Having conquered a single-player match against the game’s toughest AI, I ventured into Mini-Mech Mayhem’s multiplayer mode relatively assured. Several hours of practice paired with earlier multiplayer matches for previews had me confident. My first opponent? A kid that couldn’t have been any older than 13. Fine by me – easy victory, right?
He ran circles around me. In fact, sometimes he had me running circles around him.
You lose a game of Mini-Mech Mayhem the moment you think you’ve won it. FuturLab’s latest is a deceptively strategic affair, one that’s at first simple to grasp. You control a tiny robo-buddy on a square grid, issuing orders to move and shoot. The aim is to grab points either by holding the relevant tile at the end of a round or by destroying your opponent’s mechs.
But the proceedings are unnervingly erratic and unpredictable; not only do you not know the order in which moves will play out (nor do you know what your opponent has ordered until it has transpired) but you can also play intercept cards, often unwelcome surprises that, when played at the right time, can do anything from nudge your mech off by a tile or call in an air strike. In your hands, they’re a powerful weapon. In your enemy’s, they’re a terrifying prospect.
A potent recipe for chaos, then, and certainly not something that can be enjoyed without a certain level of dedication. Then again, what FuturLab game doesn’t fit this mold? Quite how the studio managed to preserve both the tension and attention of its twitch-based arcade games inside a turn-based boardgame is beyond me, but it’s alive and kicking.
It’s in the moments when a perfectly thought-out plan is foiled by your enemy’s cunning that Mini-Mech Mayhem shines most. Even more so when it’s saved at the last minute. So much of Mini-Mech Mayhem is spent laughing in either elation or despair, enough to overlook just how unwieldy the sheer number of possibilities are. You can risk gunning straight for the point in the hopes that other players might fight each other off, or perhaps shoot an enemy’s leg to get them to change their movement direction towards a trapdoor.
When things go your way, you cheer. When they don’t? Well, you’re kind of tempted to cheer then, too. It’s a game of prediction and preparation and the celebration of how right and wrong those things can go, even if it more often feels like it’s heading in the latter direction.
Make no mistake; this is a multiplayer game at its core. Single-player matches can help you acclimatize but won’t show you the joy of human error. To that point, it’s something best enjoyed with friends. Unless you intend to get serious about the high-level play that will no doubt flourish online you’ll want to find people you’re comfortable both laughing with and at. It’s a shame, then, that there’s no option for local multiplayer using PSVR’s social screen. Sadder still that it’s a PSVR exclusive; it’s begging for cross-play support to bring in as many players as possible.
There’s a missed chance for some Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes-level laughs, though online matches do a good job of capturing the same-room camaraderie in VR. I found myself being more expressive here than I have in past multiplayer VR games; applauding winning moves and shaking my head in dismay at lost points. It’s a nicely little justification for the game being in VR, even if it didn’t necessarily need one. It can be played with either just the DualShock 4 or two PS Move controllers, but the Move controllers are a much smoother and more intuitive experience.
This is the rare sort of game where I actually want to unlock as many bits and bobs as possible just to forge my own identity.
Mini-Mech Mayhem is likely destined for the same kind of obscurity as FuturLab’s Tiny Trax before it, but there’s endless joy to be found from its frantic mash-up of tabletop gaming and VR. This is an untamable, often hilarious bit of strategy that’s to be enjoyed just as much when you’re throwing your hands up in defeat as it is in victory. I just wish I had more people to play it with.
Mini-Mech Mayhem is available now on PSVR for $19.99. Check out these official review guidelines to find out more about our process.