Review by jvgfanatic

Reviewed: 01/17/07

Tranforming motorbike action game, sound interesting? Read On...

SpeedPower Gunbike will cause most to look elsewhere because of it's rote gameplay and dull graphics. For the mech/bike transformer fanatic that can get a handle on the extremely difficult control this might fit the bill. Be aware though that this game lacks any decent eye candy. The best thing about the game? The voice acting.

Pros

+ Can be fun once you get used to the control
+ Game in an almost empty genre: the mech/bike transformer.
+ Great voice acting, some of the best

Cons

- You may never get used to the control
- 1 player only.
- No FMV Movies
- No Customization
- No Dual-shock support (big disappointment)
- No Analog support
- Weak graphics, not much eye candy

SpeedPower Gunbike has been panned by nearly every reviewer both in the states and overseas; does it deserve the hurt? Well, for a new game from the gods themselves - Sony Music Entertainment - you'd expect a lot. First, let's take a brief look at the game's premise.

In your role as protector of Earth (what's new?) you must clear the land of the baddies who take the form of roadblocks and bosses. You must do this while watching your 'Anergy' gauge which acts as sort of a timer. What's unique about your vehicle is the form (or forms) between which it can switch: bike, rally, or mech hence the game's title "SpeedPower Gunbike".

The Story

Not having a full (or even close) understanding of spoken Japanese I missed most of the story's details however it's played out in cut scenes using in-game graphics. No, there's no FMV here folks, I'll discuss that later. As near as I can tell, the story had one twist which was not unexpected but at least it kept my interest going where it might have otherwise waned off. What is important is that you don't have to understand a word of the story in order to understand the game. Good, so it's not an RPG...

Opening Scenes

All the animation for this game is rendered as in-game graphics. Some gamers might think that this cheapens the whole experience however I strongly believe that if artistic energy were pointed in the game's direction we could benefit by fewer FMV sequences. Unfortunately the gameplay graphics, while decent, don't make up for this shortcoming. Seamless level changes were expected from this reviewer but even those were absent from this title. So what did we gain at the lost FMV? I'm still asking that question.

On a high note, the voice acting throughout the title is genuinely good and even over-done in classic anime style. The voices are actually good enough to make up for the lack of FMV in terms of visualizing what is happening. It's commendable that Sony managed to catch our imagination with sound rather than video. Of course, it IS Sony Music Entertainment we're talking about isn't it?

Startup and Menu

At the main screen (there is no boot animation) you're presented with 3 choices in English: Operation, Training, and Options. The training mode is particularly nice as each goal is pretty obvious and most techniques are demonstrated while actively showing controller button presses. We'll see if Sega gets their lawyers up in arms about that one. The training mode can be frustrating though if you haven't gotten the hang of control. We'll discuss control in a bit.

The options screen is pretty light, offering only three choices: Key Control, Game Level, and Memory Card. Key Control allows for controller configuration; it's presented in Katakana and Kanji. Game Level allows you to choose from 3 levels. An AutoSave feature is included in the Memory Card options but is not turned on by default. If it's off you'll have to answer "hai" or "iia" to save between levels during gameplay therefore it pays to turn it on. All of these options are in English except for the controller configuration.

The Operation mode is the game itself. After choosing Operation you'll be presented with the character choice screen. The game starts with three characters available and it is my belief that three is all we get. Ippei is a cocky male with the "Gunbike" model of vehicle. Ami is a cyber-girl that seems small and waif-like without her mech. Major Nouno is the third character on the blue bike. He seems to have an attitude problem and if you understand Japanese and you know why then let us know.

After choosing your character you can select which level you want to start at. This is assuming that you've completed the game up to that level with that character. This is nice with the automatic save feature. The entire game unlocks as you play it. Very cool.

Gameplay

Your vehicle, the Gunbike itself, can switch between Speed Bike (SB) mode, Armored Rally (AR) mode, and Armored Fighting Robot (AFR) mode and is built to bash, hit, avoid and shoot enemies and structures that seem to exist only for the purpose of blocking the roadway along which most of this games levels take place. For the most part, you drive your vehicle along these somewhat narrow roadways, destroying and avoiding enemies until you reach bosses which take on a myriad of heavy metal forms.

You are limited by the amount of "Anergy" or energy that your mech contains. Everything you do, including standing idle, expends this energy and getting hit by enemy fire causes very rapid energy loss. The level is over when you've either reached the end or when you've run out of energy.

Scattered throughout each course are power-ups which supply you with renewed energy. They seem to come in a couple of flavors though I'm sure to have missed many of them in the playing that I did. Some will provide you will full energy gauge, others will only give you a few points of energy. Either way, you'll need to use the power-ups if you spend time taking out all of the baddies.

At the end of each level and after each boss you get points awarded at two levels: speed and power. Speed is how fast you complete the level and power is determined by the amount of damage you did to the level. There's a tradeoff between the two but efficient level achievers should see points in both categories.

Weapons

Your vehicle has at its disposal three primary weapons. The first is what I've termed the energy ram. It consists of a wave of energy that is generated when you convert your vehicle to the AFR while speeding along as AR or SB. Apparently the extra energy from coming to a sudden slowdown is gathered and forced into a cone of orange brilliance which moves with your mech as it's stopping, like a shield. Anything that is in your way when this 'shield' is in front of you will most likely be destroyed.

The energy wave is a time consuming weapon as it requires you to get a run at the enemy. Fortunately it takes out most of the baddies with one hit so you won't need to swing around to finish them off unless your dealing with a boss. In addition, you can't steer while releasing the wave so your path must be true before you convert into AFR mode.

The second weapon, the energy blade, can only be used in mech (AFR) mode. Simple enough to use, your mech swings in the direction that it is facing. This weapon's use is severely limited until you get the hang of controlling your mech. The computer won't help you out here. The blade is a slow weapon as your mech follows through with the swing and then has to reset.

Finally the "gun" of Gunbike is a weapon that again can only be used while in AFR (mech) mode. Each of the three gunbikes carries a unique gun, of course, 3 weapons does not a game make but we'll take a look at them anyway. The first gun belongs to Ippei and is analogous with a shotgun, one shot and reload. The second gun is Ami's and represents the classic laser, it's a steady beam rather than a burst fire weapon. The third gun on Major Nouno's gunbike is the machine gun, it's arguably the most powerful gun of the three when combining its firing rate and flexibility.

Each of these guns comes in real handy so it'll be a bad ride if you don't know how to fire them. Some colleagues in the review business couldn't find the buttons but we fear that they ran from the game before they even looked for them. Oh well, we doubt that they'll return to the game once they learn that firing the gun takes the absurd maneuver of press and hold circle then rock your thumb to the square button while still holding circle. Let go of circle with your thumb squarely on the square button. With the two bullet mechs (Ippei's, and Nouno's) you'll fire when you release the circle button. Ami's laser will fire for as long as you keep the square button pressed.

I believe that's it for weapons. Simply running into enemies and barriers will also cause a small amount of damage but rarely enough to obliterate the target. All in all, you will not find the weapons very interesting because of principally two things: lack of variety and difficulty of control. Ahh, control...

Control

I wasn't satisfied with the control until I read somewhere that these mechs are older. They were made long before the sleek mechs of the Gundam universe, before the speedy mechs of Armored Core. In other words, get used to the Model-T mech because that's what these babies feel like. Effective control of a gunbike will only come with an intimate understanding of the three modes and the effects of switching between the modes. Even then you may find yourself careening off walls every time you make a corner.

Controls consist of the d-pad left and right for steering and forward and backward to switch between bike and rally modes. The X button for acceleration (rushing when in mech mode), the triangle button swings your blade while in mech mode but does nothing (as far as I can tell) in bike or rally mode, the circle button for brake and the square button for transforming into and out of mech mode. The top shoulder buttons (R1 and L1) are used for power sliding around corners.

Each vehicle has it's own control nuances. The AFR (or mech) mode is the slowest but packs the hardest punch. The SB (bike) mode is the fastest but is the least powerful. You'll get knocked off the bike if you're hit by an enemy shot while in bike mode.

One major complaint that I have about control is that when turning your mech using the d-pad the camera lags behind your mechs facing angle. Accuracy in a turn can only be accomplished by turn, wait, correct, wait, etc... A swifter camera might have allowed for the same maneuver without the wait states. This is especially apparent when you're fighting a boss who doesn't really have these problems.

Another thing, rolling away from a compulsive restart in bike mode involves the player having to drive into the camera until the camera has time to swing around to follow the player. During this time the player cannot see the road in front of them. Oops, there's another mine.

Finally, the energy power ups will temporarily hover over your vehicle obscuring your view of the road or the enemy in front of you. It's really not all that bad but it could have been executed a little better.

Complaints, Opinions, Praise...

SpeedPower Gunbike's initial outlay simply won't impress and by the time you get used to the control much of the game will probably have lost it's appeal. The stages feel like driving down a highway with dummies spaced every so often it being your job to destroy the dummies. You can compare this to a racing game (and your bikes movements make that analogy stronger) however the 'tracks' aren't as interesting as most racing games and the racing rush just isn't ever felt. The bosses are where the action picks up but even then, can you stand to play through a graphically unimpressive level in order to reach a boss?

I'm really disappointed in the lack of dual-shock support. That's not something I ever thought I'd be saying but I've seen that good voice acting can actually push imagination into new dimensions and with the lack of everything else I think dualshock support would have gone a long way.

There's significant clipping in the graphics department but we're quite used to that now on the PSX. Clipping shouldn't keep any of you away from a game if the gameplay is there but, unless you're a total mech/bike fan, you won't find the gameplay in this game.

Finally, there seems to be no way to customize your vehicle. I was really hoping for something to happen which would allow me to soup up the ol' gunbike but it stayed the same during the whole durn game. Granted, I haven't finished yet and if I find different when I do then I'll get back to this review but until then...it's the same durn gunbike.

You All Over!

Well, that's the message one gets after running out of energy. In the case of this review I feel compelled to sum-up. All in all I'm still playing this game if only to unlock anything that might be there. I do find it somewhat fun but it took about 6 hours of playing before I even began to feel comfortable with the movement controls. Finally I can race around to my heart's content. Now if I could just get combat down I'll be set.

If you don't have the patience for really rough control and you can't stand looking at choppy graphics then you'll definitely want to pass this one up. If you are a mech fanatic and you're burnt out on anything else then try it out. Heed my warnings though, this game may not be for you.. It's a reasonably fun ride once you get used to it.

Rating: 6

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