Mode Select screen, the casual gamer will see a bevy of options available to him, some that are ACTUALLY useful! The Meat-And-Potatoes core of Joy Mech Fight is the aptly named 'WAR' mode, in which the innocent gamer shall be subjected to all the seedy goings-on behind the laboratory doors. Two players can duke it out, one player can fight the AI, or, if you're really bored, you can watch two AI opponents crush one another.

The game's genre doesn't really need an explanation, does it? One third of the title sums it up:

JOY MECH FIGHT. So, from this, we can safely assume that fighting is involved. And since this is a Japanese game, we can also assume that it's not some frag-happy Unreal clone, so that narrows it down even more. We are left with the ever-flexible FIGHTING genre, and, from the copyright date on the title screen, this was released in the ''uncertain'' period after Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat introduced people to this startlingly violent new genre (in other words, the strange year of 1993 when the world first saw Magic: The Gathering and Beanie Babies), and rival companies were rushing to make their own Street Fighter clones fast-as-they-could. Nintendo, of course, hops into the proverbial bandwagon after porting the Street Fighter titles and creates their own original games. One of the offspring of this short creativity influx was this game.

CRISWELL (V.O.)

It is said on clear nights, beneath the cold light of the moon, howl the dog and the wolf, and creeping things crawl out of the slime.


A player's initial instinct would be to begin the 'WAR' mode. It is here in which the game starts to turn into something impossibly hokey and unintentionally funny. Although the Japanese are a most manipulative people, and I speculate that the writers might have given up and gone for camp. I wouldn't know the truth. So:

There were once two famous robot makers named Little Ermin and Ivan Warner. They were close friends and built many robots together. One day, Ermin went to the lab and found that 7 of the robots were gone. The lab had been destroyed, Ivan went missing, and Ermin stopped inventing. Soon after, Ivan was on TV ''I control the strongest robot army in the world. Resistance is futile! When Ermin saw this he was overcome with grief. Betrayed by his best friend. Soon after Ermin started repairing the lab. Then he would make Skapon into a fighting robot. Robot machine ''You want a war robot. This is not a war robot. Remodeling Skapon to fight. Remodeling is complete. Skapon is now a war robot!'' And that is how this violent battle began.

Forget all the syntax and punctuation errors. Forget the fact that a first-time player would have no clue who ''Skapon'' is (he's actually the creation we witnessed at the beginning, but it is soon apparent to us), forget the fact that Ivan Warner somehow bought a broadcasting time slot for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and that all the military in the world is no match for the seven weenie robots. This story would probably be turned down by Emerson Distribution (all non-MSTies should scratch their heads at that one). And taking it so seriously, contradictions and all, is quite a task, and Joy Mech Fight (a paradox in itself -- a joyful conflict? I don't get it) doesn't hesitate to push the story out of the way.

At the outset of the ''violent battle'', which is inherently joyous, Little Ermin, Defender Of Good, only presents you with one robot to fight with (Skapon) who ''loves to make people laugh''. Selecting your fighter, you can opt to be presented with a manual which details all four special moves possessed by each robot (hey, this is the NES) and how to activate them. Given the fact that there are only two buttons on the NES controller and four directions to go, the combos are inherently easy to pull off. From there, you proceed to Ivan's screen, where he challenges you to select your opponent (what a nice villain!). The battles are in 2D on flat, lifeless stages. While Street Fighter 2 utilized some rather crude animation in the background to breathe some ambience into their arenas, here we only have some bland, nondescript backgrounds such as sand dunes, walls of tenement buildings, chain-link fences. There are a few standouts, such as an avenue directly beside a carnival and an arena with a VERY bizarre Megatron screen displaying some quintessential Japanese Weirdness that nobody elsewhere is capable of laughing at. Robots are given names like ''TIGER'' and ''EYE'' to symbolize their strengths, apparently; later enemies have much more vague names like ''OLD'' or ''LEGEND''.

Robot designs are definitely inspired, with a few independently functioning body parts that are somehow assembled into a whole, and they are reminiscent of the dark horse classic Ballz for the Genesis, which will forever remain one of the best examples of this genre. The designs are so original that one might suggest that it was all an attempt to lampoon the Robotech character designs -- the stiff, lifeless automatons that somehow are able to move. When looking at the designs in that respect, they are top-notch. Even for the NES, these definitely appear to be early 16-bit graphics, and since it is a title that appeared late in the system's life, these can definitely stand out as shining examples of the NES' capabilities.

Controls with the NES controller are cinch -- A sends off a kick, B loosens a punch, Up makes your Mech jump and Down makes him duck/block. A fight is presented Killer Instinct-style; your lifebar can go down three times, then you're scattered into a jillion pieces everywhere. The battles themselves are fairly fast-paced, with the somewhat monotonous music starting off rather bland and downbeat, then becoming increasingly up-tempo as either combatant's life drops to only one lifebar.

There are four Stages as you advance through Ivan's Kingdom, systematically defeating his Robot Army. In the first Stage only, once an enemy Robot is felled, Little Ermin flies in and takes control of its internal processor thingie and thus YOU NOW OWN THAT ROBOT. It's a little like Pokemon in that respect, but it's still super-cool with an eventual variety of eight fighters at your disposal. As you progress through the stages, getting closer and closer to Ivan's mountaintop fortress, your enemies get stronger (cheaper) and somewhat smarter, anticipating your moves with all the power of your NES. Bosses, on the other hand, are always CHEAPCHEAPCHEAP (especially the first one) and will stop at nothing to constantly lame you and your family. ph33r? NO.

Multiplayer gets boring really quickly, and even with a cousin who would poison his parents for an advance copy of the next Madden and loves his DBZ, you will quickly find yourself lambasted for your ''oldschoolness'' and ''misunderestimation of taste'' and probably kicked in the groin once or twice. Since your playing partner probably won't be too engrossed in the hilarious storyline to care about what happens next to his fighter, it's best to stick to the Player Vs. Comp mode, which provides the mindless multiplayer action without an annoying cousin.

CRISWELL (V.O.)

The day is gone, the night is upon us, and the moon, which controls all of the underworld, once again shines...in radiant contentment.


But why the Comp Vs. Comp mode? Even Criswell here would be (and still is) speechless over the addition. Initiating this Mode affords the gamer nothing new in terms of knowledge or how to properly utilize a fighter. It is not exciting. You are not given an opportunity to participate in the fight in any way. You can only watch the AI try to fight each other, and it appears to favor the ''tactics'' of jumping away and using the same damn move over and over again. Double the fun.

Joy Mech Fight might have such a laughable storyline that it should have been excised from the game permanently, but that would mean losing some of its campy charm. It's a paradoxial game with a nonsensical title a la Final Fantasy [whatever] or 101 Dalmatians 2, but it works in a very weird way.

Come forth, come forth, o Princess of Darkness.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 02/01/03, Updated 05/24/03


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