Titanfall’s been making huge waves in the past few days as the next big thing mixing mechs in with Call of Duty style shooting. But in 1994, Capcom kept things simple. They took their beat ’em up chops, merged them in with Japan’s love for mecha, and the result was Powered Gear or, as it was called in the West, Armored Warriors. That’s right — this was a beat ’em up with mechs. And it was glorious.
It ran on Capcom’s CPS-2 arcade hardware which was part of their effort to standardize things and cut down on costs both for themselves and arcade owners. Instead of replacing the guts of the machine to change it out for a new title, owners could simply replace a cartridge inside for another Capcom game.
The CPS-2 was built around the exceptionally popular, and versatile, 16-bit Motorola 68000 along with another old standby, Zilog’s Z80, which handled the sound. Creating the sound, however, weren’t Yamaha chips as in the CPS-1. This time, Capcom opted to integrate QSound Labs’ Q Sound into the CPS-2 (and before that, the CPS System Dash which was a slightly upgraded CPS-1). The boards were also color coded to indicate which regions they were intended for. Graphically, the CPS-2’s hardware was similar to the CPS-1 in that regard.
One more thing that the CPS-2 had that its predecessor didn’t was the infamous “suicide battery” which powered a chip containing the encryption keys for decrypting the game roms. The idea was part of Capcom’s anti-bootlegging efforts with the idea that any tampering that would result in the chip losing the battery charge would cause all of the keys being wiped out making the hardware incapable of running anything. Of course, batteries don’t last forever, either. In both cases, the affected board would have to be sent back to Capcom.
The CPS-2 was a pretty popular piece of kit. It powered a number of big titles in Capcom’s arcade lineup such as their Dungeons & Dragons titles, Tower of Doom and Shadow of Mystara, along with a slew of fighting games such as the Street Fighter: Alpha series and Darkstalkers. System 16 has a great page showcasing a few pics of the actual hardware and the lineup of games that ran on it.
That made it perfect for the kind of mechanized mayhem in Armored Warriors. The story behind the game was told in a quickly scrolling text tease during the attract mode.
The action takes place in the year 2281 and both planet Earth and another planet, the Principalities of Raia, had concluded a truce after fifty years of warfare. However, scouts report that the Raian capital had suddenly been taken over by a mysterious enemy. The Earth decides to send an expedition to find out what has happened, but somewhat conspiratorially, the story also notes that the real story behind their mission was never revealed to the public. That is, until the player takes part in the mission.
Up to three players can join the fight simultaneously by picking from four different mech pilots each with varying characteristics. All of them have the basics — combo attacks and a special “desperation” move that is like a damaging energy field immediately surrounding the mech that activates for as long as you have health to burn off. Movement-wise, and looks-wise, they’re very different.
Rash pilots the Blodia and has a decent melee range, power, and movement speed making him the most balanced. Justice is a Raian who pilots the Reptos, a slim, blue mech with added speed and close combat speed though not quite as hard hitting as the Blodia. Gray, who pilots the Guldin, is the Arnie of the group — tough, damaging, but also slow. His jump attack turns his treads into bladed chainsaws, though. Last up is Siren whose Fordy is small, super fast, and relies mainly on movement to evade damage and strike enemies quickly.
Seven big stages of mech crushing, dismembering, and exploding action are ahead. Special “shooting” bonus stages which zip the mechs along a stage armed with a cannon filled with infinite ammo also separate a few of the main stages. There’s a lot of destructibility in the game, too. Some of the backdrop can be damaged, but the real stars are the individual mechs that act as cannon fodder and which are controlled by the players. They’re about as hyper detailed as you might expect from an anime series with small animated pieces, special pixel effects like electricity running across surfaces, and a variety of other neat visual tricks along with the rocking soundtrack and voice samples.
Gameplay-wise, Capcom’s designers play up the mech-centric play with plenty of great options. Health can be healed with dropped gas tanks, but weapons take the form of limbs that can be added and exchanged for new ones on the field. Want that claw arm that defeated mech dropped? Snag it and now you can grab and smash mechs in your way. That laser cannon dropped by another mech? Mount it on your shoulder to blast enemies (as long as the ammo lasts) to complement that claw. And if your legs aren’t just cutting it, you can swap those out for dropped treads or spider legs.
Configuring your mech based on what you can get is as fun as beating on the mechs in your way just to see how they look, or see what kind of special animations Capcom’s artists (such as Kinu Nishimura — who also worked on Shadow Over Mystara — and Sensei Haruki Suetsugu) have worked in such as when mechs split in half thanks to a laser sword or slowly fall apart as they’re pummeled. If you need another example of how good their artists were in the 90s, Armored Warriors delivers.
The game also has a complete, if abrupt, ending, and the story is told through the use of cuts in between stages and in-game text dialogue. It’s straight and to the point and not bad for an arcade game and is particularly well done showing off Capcom’s seasoned experience with the genre and their ability to pack in new surprises within a very familiar formula. It’s one of the things, aside from the often great art direction thanks to the hardware behind the scenes, that have made a number of their beat ’em ups stand out.
Sadly, Armored Warriors didn’t make its way out of the arcade and apparently suffered from low distribution. It did have a sequel in the same year, 1994, which was Cyberbots: Fullmetal Madness though that was mainly a fighting game instead of a side scrolling beat ’em up. Tech Romancer in 1998 was also considered a spiritual successor and came to the Dreamcast, though Armored Warriors was still no closer to finding its way to a home console. It’s really too bad. It’s a fantastic game and another brilliant example of Capcom’s beat ’em up mastery that gives everyone with an itch to recycle enemy mechs by pummeling them into a chance to scratch it with several tons of heavy weaponry.