If there’s one thing Japan has easily sold the world it’s that giant robots fighting each other, weird aliens, massive creatures or anything else they can get their large mechanised hands on generally never gets old. Videogames have tried all manner of ways to give that impression of piloting these metal monsters, yet its virtual reality (VR) that really holds the key to immersing players. The latest offering comes from indie studio Smellyriver, with its combat title Code51: Mecha Arena.
There have been several mech-based experiences arrive for VR headsets, with Skydance Interactive’s Archangel: Hellfire offering one of the best in terms of visuals, gameplay and strategy. Code51: Mecha Arena goes for a bit more of a stripped back, easy access approach that allows players to just dive right in.
Code51: Mecha Arena certainly feels more like an arcade style experience than anything else. If you leave the options as they are – there aren’t exactly many – you’ll find its one stick movement control with your gaze doing the turning. This is mainly for comfort and works very well, there is a twin stick option for those that can handle it but it never seemed to offer much more versatility. If you didn’t realise already Code51: Mecha Arena is purely on gamepad, which is a shame considering controllers like Oculus Touch would work just as well (the HTC Vive controllers might suffer a little due to the touchpad).
Smellyriver may state that Code51: Mecha Arena features both single-player and multiplayer modes but the former is little more than a warmup. There’s a training mode which actually puts you in a very basic canyon level where you’re taught the controls and get to shoot a few men before taking on an easy mech at the end. Practice mode is just that, putting you into an arena with three other mechs controlled by bots. This is the best place to begin looking at the various loadouts available to you.
There are nine mechs in the videogame with only three available to begin with, more are unlocked through levelling up in multiplayer. These cover your usual heavy, medium and light designs, each one equipped with a different gun that isn’t swappable. There isn’t any customisation options in Code51: Mecha Arena so it’s a case of finding a machine that best suits your gameplay style.
The multiplayer mode is the core of Code51: Mecha Arena and to say options are sparse is a little bit of an understatement. You can choose a mech and that’s it, no level selection, private matches with friends or any of the other online features you might expect. At this early stage Code51: Mecha Arena does suffer from the same problem as many other multiplayer focused titles, and that’s other players. Yet there is a glimmer of light for those who do become fans, the four player deathmatches are automatically populated with bots so there’s no endlessly waiting for that forth person to show up, just straight into a match.
These tend to be short and frantic as you’d probably expect. There doesn’t seem to be many maps – over several plays VRFocus came across two – however they are designed to offer some vertical options so you’re not fighting on the ground all the time. Aside from the main arm mounted weapons each mech has two skills to use (shields, missiles, dashes) as well as a jump and hover function. This gives even the heavier mechs a reasonable agility.
Mix all of this together and what do you get, a fairly decent giant robot fighting experience. Let’s be clear that while Code51: Mecha Arena looks good and the gameplay design makes for a comfortable fighting title, it does still feel like its lacking substance. With so few additional options it can’t compete with Archangel: Hellfire for shear gameplay finesse. Code51: Mecha Arena needs more, otherwise it’s one of those videogames that’s great for 30 minutes or so before you want to move onto something else.