Girls wearing mecha parts. That is the core concept of “Mecha Musume,” and love for the idea lies at the very core of Alice Gear Aegis CS Concerto of Simulatrix. The game is a spin-off of the (Japan-exclusive) Alice Gear Aegis mobile game, bringing its characters and world to consoles.
Like the original, Alice Gear Aegis CS takes place in the future, centuries after humanity was forced to abandon Earth due to the invasion of the Vice, an alien race. The remnants of humankind have taken to the stars, inhabiting “Shards,” spacefaring replicas of Earthbound life built into floating pieces of what used to be the moon. Defending these colonies are “Actresses,” young women who can channel a mysterious energy to power the titular Alice Gear. A suite of powerful weapons worn and wielded by each Actress in battle, they’re the only effective weapons against the Vice. This Actress system’s proven so successful that defense against the aliens has been privatized, with up-and-coming Actresses working for various agencies like weaponized idol units.
Concerto of Simulatrix flips the script on the mobile game’s alien-shooting setup. Instead of fighting the Vice, the 22 playable Actresses of Alice Gear Aegis are taking aim at each other. The scenario is the testing of a new simulation technology and the accompanying tournament to popularize it. For three weeks, friend will fight friend, teammate will fight teammate, and the Actresses will be (temporary) adversaries in the pursuit of fame, glory, and fat stacks of cash.
That’s actually about the extent of the story. There’s not much of a central plot in Alice Gear Aegis CS. The story mode plays out like many a fighting game’s arcade mode. You pick a character, and play a dozen or so fights with them, seeing a few story scenes focused on them or their team before it’s over. Then you’ll buy some new gear or cosmetic accessories with the money you earned fighting and pick a new character to do it all over again.
The story path is represented as a grid of hexes players need to navigate. Each hex on the map is one of the 21 days of the tournament, and most hexes represent a one-on-one fight with another Actress. A few times over the course of the three-week run, you’ll take on a team battle that features your Actress and two teammates against a team of three other Actresses. In story mode, all the teams and alliances are locked in: Yotsuyu will always fight alongside her friends Sitara and Fumika, and Meika will always be accompanied by her drinking buddies Anna and Mari. These team battles represent the bulk of Alice Gear Aegis CS‘ storytelling, since they involve bits of dialog and a few scenes between the character, their teammates, and their opponents.
Each character has a unique story path, but none of them are particularly involved. The game is clearly intended to be a sort of fan-service title for players familiar with the core Alice Gear Aegis mobile game. Aside from a few capsule profiles and detailed item descriptions, the writing and dialog are written presuming players know who these characters are and why they’re connected to each other.
Unfortunately, most of the people playing the English version of Alice Gear Aegis CS are likely to be experiencing the series for the very first time. The mobile game is Japan-exclusive and aside from an animated series set to debut in April 2023, there’s basically no other media able to tell the core story or do the heavy lifting of introducing the world and characters to the audience.
That’s a shame, since the characters seem fun, if not particularly novel. I’m particularly amused by the antics of Meika Yorozuba. When not flying around as an Actress, Meika is the CEO of one of the companies that manufactures Alice Gears and often uses her battles to show off new merchandise. The twist is that Meika is the stereotypical “gyaru” archetype, a party-girl character who revels in tanned skin, dyed hair, garishly fashionable clothing, and an almost incomprehensibly thick, slang-laden street dialect.
If Alice Gear Aegis CS isn’t as well-supported by its writing or storytelling, its simple-but-solid mechanics make the experience of playing it pleasantly engaging. The transition from a microtransaction-based mobile game to a single-player arena fighter has proven to be fairly smooth. Alice Gear Aegis CS plays like a simplified version of Virtual On or the Gundam VS series. Players can move their characters back and forth, and are automatically locked onto a hostile target. They can then fire their weapons, most of which have automatic aim and some level of homing or tracking movement. They can also use different abilities depending on their equipped Alice Gear. Different gear sets have different abilities, ranging from homing lasers to missile barrages to ring-shaped floating traps.
Being based on a 2018-era title meant for smartphones, the game’s visuals aren’t top-of-the-line, but they run without a hitch on even the aging hardware of my launch-model Switch. I only detected drops in performance when playing the six-player Battle Royale fights in handheld mode. At all other times, gameplay was smooth and responsive. I sadly wasn’t able to test online multiplayer, but Alice Gear Aegis CS supports both casual and ranked matching. Like the free battles, multiplayer allows much more freedom in team compositions, letting you experiment with the best combinations of girls and gear.
There’s also a wealth of different gear options to earn for the characters. Aside from a pool of common gear anyone can use, each character has two Alice Gear sets unique to them. One is a cheaper “low-tier” set that anyone can use but is tailored to its assigned character, and one is a high-tier exclusive set that only they can use. That’s pretty much their best gear set, which tends to obviate the need to consider other in-game factors like elemental properties.
The story mode, where most of your coins will be earned, will usually hand out enough money in a single run to buy up both of a characters’ unique gear sets and get a head start on a set for a new character. However, players with a need to unlock everything, particularly costumes, should expect to grind the story at least twice on every character. This can be quite repetitious, since even accessories that aren’t character-specific need to be bought for every individual character. This is one aspect where the mobile game-like grinding could stand to be toned down.
Though Alice Gear Aegis CS Concerto of Simulatrix won’t wow mecha fans with its storytelling, its substantial content base and appealing characters make it a pleasant distraction, and a showcase for top-notch mecha musume designs.
Alice Gear Aegis CS is available on Nintendo Switch, PS4, and PS5.