Mini-Mech Mayhem is one of those PlayStation VR games that makes me say “this is fun and all but I don’t think it needs to be in virtual reality.”. Instead of being a VR battle-bot royale, as the title might infer, Mini-Mech Mayhem is actually a futuristic board game where up to four players compete against each other using tiny, trigger-happy robots. With its emphasis on chess-like strategy and good old-fashioned luck, Mini-Mech Mayhem offers a lot of depth and favors tactical thinking.
The board game element of Mini-Mech Mayhem is a lot like Othello: easy to learn, difficult to master. Playable online or with AI bots, each player controls a diminutive robot on a grid comprised of randomly placed hazardous pitfalls and a single gold coin. Each round begins with everyone programming three actions - movement, attack, or both - for their mini-mech to perform on the board. The ultimate goal is to work your way across the board to reach and maintain possession of the coin until the end of the round. Turn order prioritizes the lowest movement and combat score, which is influenced by the distance you want to travel and the strength of your attack. Because you don’t know what other players are going to do until the round begins, Mini-Mech Mayhem has a built-in sense of delightful unpredictability as well as that crippling feeling of anxiety that comes with waiting to see how badly the others are going to ruin your plans.
Like chess, this is one of those games that requires more than a little forward thinking and planning. All that planning, however, goes straight out the window whenever a player decides to make use of an Intercept, proving that Mini-Mech Mayhem has fun and frustrating ways to keep players humble. Intercepts are special power-ups that can be pretty devastating when used at the right time and because they can have a serious impact on the game, their use is governed by power cells. Each player gets a power cell at the top of each round and it can be spent to deploy Intercepts after the programming phase has ended. Some of these unique power-ups grant the player with a positive effect, like gaining an extra move, boosting weapon strength, and repair damage. Others can be downright mean. You can steal another player’s power cells, rotate their position clockwise or counter-clockwise, switch the placement of all mechs on the board, turn your mech magnetic to attract those closest to you, and even call in a powerful airstrike. Intercepts are powerful, spiteful things that do a great job of ruining your day but also it is hard not to admire when a player deploys one that completely reshuffles the playing field and destroys any plans the other players have been working for the entire match. Hateful as they may be, Intercepts are great because they consistently maintain high levels of excitement and anticipation.
I came away surprised with Mini-Mech Mayhem because of its depth. This isn’t a simple, one-off arcade game. It’s a legitimate test of creative thinking and there is so much to learn before you can truly master the ins and out of its ruleset. The tutorial alone has at least ten individual stages of instruction (and special challenge rounds) that are quite exhaustive, maybe overwhelmingly so. When the game has you thinking two, three, sometimes four steps ahead, it can sometimes be easy to forget about the tools and mechanics, like pushing enemy mechs into hazards, once play has begun. I’m not confident in my ability to strategize against human players, so the game’s single-player mode is more than enough for me because I can choose how many AI bots I want to play with and set their difficulty. Though, to be fair, I didn’t have much of a choice because there were no games to be found online. I’m willing to bet that if it were a non-VR PSN game, that might not be an issue.
With its surprising level of complexity and depth, Mini-Mech Mayhem is a game that could have a wider appeal were it not crippled by its PSVR exclusivity. I don’t see why it was engineered for the VR platform because there’s nothing here that made me think “Wow! I feel so immersed!”. After all, this is a game where you consistently stare at a table. There’s nothing gained from VR beyond the cheap thrill of looking around the environment and admire a player’s avatar and cosmetic choices. That’s pointless VR window dressing and it has an adverse side effect of crippling the online multiplayer space. I couldn’t find any games to play with other PSVR users so I played against AI bots, which was fine, I suppose, but I can only imagine how more fun it would be to play with friends. There are a few PSN games out in the wild that offers optional PSVR support and it’s a shame Mini-Mech Mayhem isn’t one of them. Taking away the VR-only restriction could put the game in the position to be pretty popular for both players and spectators.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.