Ponkotsu Rohman Daikatsugeki Bumpy Trot / Steambot Chronicles (PS2) (2004)
Review by Faididi and Co.
Don't make fun of his name, or else he'll unpimp your trot vehicle
Story: Above Average
Imagine, if you will, an alternate industrial revolution, where the pride of personal transportation technology lies not in the conventional automobiles we know, but in mechs known as trot vehicles. It's also in this world where a boy called Vanilla Beans wakes up without any memories of himself or why he has such a corny name. Claiming an abandoned trot vehicle with the girl who has found him, our amnesic hero will come to rescue people from gangsters, join a music band, uncover great conspiracies, and undertake all sorts of other adventures. The steampunk fantasy story is typical enough, but the plot splits into two branches halfway through the game, with the events changing to reflect how good or evil Vanilla acts.
Gameplay: Above Average
Irem's Ponkotsu Rohman Daikatsugeki Bumpy Trot (Steambot Chronicles) is an action adventure that tries to do a bit of everything. Central to the game, of course, are the trot vehicles and the numerous upgrades that can be uncovered. Vanilla can install bigger blades and cannons to increase his killing power, helping him fight off bandit trot vehicles while roaming the countryside, not to mention increasing his chances of reaching the top ranks in the battle arenas.
Unlike the machines in most other mech stories, the trot vehicles are designed for civilian purposes as well. Our hero can just as easily equip things like carriage units to handle more productive work. If Vanilla likes, he can spend days doing a job like what every regular joe does, such as busing people around places or digging for ore at a quarry.
Indeed, Bumpy Trot's open-ended gameplay makes it feel more like a life simulator than it does an action game at times. Vanilla can walk through the streets of multiple towns, browsing a variety of stores for new clothes, books, haircuts, and other means of blowing cash. He can hang out at bars and play billiards. He can explore dungeons for artifacts, keeping them for himself or sharing them with a museum. Vanilla can play eight different types of musical instruments, earning money by participating with a band at concerts or just by performing on a sidewalk. Vanilla can even pick up shares of stock to earn extra money, and he can move into apartments, decorating them however he likes with whatever furniture he has collected.
Unfortunately, a game like this will inevitably be compared to the genre's greatest classics of the era, and those are Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto adventures. Bumpy Trot may have plenty for its hero to do, but those activities are rigidly broken up across the separate areas of the game's world and don't cleanly mesh together. Not helping is the fact that Vanilla is forced into a restrictive and heavily automated navigation system whenever he drives his trot vehicle through the towns. All of this simply can't match the truly seamless, dynamically fluid worlds of the Grand Theft Auto games.
The controls are responsive in general, but their clumsy layout can't be customized. Although both sticks must be used to move the trot vehicle, the lock-on function is assigned to the Square Button. That certainly isn't the smartest layout ever.
Graphics: Above Average
Visually, Bumpy Trot looks about as good as Irem's other action adventure, Zettai Zetsumei Toshi (Disaster Report, or SOS: The Final Escape). The characters are rendered well in a soft, cel-shaded style, and the environments are constructed with a decent level of detail. The slowdown isn't as pervasive, which is impressive given the fact that some of the cool-looking bosses are gigantic trot vehicles taking the forms of arachnoid walkers, submarines, and even mobile fortresses, onto which Vanilla can climb while wrecking them one piece at a time.
The sound effects are better than Zettai Zetsumei Toshi's, too. The ambience effects are more consistent in quality, and the trot vehicles really sound like clunky, noisy contraptions.
Unfortunately, the voice acting is limited only to the main characters during the cinematic scenes, and the original actress for the heroine isn't the same person who does the singing for that character's songs (which are in English for all versions of the game), making her sound weird whenever she switches between normal speech and singing. The dubbing for the English versions of the game doesn't make things any better.
The music is also unimpressive. Most of the tunes are lacking in melody and grow very harsh on the ears. The songs need better lyrics, because they're apparently run through a literal translation, with no attention paid to aesthetic needs.
Overall: Above Average
Bumpy Trot is a substantial action adventure that contains a surprising scope of activities, from the trot vehicle combat to the music minigames to even the apartment customization. The problem, though, is that the Grand Theft Auto games also feature an amazing amount of content, and they already do so with far more seamless worlds, smarter controls, smoother graphics, and superior audio effects.