Mecha, Missiles, and Mayhem
Mecha have been a quintessential part of my upbringing. From renting Robotech (Yes, yes, I know. I’m not exactly a fan of Harmony Gold anymore if it’s any consolation) VHS tapes while staying at my grandparent’s house over childhood summers to spending countless hours building models from various series of Mobile Suit Gundam; I have been very ingrained in the black hole that is mecha anime, manga, and various related goods for a very, very long time. A couple of weeks ago, the code for a little Kickstarter game called Project Nimbus: Complete Edition landed in my inbox. The instant I saw the promotional art I was seriously intrigued.
Project Nimbus started its life as a fairly successful Kickstarter campaign by a Thailand-based studio called GameCrafterTeam. The modest Kickstarter yielded a very ambitious title that drew inspiration from classic anime series and tropes that blended together into a well-built aerial combat experience. In Project Nimbus, players find themselves on a late 21st century Earth that has been ravaged by the results of World War 3. With the surface growing increasingly uninhabitable and natural resources dwindling, humanity takes to the skies to live in floating cities above the once livable Earth. With the various countries of the planet divided into three distinct factions, conflict still runs rampant for control of the Earth’s remaining resources. Living in the skies, the three factions wage war using advanced, humanoid mecha suits called Battle Frames.
After its initial release to very positive reception on Steam and PS4, Gametomo in Japan coordinated with GameCrafterTeam to rebuild the game in Unreal Engine 4 for release on the Nintendo Switch. This release combines the original Steam release as well as the expansion “Code Mirai” into one bundle under the “Complete Edition” moniker. This release of Project Nimbus also includes the addition of two new gameplay modes as well as over a dozen different Battle Frames to commandeer, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
Isn’t that a P.O.D. song?
“We are we are…the Children of Fallen Nations”
From the very beginning of the game, it’s clear to see that every penny earned in Project Nimbus’ Kickstarter was put to great use. The cutscenes are fully voiced, and while mostly relegated to “mission briefing” type CG displays, they help set the militaristic mood for the game and also shed some light on the game’s setting and characters through discussion between the characters in each scene. There are also “files” you can read before each mission that provide even more backstory and help flesh out the game’s world even further.
After a brief tutorial level, Project Nimbus comes out in full force. The first mission has you piloting a rather basic grunt unit and getting your first taste of combat. The controls do take a bit of getting used to, and while doing a livestream of the game on my personal YouTube channel, (which can be viewed here if you want to watch it) I spent a fair amount of time fumbling about until I finally got a grip of how things worked in the game. Where you’d typically expect the movement to be tied to both analog sticks, Project Nimbus utilizes a rather unorthodox control scheme. Up and down on the left joystick provides forward or aft movement, while X and B make your Battle Frame climb or dive. The right stick is used for moving the camera, as it usually is in most games.
Project Nimbus features extremely fast-paced combat, for better or for worse.
Project Nimbus has extremely frantic combat. Much like you’d find in games like Ace Combat and Zone of the Enders, you encounter waves of enemies usually consisting of anywhere between 5 to a dozen or more units that all spout fire and missile swarms at you. You do have flares and chaff to disrupt those pesky heat-seeking missiles, but the enemies themselves can be pretty hard to see at times due to how far out the camera is. This makes manual targeting a not-so-viable option, but luckily locking on to enemies makes them fairly simple to take down.
Project Nimbus also offers a nicely done cockpit view with unique interiors for each Battle Frame, but I found this to be rather obtrusive with how frantic the combat was and opted to stick with the third-person view instead. As an aside, I did find it rather annoying that the first-person perspective was tied to the left D-pad button and switching weapons is Up and Down. I’d inadvertently switch to the first-person view when trying to change my weapons which ended up disorienting me. This can be attributed more to the Switch’s D-pad design rather than the game itself, but it’s still worth noting for Switch players so they won’t be caught off guard.
While the mission structure of the game usually revolves around taking out waves of enemies till none are remaining, Project Nimbus does offer a decent variety of missions to keep things from getting too stale. One mission has you protecting Air Force One (which somehow still exists and is guarded by F-18’s in the year 2048) from drones trying to shoot it down, followed shortly after by taking down a satellite armed to the brim with nukes targeting major cities, and after that taking a new model of Battle Frame out to space to guard some Orbital Elevators. The variety is nice to see and definitely shows how infatuated with mecha and sci-fi subculture the developers were with their project.
This ain’t your dad’s Itano Circus!
Project Nimbus throws in lots of classic mecha tropes like Macross sized missile swarms and references to Mobile Suit Gundam
Speaking of which, Project Nimbus does an excellent job of sneaking some references to classic mecha franchises into the game. During one boss battle, I encountered an ace pilot trying to interfere with my mission. The bridge crew on my team informed me his Battle Frame was coming in three times faster than a standard unit, and his Battle Frame just so happened to be red. I’m a huge Mobile Suit Gundam fan, so seeing an homage to Char Aznable (who is one of my favorite characters in the series) added into the game really made me smile ear to ear. There’s also a later mission that involves terrorists trying to drop a space colony onto the earth. It’s clear to see how much GameCrafterTeam love their mecha, and they do a great job of showing it.
The love shows through in the mecha designs too. The Battle Frames in Project Nimbus are nicely designed, with each unit having its own distinguishing features and none of them feel derivative of other already established properties. I personally really liked the designs of the Mirai and Viper. The transition to Unreal Engine 4 by Gametomo was a great move, as the new shaders and lighting options really help the game pop. The only downside is that with how small the characters can be on-screen; it can be difficult to really appreciate some of the finer details at times.
Project Nimbus’ Warfront mode lets you complete missions to earn funds that can be used to upgrade your Battle Frames.
As mentioned earlier, Project Nimbus: Complete Edition adds two new game modes in addition to the previous content from Steam and PS4. Warfront adds side missions to complete that unlock additional customization options for your Battle Frames and Survival is, as you might guess, surviving wave after wave of enemies for as long as you can. They’re not exactly groundbreaking, but the option to pilot Battle Frames you usually don’t get to commandeer and see how they perform is a pretty nice gesture.
While I would love to give Project Nimbus a positively glowing review, it is unfortunately not without its faults (in addition to those I already mentioned). Though I do enjoy frantic combat in my games, there are times where things can perhaps get a bit too chaotic. Locking on helps you take down enemies but moving the lock off of the screen makes you lose said lock, making you search frantically for the enemy you lost. This is particularly annoying in a particular ace pilot battle that had me struggling to keep tabs on a custom Battle Frame that was ridiculously fast.
On the other side of the spectrum is taking down ships that like to get stuck on various parts of the map. I can recall two ships that got stuck on a mountain/a wall and just let me wail on them until they exploded, and I also encountered an enemy unit on the orbital space elevator mission that just kept running towards the earth and eventually burned itself up in the atmosphere. Why it did this, I do not know. Maybe it was just terrified of taking on the new M5 Viper? Needless to say, it was definitely one of the funnier moments I encountered.
Though I do think that Project Nimbus: Complete Edition is ultimately going to be enjoyed most by die-hard mecha fans, I think it is a pretty fantastic value at its price point. I also think it is a game more than worth supporting, as the developers clearly had a vision for what they wanted to do and stuck to it, and that’s something I can really appreciate in today’s gaming climate of overly marketed AAA-centric titles with live services, road maps, and microtransactions being at the core of the game rather than just a “sit down and play” experience. Niche games need love too, and I truly think that Project Nimbus: Complete Edition is one that’s worth checking out, even more so if you got a little bit of a mecha related itch that needs scratching.
Final Verdict: 4 / 5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed); Publisher: Gametomo; Developer: Gametomo ; Release Date: May 16, 2019; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: A review copy of Project Nimbus: Complete Edition was provided by the Publisher.