Steambot Chronicles (or as I like to call it, Bumpy Trot) is about an amnesiac mecha pilot who wears a sombrero and a spotless white suit. He performs good deeds when opportunities present themselves, but his primary goal is making it big on the busking circuit. He refuses to wear shoes, is a harmonica whiz, and even the most hardened gang members and gladiators fear his name: Vanilla, the Barefoot Cowboy.

That's how I remember Steambot Chronicles, anyway. The title screen aptly describes this overlooked PS2 game as "a relaxing, non-linear adventure." There are all sorts of plots, romances, and mini-games to explore, but the atmosphere is more important than any of them. While it's possible to blaze through the central plot points to reach the credit roll, doing so shows willful ignorance of the game's strengths. Steambot Chronicles is a charming visit to a world on the cusp of new discoveries. It's a sandbox game about joining a band, piloting a steam-powered robot, and exploring the countryside.

Irem Software Engineering developed this game in Japan, while Atlus USA handled the stateside release. Much of the game benefits from a light, quirky localization. However, the world of the Trotmobile isn't all sweetness and joy. Technology and the industrialization that drives it aren't sugar-coated, nor are they The Real Monsters Here. Like everything else in the game, the player is encouraged to form an opinion or not, man. Jam on the accordion for a while, go on a date, and dig up some fossils. The electric guitar isn't going to invent itself, and apartment decorations are expensive!

What pittance isn't spent on housewares and fancy clothing can be spent on customizing Vanilla's Trotmobile. The options include a variety of bodies, arms, legs, grills, roofs, and back components. Designing the perfect Trotmobile for each confrontation is a fun way to add further personality to Vanilla and keep the long road ahead from getting too repetitive.

Steambot Chronicles isn't a game for everyone. The controls aren't great, combat is uneven, and the laid-back tempo interferes with rapid transit. Nevertheless, it has a distinct personality that's marked with thoughtful whimsy. The entire package is buoyed by a catchy soundtrack and enthusiastic voicework.

Zach Welhouse

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