by Trace Wysaske
In 2002, an unprecedented collaboration was formed between two gaming giants with the announcement of the Capcom Five. Hot off the heels of the third-party-starved N64 years, Nintendo needed to extend an olive branch to all the developers it scared away with its console’s notoriously complex architecture, especially with Sony and newcomer Microsoft encroaching on its marketshare. The Big N sought to secure some big talent to help drive sales of its new GameCube hardware and who better than the makers of Mega Man and Street Fighter? The proposed deal had Capcom bringing five exclusives to GameCube in addition to any other suitable content, but since the sixth gen had only just begun, it was still too early to determine who was buying which console. Sure, Nintendo always had a history of marketing its systems towards younger audiences, but god forbid Mario ever be so naive to turn away the young at heart.
And thus Capcom took a shot in the dark and hoped the GameCube’s install base would attract players of all ages. The Capcom Five, then, could be an eclectic blend of IPs to wrangle a wider spectrum of gamers rather than cater to a single demographic. That’s why it was a bit surprising when these games (barring the acclaimed Resident Evil 4) completely tanked. It’s hard to say where P.N.03, Viewtiful Joe, and Killer7 went wrong (the other announced project Dead Phoenix was cancelled), but it probably had something to do with their oft-cited campiness and subversive content, which no doubt made them marketing nightmares right from the get-go. This isn’t to say they are bad games – the latter three releases especially were lauded for their inventive gameplay and strong direction – it’s just that their GameCube exclusivity inhibited them from becoming anything beyond cult classics. In time, most of these projects would be ported to other consoles to recuperate development costs while Capcom was then forced to toy with other IPs on Nintendo’s cubed console, one of which was 2003’s toy box mech-brawler Gotcha Force.
Crafted to hook fickle-minded youngsters, Gotcha Force is game all about collecting and building teams of mechanized extraterrestrial beings known as “Gotcha Borgs” to battle against their friends’ – think Pokemon, but with tiny robots. From outer space. Unlike Pokemon, however, Gotcha Force is no turn-based RPG slog, but a third-person action game that falls somewhere between a beat ’em up and hack-and-slash where players take on hordes of inch-high warriors in arena-style combat. This gameplay derives from 2001’s Mobile Suit Gundam: Federation vs. Zeon for PS2, which was developed by none other than eventual Gotcha Force staffers including designer Atsushi Tomita and legendary Capcom producer Noritaka Funimizu. The pair’s most notable collaborations include crossover fighters like X-Men vs. Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom as well as the kinetic platformer Strider 2, all blood-bumping arcade romps leveraged by tight-controlling gameplay to entice beginners and skilled players alike.
With MSG:FvZ and Gotcha Force, the team sought to apply their 2D game design know-how towards 3D game development, though recapturing the magic of the halcyon days of past in a 1:1 capacity proved tricky. Both games ended up being plagued by clumsily implemented physics and gameplay never materializes into anything more than senseless button-mashing, but even those inhibitors can’t derail the wholesome arcadey goodness both exude. Gotcha Force, however, proves to be the real gem of the two since Capcom was free to create without having to white glove the larger-than-life Gundam IP. And so Gotcha Force was conceived and it quickly became a passion project where staff funneled all sorts of cute, goofy ideas into a game that would ultimately harken back to Capcom’s days of yore. Much like, say, the Power Stone series, for example, Gotcha Force offers a more off-beat approach to a well-liked, established genre – in this case, mech-fighting a la Virtual-On – for the sake of doing something that’s unabashedly fun to play.
Far from a work of literary merit, the game’s plot teeters between generic anime schticks and rehashing old episodes of Transformers, compounding into something of a Saturday morning malaise Voltron. Basically, Gotcha Borgs invade earth and it’s up to this spunky kid named Kou to save the day, but he’s not alone! Oh no, because by his side is his trusty new companion G-Red, a benevolent Borg on a mission to vanquish the sinister Galactic Emperor. With the help of the other adolescent inhabitants of Safari Town, Kou must take on the otherworldly threat by commandeering a small army of Borgs to bring down the evil Death Borg forces once and for all. And while none of that sounds terribly captivating, Gotcha Force thankfully hosts a likable cast that helps counteract the otherwise insufferable narrative. Standouts among Kou’s neighbors are the philosophizing tongue-twister Yuji who raps on about irritable oysters in the heat of battle. If that isn’t weird enough, Yuji’s best bud is an unassuming Borg named Jack, a deep-sea diver made of pink jelly. Jack might not reach the pink insanity levels of Battle Circuit’s fearsome feathered fiend, but I’d wager he’s a close second at the very least.
Borg variety is where Gotcha Force really shines, though. There are Borgs fashioned after almost everything, including (but not limited to) headless swordsmen, kung-fu masters, satellites, vampires, dragons, cowboys, ICBMs, and even pop idols. With over 200 Borgs across 20 “tribes,” there’s plenty of Borgs to choose from, each with unique abilities and moves. Some attacks are recycled between Borgs, though properties are modified to ensure each Borg handles a little differently from its peers. What might seem like a cheap way of filling out movesets actually reinforces players’ familiarity with not just one Borg’s play-style, but potentially several if not dozens. Even still, it’s a bit of a cop-out on the devs’ part, one that understandably compromises depth for added convenience.
While mastering each individual Borg takes little effort, constructing the perfect squadron of toy soldiers is no small task. In Gotcha Force, players can build teams of up to 30 Borgs that can be used in both story mode or local multiplayer. With so many Borgs at one’s disposal, why not just cherrypick the most powerful units and go from there? Well, players are restricted by a budget referred to as GF Energy, more of which can be attained by completing story mode missions. Each Borg comes at a certain cost depending on how relatively “good” it is, so low rank Borgs are cheaper while high rank ones cost considerably more. As such, a certain metagame develops where it becomes all about piecing together a team of Borgs that best compliment one another’s attributes all while operating within the strict economy of GF Energy. The real trick is to find a healthy balance between grunts and bruisers to maximize your team’s performance as well as cost-effectiveness. Every Borg, no matter how seemingly useless, can become an invaluable asset in this surprisingly strategic game of back-and-forth attrition between action-figure factions.
The only real problem with team-building is gathering the Borgs themselves. Throughout the campaign, Kou and friends traverse a map of Safari Town scouting for missions and, upon completion, players can access harder skirmishes teeming with more desirable Borgs. Obtaining these recruits, however, boils down to luck of the draw. At the end of a battle, there’s a seemingly random chance you’ll acquire at least one of your slain foes. Lower rarities will manifest in your collection immediately, but higher rank Borgs join your party only when several respective crystal pieces have been acquired. This can become incredibly frustrating when determining which Borgs are native to which missions, and rarer Borgs often necessitate excessive grinding the same mission over and over for specific colored shards. Considering fights take around 5 to 20 minutes a piece, this can be a lot of work. Some devout Gotcha Force players allege that delivering the final blow on a Borg improves the chances of its obtainment, but this is merely speculation rather than proven fact. Fortunately, grinding never feels required to progress, as you’ll stumble upon more than enough quality Borgs throughout the main campaign even when exerting minimal effort.
Sticking with a particular Borg is also in the player’s best interest since Borgs net experience points each time they appear in battle until they eventually level up. Typically, each level-up grants the Borg an prolonged use of a certain attack or sometimes an additional round of ammunition. Considering the max level is 10, even the lowliest of chumps can become powerful juggernauts. For example, the Gatling Tank has 50 shots of rapid-fire, and while it never gains any additional ammo, the attack’s reloading speed increases gradually upon leveling up, meaning it’s possible to unload hundreds of shots in a span of mere seconds when completely leveled up. While none of this pardons the unintuitive Borg acquisition concept, at least the devs thought to include a leveling system for players to enhance their obtained Borgs and provide an incentive to keep utilizing cost-effective units in battle.
Character designs are handled by illustrator Ryuji Higurashi, known for his work on the Mega Man X, Battle Network, and Star Force series and even provided promotional artwork for the Blue Bomber on the Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS & Wii U website in 2014. In Gotcha Force, he designed the human character’s portraits whereas the Gotcha Borgs are all rendered in 3D by other artists. The whole aesthetic of the game is appropriately animated and no doubt dripping with bright neon colors from top to bottom. The staff did a really nice job of eliciting that vibrant buoyancy of late 90’s Capcom games like – again – Power Stone or even the faux cel-shaded look of the Mega Man Legends series. Environments are less successful in their execution, as most consist of blocky set-pieces and feel far too cramped. These stages, however, are themed after suburban locales like a convenience store or a back porch, which is admittedly clever if not somewhat amusing.
Gotcha Force features compositions from Mitsuhiko Takano who perhaps most famously took us for a ride with Marvel vs. Capcom 2‘s soundtrack. In a similarly groovy vein, the toy brawler boasts some bumping synth-ladened tunes like “Let’s Have Fun” and the aptly named “Just Die Already” sounds like an industrial EDM hellscape…for kids, of course. And while it’s no musical masterpiece, it’s impossible to listen to the goofy tokusatsu-inspired anthem “We Are Gotcha Force!” and not crack smile. “Let’s Tango” and “Safari Town, Sleepy Suburb” are two other jaunty tracks that sell the game’s exuberant tone while the remainder of the soundtrack is listenable if not a bit pedestrian.
Gotcha Force never had much of a fair shake when it hit store shelves in late 2003. In Japan, there was an accompanying toy line and manga albeit in an extremely limited capacity, and the figurines have since become highly sought-after collector’s items. Traditionally, game sales in Japan during the year’s fourth fiscal quarter tend to underperform when compared to western territories, so that on top of a year dominated by hot releases like Final Fantasy X-2, Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, and Shin Sangoku Musou 3 (Dynasty Warriors 4 in the west), Gotcha Force had next to no chance in its own homeland. And in the west, there was zero marketing outside of the occasional one-page ad in Nintendo Power, so nobody really knew it even existed. Reviewers didn’t crucify it, but middling scores certainly didn’t help the game’s exposure either. Fortunately, those who miraculously lucked into buying Gotcha Force quickly discovered it wasn’t nearly as forgettable as the critics let on and today there’s a small dedicated following out there at sites like Gotcha Force Fan.
With the advent of popular Japanese multimedia franchises like Yokai Watch finding unparalleled amounts of success in today’s market, you got to wonder what might have happened had Capcom really got behind Gotcha Force back in the day. It’s not hard to imagine a Beyblade-like tie-in cartoon following the adventures of Kou and G-Red to drum up interest in the series and perhaps Gotcha Borgs would have made the obvious transition into toys-to-life figurines. Even in 2015 the whole Gotcha Force premise still seems so marketable. But, then again, Capcom experimented with this approach in 2013 when it made a big push to market yet another toy-based action series called Gaist Crusher, which flopped even with the help of two 3DS games, toys, a manga, and a full-blown anime attached to it.
So, alas, Gotcha Force will continue to rest in the annals of Capcom’s storied catalog for the foreseeable future. Every once in awhile the IP pops up in promotional material like calendars and recently Kou’s neighbor Usagi made an appearance in the bizarre browser game Onimusha Souls alongside other notable Capcom heroines. As for a sequel, there was talk in 2012 that Capcom was gauging interest in Gotcha Force when it mysteriously re-released boxed copies of the GameCube game in Japan a full 9 years after its debut. More likely was that Capcom found an excess production run lying around in a warehouse and didn’t have anything better to do with it. Too bad that re-release didn’t help bring down the going price of Gotcha Force; a second-hand copy regardless of region currently costs upwards of $100.
The namable protagonist who is about as one-dimensional as it gets, but boy is he excited about destroying other kids' toys. Nevertheless, Kou is courageous and good-hearted. Teams up with Gotcha Borg leader G-Red to save Safari Town from the evil Galactic Emperor.
Kou's neighbor friend who specializes in Ninja Borgs. Your first ally's team proves to be a bit of a slow starter, but Kakeru gains access to some swift striking units near the endgame that prove to be helpful.
Not so cleverly named, think archetypal white mage party member and that's Mana in a nutshell. You'll be using her often as she's the only available partner whose Borgs provide healing support. Also, check out that fish hair clip. What a cutie.
Safari Town's resident tomboy who says stuff loud, wears black, and is all kinds of proud. Usagi's lady-centric Borgs are formidable long-range and close-range fighters with the ability to hinder enemies with mobility traps. Capcom seems to be under the impression that Usagi is the main character or something since she cameos in other games and media more often than the rest of the cast.
A standard tech-wiz dork, Tsutomu's utilizes Tank Borgs. Since tanks are pretty powerful early on, he won't be recruiting additional units left and right like some of the other allies do, so cherish his heavy artillery while you can. His main Borg's name is Leopard.
You know that bully from A Christmas Story? Yeah, Nekobe is basically that guy, though he may or may not have yellow eyes. He's actually pretty unique amongst Kou's allies as his Vampire Borgs are constantly leaking HP. To regain health, these Borgs must consistently deal melee damage to opponents, which is a good example of one of Gotcha Force's more quirky mechanics.
You know that other mean kid from A Christmas Story? Yeah, well, Kitsune's basically that kid except with Machine Borgs, and yes, Machine Borgs are effectively robot robots. Kitsune is an awesome ally whose team consists of heavy-hitting, transforming Borgs, which prove to be super difficult to collect.
Commander of an army of small soldiers. Sort of a jerk. Met's squad is army-themed, but shapeless in terms of specific Borgs. A jack of all trades, master of none. Well, except he's a master of being incredibly jerky. Seriously, lighten up, kid. These are toys we're talking about, not war!
Friendly rival of Kou that utilizes Musha Borgs AKA samurai robots. He is a great partner for combat-heavy situations where you just need a samurai to hack-and-slash your way to victory. One of his secondary Borgs the Beam Samurai has a katana that can extend across the entire length of the battlefield, which would be downright comical if it weren't so effective.
"It's possible from the point of literature" that you've never heard a Yujiism before, but it "is impossible from the point of cultural anthropology" to not enjoy his increasingly absurd quotes about the humanities. Yuji uses a flying pink scuba-diver Borg named Jack because of course he does. Also, "a noisy noise annoys an oyster!!" Choice words, Yuji. Choice words.
A younger kid who joins Kou late in the game that sports gunslinging Borgs. His team likes to stand its distance and let the bullets fly, though his main Borg Billy knows how to mix it up with some punches and dive-kicks when things get dicey.
You like food? So does Tama. You like reigning death from above in the form of miniaturized floating aircraft carriers? So does Tama! Wow, you two have so much in common! Real talk, though: his Death Arc is, like, crazy big and powerful. It can take a hit and dish 'em out, too.
One of two partners you must earn. If you never lose to Sho, his squad of Wing Borgs will join your forces, which is great since they're absolutely punishing in terms of speed and strength. According to some, Sho's dad was killed by Death Borgs. Also claims to hate all Gotcha Borgs, yet still battles alongside them… Sho certainly offsets the game's otherwise bubbly cast, doesn't he?
The other secret partner, Orochi, is a girl temporarily possessed by the Galactic Emperor and forced to serve as a Death Force Commander along with that weirdo Tama. Her Death Borgs are not only terrifying grim, but really lethal if you're not prepared.