Black and white, mech-on-mech compose the heart of the Wolfstride demo I received last week. Despite the lack of color, the game feels inspired by Gurren Lagann, as well as the disaffected comic book stylings of Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen. Pilots are brash, audacious, and reckless to the point of parody — all with squishy, stretchy art that changes depending on whether you’re in a mech or its garage. The game part is also pretty fun. Though I long to know if the combat develops much depth long-term.
Battles are momentum-based. You take turns swinging at heads, torsos, and arms based on a number of action points. Some moves target specific body parts. Others require ammunition that must be reloaded, at the cost of precious time. If you can’t do anything else there’s always just moving forward. Wolfstride isn’t a traditional tactics game, like XCOM or BattleTech, where you maneuver over an open plane. Instead your mechs push against one another across a single line — like stompy, backwards tug-of-war — until someone gets backed into a corner. That’s the “momentum” I mentioned.
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Getting pushed all the way back on the line is a very bad thing. You take massively increased damage, although only from point blank attacks. Some ranged shots require more specific positioning. And various, highlighted pips on the line are happy to help, offering a touch less bonus damage in exchange for keeping your distance. Either way, both you and your opponent build up a super meter that can repair and even regenerate broken limbs, so there’s incentive to keep up the pressure.
Given the importance of pushing and pulling, it’s odd that, at least in the demo, mech legs appear immune to damage. Cutting foes off at the ankles seems like a no-brainer. Turn-based mech masterpiece BattleTech took this to heart — letting you slow and even annihilate targets by targeting their feet. Perhaps I shouldn’t get so fixated on what isn’t there. Yet without this angle of attack, Wolfstride often feels a bit drawn out, forcing me to focus on punching through armor to core out the torso. Most of the turns I took felt exactly the same. I’d run up as far as I could, use what abilities weren’t on cooldown, and repeat after I got pushed back. If I was damaged I would heal. If I couldn’t heal, I would usually reload. If I couldn’t do any of that… I often just wasted turns without much to show for it.
Back at the garage, a team of friendly weirdos (e.g. an cute, angry robot and your man-dog manager) will help you out. There are upgrades to increase how much you can move, how many actions you take, and so on. Though they don’t seem to add fundamentally new abilities. It seems like these may unlock over time, however, as pilots have their own skills I wasn’t able to alter during my preview. Maybe that’s where the real depth shines.
For the time being, Wolfstride makes an impression! I’m not yet sure if it will be lasting one. I do hope so, though. Giant robots make for such interesting skirmishes — able to break down and reconstruct in fascinating ways. If the full Wolfstride can gimme more of that, I’ll be happy to step inside rather than just peek through the cockpit.