Wolfstride reminds me, in a powerful but rather hard to pin down way, of Invitation to Love, the fantasy soap opera everyone watches in the first season of Twin Peaks. I’ve heard the game described as an anime like Cowboy Bebop, or even an actual soap opera, and it’s true. But there’s a freedom here, a willingness to contain chaos and divisive elements, that surpasses even the wildest anime or less rigorous soap operas. It looks like the anime someone is watching inside an anime. Every time you see it, it’s a little crazier, a little more willing to Go over there. He has the wonderful power of the raised eyebrow. Everything is serious, but nothing is too much serious.
You may have seen Wolfstride and thought: cool! A game about turn-based robot battles. Half right. Wolfstride is half of this game. The other half of the time it’s a game about what it’s like to be in the realm of turn-based robot battles. You patch up your shitty guy as best you can. You earn money for larger repairs. You train your pilot to learn new skills. You choose a loadout to take into battle after learning as much as you can about your opponent. And you’re also bombing around a city, a grayscale pixel burg built out of a few places – a bar, of course, a junkyard, of cours. A hospital, a convenience store. You know the market.
This half of the game is actually wonderful. The writing is quick and flippant, throwing in jokes and not caring so much about the success rate. Soon you have a bunch of oddballs and crook characters to talk to all day, and you’re playing the biggest oddball and crook of them all, an angular hustler who’s all points, all elbows and knees, racing between dates, trying to keep the money flowing, the lie continues. Try to overcome the past and do good for the mechanical lark. You have long conversations and go for quests, but it’s pretty painless. You try to follow the different plot threads. Primarily, you enjoy being someone who’s a bit of a jerk, but pretty bright with it. Even mini-games that pay money are acceptable.
Then there’s the other half of the game. And it’s often brilliant. Mech fights, one on one, each fights an event, not least because you have to navigate the plot to get there. The mechs are very large, yet the basics are simple. Protect your own core and try to eliminate your enemy’s core. Use positioning, your skills, and manage things like action points and movement points. These are the basics, though it scales from there in complexity.
It works just as well, I’m sure, because of the mechs themselves. The drawings are cool, but the way they come alive is sublime. Each part of the mech is a different 2D object, as far as I can tell, and so you get this Noggin the Nog game of 2D elements moving independently of each other. It turns out that an animation style so old that it was originally done with magnets is perfect for capturing the personality of the giant robots of the future – the mix of the rigid and the fixed, the sense of separate parts that come together to breathe and flex. There is a very human sense of power in these things.
After a while, I remembered exactly what it reminded me of. Teleroboxer, another robot grappling with the odyssey, this one for good old Virtual Boy. Squint and I can almost see Wolfstride at home on this platform. A world within a world – as an Invitation to Love! Always run. Always stay ahead of the chaos. Always stunning.
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