Regular listeners to our podcast will know that Futurlab are one of my favourite game developers. They’re a small British studio that has on hell of a track record, creating interesting games with unique hooks, often playing around with genre conventions in innovative ways. Whether it’s the clever twist on the block-matching puzzles in Surge Deluxe, the twitchy dodge-‘em-up goodness of Coconut Dodge, the VR slot racing of Tiny Trax or the slick design of platforming X shmup hybrid in the excellent Velocity games, they’ve yet to release a game I’ve not enjoyed immensely. While Mini-Mech Mayhem is a departure from their usual action-packed fare, it’s another high quality release from the Brighton based developers that continues their run of good form.
Mini-Mech Mayhem is a table top game set within a colourful virtual reality town square. The idea of each match of MMM is to be the first player to earn 3 points by either destroying the Mech’s of your 1 to 3 opponents by shooting them/pushing them into an pitfall or by being the person standing on a particular tile on the grid overlaying the board before you. During each round of a match, you can perform 3 actions but you must always move or shoot at least once per round – no standing still and shooting wildly across the board. You can also only shoot or move in a direction once per round, so you can’t just spam shots in the direction of an opponent. Each action you take in the game has a points value. You can move up, down, left or right up to 6 spaces per movement with the distance determining the value of that move. Shooting is different – here, you can shoot in any of the 8 compass directions but the intended result of the shot determines the point value – a body shot, for example, costs only 1 point. This type of shot takes off a heart of health from the target (of which there are 3) should it hit but does little else. Aiming for other body parts costs more but also offers other side effects. Go for the arms and any shots that the target makes after being hit will be rotated by 45 degrees. Shoot a leg and any subsequent movement phases by the target are rotated by 90 degrees. Lastly, a head shot which costs 6 points knocks back the target by 1 grid square.
The kicker here is that until every player at the table has chosen their 3 actions per turn, you can’t be sure in what order the actions will take place as they’re played out in point value order, the smallest to largest for each 3 actions. Take this as an example – for my first action, I choose to move 4 spaces to the left, while my opponent chooses to shoot diagonally with a body shot. Because a body shot only costs 1 point, while my 4 space move is valued at 4 points, the opponent will shoot before I move. For my second action, if I choose to move up one space (1 cost) while my foe shoots to the left with a body shot (1 cost), I will move before my foe shoots because when a shot and a movement have the same cost, movements will occur first.
On top of this tactical complexity are ‘Intercept’ cards. These are single use abilities which can sway the tide of an action, turn or even entire match in your favour. At the start of the game, you’re presented with 2 randomly selected cards, each of which has an ability and an energy cost and can be swapped for another randomly selected card at the start of each turn. You begin a match with 1 energy to spend and you’re granted an additional bar of energy with each new turn. These cards can be played at any time (if you have enough energy to use them) and have a myriad of effects like jamming up an opponent’s gun to prevent them from firing, turning a Mech’s movement 90 degrees, adding or subtracting a grid space of movement, shuffling the position of all of the Mech’s on the board or stealing other people’s energy. These ‘Intercept’ cards work in a really smart way to counteract the unpredictable nature of the move/shoot sequences, giving you a hand in the events unfolding as they happen.
These combined mechanics of Mini-Mech Mayhem make it feel wholly unique and allow for unpredictable and deeply tactical games to unfold. Sure, you’ll sometimes end a round with all the Mech’s shooting off into the distance at no one in particular but that’s the beauty of it – when you’re trying to second guess the opposition, moving in unexpected ways, making sure you’re either spending enough points to come before or after someone else while also covering your own arse from others is a truly beautiful thing. Of all the games I’ve played this year, Mini-Mech Mayhem has been the one that has constantly surprised me with how deep and fresh it feels even after 20 hours of play time. When your opponent is on the brink of a win, having you in their sights and you’ve got 1 heart left only to jam their gun then push them into a pit fall will never not be funny. Similarly, stealing a win by swapping places with a Mech standing on the winning square after rounds of tight, back and forth tussles is exhilarating. It’s an incredibly tactile set of rules once you’ve got your head around them that can lead to clutch wins and heart-breaking losses.
Win or lose, each match of Mini-Mech Mayhem awards you with experience which eventually leads to a “level up”. Each new level you achieve unlocks either new cosmetic items for your Mech/player model or in game credits so you can buy something from the cosmetics store. While this RPG-esque system has only cosmetic benefits, making your Mech look swifty, it’s still a hook that has kept me coming back for more.
This all might sound complex and a little confusing but Mini-Mech Mayhem has an thorough step-by-step tutorial which explains everything in great detail. The tutorial feels a bit dry and slow while playing it but once you’ve started to actually play the game, you realise it’s a necessary evil so you don’t get utterly smashed in your first match.
As for game modes, Mini-Mech Mayhem allows you to play against 3 different difficulties of AI locally or online against other humans. While it’s good to cut your teeth on the AI opponents, they do have a limited appeal. It’s online, facing off against others, where this game comes alive. Set up a party chat with your friends, get a match going and a whole new level of bluffing, misdirection and damn right hilarity pours out of Mini-Mech Mayhem. Trust me when I say that your friend might never forgive you for using an Intercept card which turns your gun into a tractor beam which then pulls them into a pitfall just before they move to the winning tile. But it’s so worth it (sorry, not sorry, Gary). Played with other people who understand the rules to the same degree as you do and the multiplayer is simply electric.
It does feel like Mini-Mech Mayhem might have missed a trick by not including local multiplayer within its features however. While it would be impossible to include more than 1 human player via a TV screen (because you’d be able to see each other’s move choices, thus rendering one of its unique selling points points moot), it would have been nice to have a 1-vs-1 mode locally with PSVR vs TV.
The PSVR interface itself is very intuitive and incredibly comfortable. Because you’re not moving around and are simply sat in front of a VR table top game, there’s no chance of motion sickness either. What I will say though is that, as a lazy PSVR user, one that’s quite used to kicking back in a my-legs-hanging-off-the-side-of-the-couch while not playing in VR, Mini-Mech Mayhem is one of the few VR games I’ve played which accommodates my slouchy, getting-comfortable-any-way-how sitting methodology without requiring me to sit like an upright manikin for hours. While I don’t imagine that was ever a design tenet for Futurlab, it sure as hell made this a PSVR game I could play at length without feeling like I needed to stop and stretch. Mini-Mech Mayhem can be played with both PS Move controllers and a Dualshock 4 too, the latter of which allowing you to use the thumb sticks to move your arms around the various dials and buttons in a pretty ingenious way but is still less user friendly than using the PSMove controllers.
It’s the little touches that really make the VR in Mini-Mech Mayhem worthwhile. After winning a match, you can fist bump your Mech (and if you leave it hanging, it acts appropriately embarrassed) and party poppers spring out of the table to douse you in confetti, all of which is immeasurably pleasing in VR. To navigate the board in front of you, all you need to do is lean around to get a full view of what’s going on. The effects of a missed shot hitting the arena walls and rippling out in a funky sci-fi effect are eye popping. While none of this is genre defining or mind blowing, it really helps the game feel totally immersive.
I began this review by saying how much of a fan I am of Futurlab’s previous work and I did so because people who know me will know how excited I get about a new game from them. What this also means is that my expectations on Futurlab to produce the goods are probably just that much higher too. With Mini-Mech Mayhem, they’ve met and once again exceeded those expectations. While this game is unlike anything else they’ve created thus far, Mini-Mech Mayhem is another ingenious twist on a genre, something that the studio do so well. With this game, you can feel the design, the effort, the testing, rejigging, retesting and balancing that went into every design decision resulting in a table top game with a rule set that’s both technically and tactically complex yet immensely fun. Even after putting 20 hours into the game, I’m still getting surprised by the tactics of other humans and am springing those same surprises on the AI bots offline.
Mini-Mech Mayhem isn’t the most innovative use of VR and it lacks a local multiplayer mode but these are small gripes with another exemplary, smartly designed and impeccably implemented title from Futurlab.
Mini-Mech Mayhem is available now on PlayStation 4 via PSVR (reviewed on a base PS4).
In order to complete this review, we received a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy please go here.
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