We’ve covered quite a wide range of game genres for the PS Vita that have been released by Ratalaika Games, both here on the website and over on our YouTube channel. Now, it’s another venture back to the tried and tested platform puzzle genre that Ratalaika know so well.And this time we step into the future as we take a closer look at Mekabolt…
Mekabolt – The Story
The game takes place in Mekapark, a futuristic theme park. Usually operating smoothly, disaster strikes and the park’s batteries that power the robots that help run everything have disappeared. As the park’s trusty technician, it’s up to you to scour the park and find them, avoiding the dangers that lie ahead including the now-rogue bots that are in your way.
The game is spread over four different zones, each with a different visual theme representing different parts of the futuristic theme park. In total there are 100 levels and as such 100 batteries to collect. Zones are unlocked as you collect more batteries so you can play them in any order that you wish as long as you’ve completed enough levels.
A Helping Hand
Armed with nothing more than your trusty mekabolt – a stun gun that can temporarily disabled the robots – you have to avoid all of the hazards and get to the batteries on each level. To do this you have to jump over hazards and platforms, and use robots you have disabled to help you reach inaccessible areas. Each of these robots that you encounter have different functions and abilities to help you along the way. Some can be used as stepping stones to help you reach higher platforms. Others move up and down vertically so once stunned can be used as lift platforms.
More useful ones can be found later in the game that double up as hazards – canons that fire bullets at you that can destroy obstacles in your way, and turrets that fire arrows into adjacent scenery. Get too close and you’re history… but if you time your shots just right the arrows form new ladders that you can climb to reach new platforms.
As you’d expect from a Ratalaika title, it’s retro styled all the way. Throughout the game there are some great 16-bit style visuals, with detailed, well animated sprites, smooth scrolling backgrounds with everything clearly defined. Sound is something of a let down though with simplistic sound effects during the game and rather bland and unforgettable music playing continually.
Controls are simple enough with movement controls limited to just left and right, and two further buttons used to jump and fire the mekabolt itself. I have to admit that I do prefer this minimalistic approach to the control methods used in games. It makes games far more accessible and it allows you to just get straight into playing and not worry about having to spend hours learning and mastering the controls before you can sit down and start to enjoy the game itself. Instead within a couple of minutes you’ve mastered everything that you need to know and you can just focus on the gameplay.
This is one area where the games industry really could take a few tips from indie developers. It doesn’t mean that games need to be dumbed-down for players, but if controls were more refined and streamlined, then we could just concentrate on getting on with doing what we want to with games and that’s enjoy them. The 8-bit era managed with just a single joystick button, eventually moving onto two with the NES and only gradually adding more over the decades. But sometimes I wonder if we really need all of that to make a good game, and if a little design and planning on the control front wouldn’t work better.
That’s the controls but what about the game? Mekabolt is one of those games that’s hindered by taking the retro inspiration a little too far. For the most part, the look and feel of the game are spot on and it’s an entertaining, challenging and mildly addictive game. It’s a throwback to the 80s and 90s where gameplay was king and it’s a great reminder of why retrogaming is still so popular.
But then there are times when the game is just too frustrating for its own good. There is a reliance on pixel perfect positioning for jumps, or absolutely critical timing that makes Mekabolt frustrating rather than fun at times. You’ll find times when you could be re-trying a single level countless times just because of a split-second timing error or find times when you weren’t in the exact spot to be able to run, jump then shoot in the right way. And in those moments it takes all the fun away from playing.
And that’s an incredible shame because levels like this seem to be mixed in between those that you would consider to be of normal difficulty. But when faced against these, you do feel like giving up on the game completely. Even the endless chances to replay levels leave you asking yourself whether you actually want to continue.
It’s hard to decide whether it’s the random difficulty spikes or if it’s the actual level design that is letting Mekabolt down here. It’s enjoyable but the level balance will prove to be too frustrating for many and ultimately this is Mekabolt’s downfall. What could have been a great game is reduced to being no more than average because of a few basic design issues and level ordering.
Regardless, if you can persevere with the game’s problems it’s still going to give you plenty of value for your money. It’s another one of Ratalaika’s budget priced games on the PlayStation Store and is again Cross Buy with the PS Vita and PS4 so you get both versions for a single purchase and as with all of their releases is compatible with the PlayStation TV for those of you fortunate to own one.
At A Glance
- Title: Mekabolt
- Publisher: Ratalaika Games
- System: PS Vita
- Format: PSN Download (limited edition cartridge from Eastasiasoft)
- Memory Card Spare Required: Mb
- Cross Buy: Y (PS4)
- Cross Play: N/A
- Online Multiplayer: N/A
- Local Multiplayer: N/A
- PlayStation TV Compatible: Y
The copy of Mekabolt used for this review was provided by Ratalaika Games.