Take everything you know about anime mechs, throw in some shmup shooting, and hack & slash arcade style action along with some impressive customization options, and you have yourself "Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo". At the core this simple yet rich experience which is basically an action RPG offers the gamer a unique story that makes it's own place amongst other anime inspired video games. Of course it is it's own game in plot, and delivery, but one can't help to recall anime like 'Gundam', or 'Neon Genesis Evangelion' as they play through the game's entirety. As far as said plot goes you'll find an organization known as Freya doing their best to fight off an invasion of living mechs called the 'Rage'. These giant monstrosities which were originally manned machines called GEARS have taken on a life of their own, and destructively so. As Irony would have it, you, the game's protagonist will be piloting a GEAR mech against these living, unmanned Rages.
Through some supportive military manufacturers the faction known as Freya is able to supply their small army of pilots with their very own customizable war machines, and enable them to wage war against the insurmountable odds ahead. This is of course where you, the main protagonist come into the picture. As an up, and coming GEAR pilot (with a name of your choosing) you are put through some training missions against some very real threats in order to test your skills. Once you've proven your worth on the training grounds you are put to good use immediately by the heads of the department, and are sent out as mankind's last hope.Your duties as one of humanity's few surviving saviors comes in the form of making transport runs, clearing cities of the Rage infestations, and other tasks that involve both the confrontation of your enemy, and the evasion of said enemies. You'll even find yourself participating in arena events that pit you up against fellow GEARS pilots for the sake of keeping citizens distracted from their unforgiving reality. Mission by mission, and fight by fight it is up to you, and your brothers/sisters in arms to combat the Rage, and prevent the extinction of the human race.
APLUS's mech action RPG known as "Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo" is a modest apocalyptic vision of the future's future. From the start, and past the initial intro screen you will find in place a handful of options that will get you right into the experience. There's the "Dock" menu in which all the GEAR customization features can be tweaked, and changed to your liking as well as a "Mission" menu for playing through ranked mission objectives with your customize GEAR mech. There's even a bestiary of sorts (forgot the menu's name?) that showcases all of the GEAR's equipment that you have obtained through gameplay. As far as the "Dock" customization options go you can equip your named GEAR with the usual mech parts including the head, torso, arms, shoulder, legs, back, and left/right weapons. Each of which comes in a unique variety. These equipment pieces which can be bought from the main menu "Shop" with the 'Eyn (the in-game currency)' you gain from selling unwanted equipment, or acquired through the missions themselves come in different rarities. Whenever you pick up dropped equipment from downed Rage mechs, for example you'll find that the parts come in a white, yellow, and green assortment along with the equipment piece's name on display above said part. White equipment pieces are basic while yellow is a step above, and green the rarest. Along with the color coded differences also comes potential, and additional stat boosts that will either help, or hinder your mech's performance.
One thing you have to understand about your mech is that it has RPG stats that pertain to defense, offense, and evasiveness. These stacked stats can be improved upon by equipping better equipment as you progress through the game, and by leveling up your mech/GEAR through completed in-game missions. Equipment, especially the rarer parts tend to have extra stat boosts that aid in the mech's functionality. Along with the standard stat boosts, and extra stat boosts that come with the rarer pieces of mech equipment you'll also find that color customization is an option as well. There's a decent palette of colors to choose from for each part of the mech including that of the two weapons. Should you want to take your mech customization a step further you can even name it using the PS Vita's virtual keypad like you did when you initially named your offscreen character.
When you have your mech suited up for battle you will be taking it out on missions via the "Mission" menu. Missions within the game are basically objectives that you must carry out as a piloted mech in a top-down sort of way. Being able to wield both gun-type weapons, and blunt or slashing weapons greatly changes your approach to in-game battle. In fact I'd say that aside from basic customizations that the three interchangeable weapon parts of the mech (L/R Hand & Back) can change the way the game is played. Guns, or projectile weapons will offer a more shmup style of combat while the blunted, and bladed weapons will provide a more 'hack & slash' gaming atmosphere.
As far as the objectives within the ranked missions (E - S + DLC) go you'll find that they include the destruction of enemies, the transporting of goods, and even boss fights against much larger Rage mechs. During these outings you are timed, and simply killing off every Rage in sight is not always a viable option, especially if you hope to get and "S" rating for your mission completion. Assessing whether or not it is alright to clear out every enemy, or whether it's better to make a speed run through the labyrinthine levels depends greatly on what the pre-mission briefings have to say in regards to your objectives. Every mission in the game comes complete with their own rules for winning, and losing. In other words it'll tell you before the mission begins what piece of rare equipment is at stake for a prize as well as the requirements for winning said mission/prize, and what it takes to fail. Depending on your performance, and the outcome of the mission completion you can gain a rating that is similar to the alphabetical rankings of said missions. The 'E" rating means you failed miserably while the 'S' rating means you played perfectly according to the rules. It goes without saying that you'll definitely want to work towards scoring a perfect "S" ranking in each, and every mission objective if you hope yo earn all PSN trophies.
Once you've completed a set amount of mission objectives in a rank's column you will advance to the next rank difficulty, and will face even harder challenges. Being equipped properly for the battles ahead is a huge part of overcoming the odds that are usually stacked against you, but that alone is not everything in the grand scale of things. Skills also play a factor in your success, or lack thereof. As a mech pilot you will be evading enemy attacks via the "X" boost function, and applying the proper attacks with equipped weapons/parts using the respective SQUARE (L. Weapon), TRIANGLE (R. Weapon), and CIRCLE (Back Weapon) buttons when in range of the opposing Rage mechs. You must evade when need be, and attack when there is an opening lest you, and your mech become a heaping pile of virtual disaster. Each button's function is governed by an refilling, and depleting energy gauge that can be offset if you have the parts with the proper additional boosts equipped. Balancing your mech's extra stat boosts will definitely help you to achieve your objectives easier, especially if you equip the parts with the most beneficial extra stat boosts. As far as mech health goes there is a way to replenish it, and that is through repair kits. This handy health item drops from Rage mechs, and can be bought from the in-game store via the main menu. Applying a repair kit can be done by simply pressing the "Left Shoulder" button on the Vita when your mech's health/energy meter has been depleted. You'll know your health/energy is low when the screen turns a hazy yellow, or red. You can also keep watch on the health/energy meter that is located a the bottom left hand side of the game screen.
By completing all the ranked missions, and collecting all of the mech gear your efforts will be rewarded with a full understanding of the game's story as well as a collection of new trophies for your Playstation profile. While I wish there was some sort of online leaderboard involved, or some vast replay features Damascus Gear is a simple game geared towards those who are looking for some easy to pick up fun, and is totally offline. If that's what you are looking for I doubt very highly that you will be disappointed.
As far as graphics go the game is very detailed in accordance to the various cityscapes, and even in regards to the various depictions of the mechs. You'll get to battle it out in a decent selection of post-apocalyptic Japanese cities including that of the Akihabara district. While it's not a new-gen HD display by any means the game still looks polished enough to matter on the PS Vita. The additional anime character avatars that appear during mission briefings, and related story dialogue with their slight animations, and expression changes really add a sense of importance to the story that is being told. It even gives depth to the game in a character driven sense of the meaning. I would have preferred to have seen some proper anime story panels, and some anime animation sequences, but sadly this is a budget game, and you are definitely getting what you paid for. Not that that's a bad thing.
The DLC ...
For $2.49 a pop you can get yourself two pieces of additional DLC that come complete with new missions, a continued story that builds upon the core game's premise as well as some new parts for your in-game mech/GEAR. The DLC which is titled "Old Hero and Broken Gears of Time pt.1 & 2" will give you a little something extra to playthrough should you find the main game to be as fun as I have. I personally feel the DLC is priced right for what you get, but also feel that it would have been even more worth it if the game had replay value past what the game offers. Making something like a 'Survival Mode' with leaderboards would have done wonders for this game especially if the developer had of made the survival levels open, and expansive with continuous waves of enemies pouring in.
The Verdict ...
Damascus Gear is a very simple-minded game meant for picking up, and playing whenever you feel the urge. It offers up fun, and challenging gameplay that gets progressively more difficult as you go along. There's even two pieces of DLC to go along with it that further add to the game's mild replay value. Regardless of it's budget pricing it still offers a lot for the core $15 asking price, and doesn't demand too much from the gamer other than some properly applied skills. It's a fun little action RPG that is truly a nice change of pace from a publisher who is more known for their fighters. I was pleasantly surprised by it all to tell you the truth. The fact that during my playthrough I found no gamebreaking flaws, and nothing that would make me rate this game in a bad way is a commendable achievement for the developer. Not many game developers these days have been able to make such a flawless, and fun video game. If I had some advice to offer the developer though I'd say up the ante with this bad boy, and make it a new-gen 'Triple A' title. It could be done with the right additions, and upgrades. Just saying ... As for a purchase I'm gonna say "Hell Yeah!". Definitely buy this game if you own a PS Vita! You will not be disappointed.