Welcome to STEAMBOT CHRONICLES!" shouts a chorus of happy voices at the title screen of this cutesy role-player. Given this overwhelming wave of sweetness, you'll know instantly if you'll love or hate it. It's apparent that there's no room for anything in this one that's not painfully saccharine.
Fans of twee RPGs will be familiar with the setup - winsome voice acting from a lead cast of kidults, sprinklings of bizarre humour and characters, and some of those chunkily-coloured visuals that worked so well for Dark Chronicle. But the difference here is the way you make your mark on the world; in playing as beach wash-up amnesiac Vanilla Beans (yes, really) and letting the player take part in a lifestyle as much as a story, the game probably owes more to Nintendo's Animal Crossing than it does to the plethora of typical stats 'n' slash affairs out there.
Sure, there's a plot (who the hell are you and why were you shipwrecked?) but you can almost ignore that and make Vanilla live the life of a glorified virtual pet, completing dozens of optional sub-quests and dressing up him and his 'Trotmobile' however you like.
Those Trotmobiles - half car, half robot (see right) - are your main form of transport and combat. They're initially tricky to control since they use both analogue sticks (in a similar way to WeLove Katamari), but you'll get the hang of it. You can then customise your Trotmobile with armour and weaponsand engage in mech fights with other Trotmobiles. Victory earns you medals, which you can then trade for other items.
KEEP YOURSELF OCCUPIED
There's loads to do - play pool in bars, dig up fossils, invest in a cinema and show films that you find scattered around the landscape - and that's just scratching the surface. You can even dabble with a significant rhythm-action component that has you learning a range of instruments and working your way up from busking nobody to legendary pop star. No single aspect is rendered particularly brilliantly - for every neat decision (such as choosing how to greet everyone, from a salute to a kiss of the hand), there's also something to irritate (no camera control options?) - but it's a quaint, uplifting package, an experience that'll either massage the smiley part of your brain or send you running for the nearest Schwarzenegger movie marathon.
As far as looks go, the lighting is softer than Playboy's early years and there's some serious slow-down to be endured in certain scenes, but it can still impress here and there, especially in the design of some of the larger enemies you'll be facing. The loading times are odd, though, and can hit seemingly at random as you roam an area.
We wish we could give a higher mark to Steambot Chronicles since its intentions are really, truly likeable but you never feel quite involved enough for them to be brought to life. If you can put up with some rough edges in order to get at the sweet personality tucked away, please do give it a try - although you're probably better off with the English version coming soon rather than try the Japanese import. But if you can't stomach cute cartoon teenagers with kiddy voices, the tweeness of it all will make you feel like you've eaten pot pourri instead of pot noodle.
A light-hearted but patchy take on RPG free-roaming, with a personality that will suffocate or delight.