Mech games don’t receive much love. Despite having a long history, not many of them are released. Worse, most of the games that come out are based on the western concept of mechs: slow, lumbering war machines with guns strapped to them. Enter M.A.S.S. Builder, an answer to the prayers of mech game lovers everywhere.
Fans of the Japanese mech style of jetpacks, articulate hands and melee weapons had to make do with the PS-exclusive Gundam Versus and Gundam Breaker series. In 2019, Daemon x Machina graced the Switch before coming to PC a few months later, helping deprived fans scratch their mecha itch. That said, there is one game not many people talk about.
M.A.S.S. (Mechanical Assault Skeleton Suit) Builder successfully completed its Kickstarter campaign in April 2019 and quietly released on Steam as an Early Access title on the 13th of September 2019, coincidentally the same day that Daemon x Machina released on the Switch. Its developers, Vermillion Digital, have been working on it since then, adding new content to the game over the years.
Options for the centre-front armour
At its core, M.A.S.S. Builder is a mech game about making cool mechanical soldiers and going off to fight aliens with them. The game’s customisation is the star of the show here. The eponymous M.A.S.S. Units share similar inner frames with numerous armour pieces to choose from. And my god there is so much choice! There are a dizzying array of customisable areas for the player to mess around with. There isn’t just “head” customisation, there’s also face, upper head, and lower head.
Each one has four paintable areas and six decal slots to alter. Paints even come in metallic and glowing varieties. It all comes together for a stupid amount of customisation that is is the real meat of the game.
Improving Mech Performance
While daunting at first, these numbers make sense before long
Customising the performance of the M.A.S.S. Unit itself has its own expansive customisation system. There is a massive tech tree that allows players to get their mech to fit their playstyle. There are upgrades that give M.A.S.S. Units more fuel for boosting around or to be more structurally stable in order to hold heavier weapons. Some upgrades even have a visual effect such as a shield-boosting upgrade giving floating shields.
Later on, key upgrades become available that allow players to really specialise. There are key upgrade options that allow M.A.S.S. Units to specialise in one particular area of combat. One upgrade makes it easier to exploit elemental vulnerabilities. Another improves melee weapons at the expense of ranged ones.
It’s also worth noting that M.A.S.S. Builder has really taken inspiration from Gundam.
While there aren’t any options for the iconic v-fins, most of the armour choices can have their designs traced back to a Gundam series which is certainly a selling point after the disastrous launch of Gundam Breaker Next. The potential for Gundam-like customisation is so great that many fan-made designs in this game are imitations of classic mobile suits like the Gundam Unicorn and the Tallgeese from Gundam Wing.
The icing on the cake is the game’s expansive photo mode. It has plenty of poses for M.A.S.S. units to put on with a satisfying range of options to take advantage of.
Unfortunately, the gameplay mechanics are clearly a work in progress. Targeting is clunky at best and frustrating at worst. Switching a target lock from a distant turret to the pack of angry aliens in melee range is surprisingly difficult. The game’s AI has a tendency to form up into large packs of enemies which turns combat into a game of exploiting that behavior to lay into those packs with area of effect attacks. It can be fun to do and is made satisfying by the customisation. After all, the M.A.S.S. units aren’t just for show and building them to fight using certain weapons and playing to that build is always fun.
The barrel dictates how the weapon fires
Ranged gameplay is pretty straightforward but gets a good amount of variety by way of weapon customisation. Parts can change how the weapon is gripped as well as the projectile type. Ballistic weapons range from a tank cannon-like semi automatic to a mech-scaled minigun. Energy weapons, a Gundam staple, bring pew-pew in the expected flavours of ballistic analogues like semi- and fully-automatic and continuous laser beams. M.A.S.S. Units may also deploy with shoulder-mounted rocket launchers and laser-shooting drones.
Melee combat seems to be Vermillion’s focus and is reasonably well fleshed out.
Melee weapons have their animations changed based on how they’re customised. Their weight and grip style will affect their speed and how they get swung about. There’s plenty of variety for the weapons themselves with the usual assortment of bladed and blunt weapons like swords and hammers as well as more exotic choices like drills. The game will automatically assign an animation style based on the options chosen and has a wide range of options in that department.
Movement is pretty light, as one would expect from this type of mech. M.A.S.S. units charge forward at full sprint and stop on a dime. The boost recharges pretty fast and moves the mech fast, too.
Overall, M.A.S.S. Builder does have functioning gameplay that could do with much more polish, which isn’t so bad considering that it still has time to tighten up. What really sells it is the incredible customisation that it offers that uniquely interacts with gameplay but not too much.
Well, the story serves as an excuse to put the M.A.S.S. units in battle in a very anime-like flavour. It’s told through visual-novel style scenes and some mission dialogue that work but aren’t very engaging. The writing is alright. Unfortunately, there are quite a few grammatical errors in the writing which can detract from the storytelling.
The premise is fairly standard. Humans live in shelters trying to survive an alien onslaught perpetrated by a species called Quarks. It has a reasonably wide cast of characters with backstories told in a menu. There is a decent amount of intrigue in the story to keep things exciting. It’s not the deepest story ever or the best told. It treads well-trodden ground well enough and ties the game’s mechanics together.
In its current form, M.A.S.S. Builder would be a pretty average game if not for the fantastic customisation. It has some of the best mech game customisation to exist both visually and in terms of M.A.S.S. Unit performance. Unfortunately, it's held back by its mediocre gameplay and storytelling. Still, if you want to make cool-looking robots, this game will do just fine. The promise of new updates down the line keeps things exciting, too.
Lead image credit: Vermillion Digital’s Twitter
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