I’ll be honest with you right out of the gate: I was never a massive fan of the Gundam series. Sure, I had some experience with the series due to Toonami playing Gundam Wing, G Gundam, and the original Mobile Suit Gundam, but that’s not a whole lot to go on considering that the Gundam franchise has been going strong for almost 40 years. That being said, I went into this game with a (mostly) open mind. I had this seed of doubt that told me that I really want to hate this game, mostly due to our boss’ proselytizing the Gundam Versus series — roughly 40% of the sentences I’ve heard out of his mouth in the past few years is “You’d be having more fun playing Gundam.“
(Ed. note: There are very good reasons why Grant didn’t review this game, all of which are linked above.)
However, after three years and a legitimate US release, I was more or less forced to give the game the ol’ college try, and I have somewhat mixed feelings about the fact that I actually like this game. Sure, there are more than several aspects that are lost on me considering that I’m not exactly a fan of the franchise, but I can clearly see that Gundam Versus does a great job marrying an in-depth and varied combat system with its absurd amount of fanservice. Unfortunately, there’s a handful of flaws that cause this game to be a few steps shy of being truly great.
First things first, let’s get down to brass tacks and talk about gameplay. With 94 playable characters unlocked right out the gate, and an additional 180+ unlockable strikers (limited use assists that open up opportunities or shore up your own character weaknesses), you can easily play this game on your own terms and pick the Gundam / Striker combination that suits your individual needs.
That being said, being required to unlock every single striker (bar one) is a pretty large misstep. In my experience, people know which Mobile Suit they would want to play as when they’re just diving into the game, but picking the right striker what’s going to make or break any given player’s affair with the game. The fact that you can’t toy around and find which striker best fits you until you play a handful of matches with a completely different suit can effectively slam the brakes on a fun time; after a recent balance patch made my chosen striker not as useful as he originally was, I had to play several rounds with a suit I had zero interest in just to unlock a different striker that might fill the gap.
Battles boil down to a game of resource management. Both teams have a Force Gauge, destroying a suit and forcing a respawn takes away from that gauge, and depleting your opponent’s Force Gauge to zero is how you earn victory. This system works for Gundam Versus, and that’s because of the sheer amount of characters available for selection and their given toolsets. Since it’s near impossible to create any decent sort of competitive balance with the sheer number of playable suits given, Bandai Namco takes it in a different direction; some suits are deliberately more powerful than others, but they draw more from the Force Gauge when they respawn. Being able to knock out a 500-point suit like the Turn A Gundam or Wing Zero is going to get you a lot closer to victory than taking out a 200-pointer like a Zaku II or a Kapool.
This allows the game to give its flagship suits the overwhelming power they are shown to have in the series’ source material, all without punishing players that may have a preference for playing with some of the suits piloted by supporting characters in the shows.
Gundam Versus shows where it shines the minute you get into a match. Regardless of a given player’s individual level of proficiency in the game, you always feel powerful and in control once you get a grasp on how to maneuver. There are a wide amount of movement options available that allow your Mobile Suit to be exactly where you want it to be on the battlefield.
In addition, every character has a host of offensive and defensive capabilities that make them stand out among the near-hundred unit cast, be it the Gouf Custom and his Spider-Man / Bionic Commando zip-lines (Grant just smiled, in case you were wondering), to Deathscythe’s cloaking system that makes him difficult to hit when attempting to shoot him down. There are precious few moments where you don’t feel in absolute control of your machine, and the game allows the player a high degree of expression through its in-depth combat system.
However, this is where the resource management game comes back in to play, and it can take a bit of the fun away for new players. Almost every single movement option (sans basic walking and most attacks) are governed by your boost meter; if you run out of boost while you’re zipping around, you’ll fall like a cinder block in a swimming pool.
The only way to regenerate boost is to stand on the ground for a brief moment, leaving you vulnerable. To someone well-versed in Gundam Versus‘ gameplay, it adds an interesting wrinkle in how you make decisions on movement and attacking. It can be a bit frustrating for a new player to finally get an opportunity to do some damage only to watch that opportunity slip through their fingers as they begin to plummet, falling out of range of the attack they hoped to make.
In addition, a decent portion of any given mobile suit’s moveset is governed by ammunition. You only have a set amount of shots you can fire before you need to reload, which is a fairly different and interesting concept for a fighting game, but that does make one more thing that you have to keep track of. While trying to manage all the resources the game gives the player may be a bit daunting for a neophyte, the game really opens up and allows you to fulfill all your giant-robot-deathmatch dreams, once you have a decent handle on it.
Speaking of giant-robot-deathmatch dreams, it bears repeating that the number of playable mobile suits that you can select is, quite frankly, ridiculous. With 94 suits available from the jump and more coming via DLC, you can take almost any Gundam Versus dream-match you might have thought of in your head and make it a reality here. For a franchise that spans 40 years, over 30 different series, and countless spin-off movies, novels, and other video games, that’s a whole lot of potential matchups you could bring to your TV screen.
Part of the package that comes with the suite of pilotable suits are the pilots themselves; while they don’t make any difference in gameplay, it’s a nice touch to have Amuro Ray or Heero Yuy talking throughout the fight. Unfortunately for us Westerners, all the in-game voices are in Japanese and without subtitles, and those of us that are monolingual are left to ponder exactly what our pilots are actually saying. It’s still a nice touch that adds to the overall ambiance of the game, though. The only thing I would have liked is the ability to play as some suits from the G Gundam series, as it’s one of the more popular Gundam IPs in the west, but considering that it’s not exactly well-liked in Japan, I could understand the argument against their inclusion.
Overall, as a licensed fighter that brings a whole lot of fanservice to the table and pairs it with a surprisingly deep combat system, Gundam Versus is actually a really fun play. It may take a minute or two to really get your sea legs and understand the nuances of pitting your favorite giant robot against your friends, but once you do, there’s definitely a lot of fun to be had. I wouldn’t personally say that you would be having more fun playing Gundam Versus, but it’s definitely far above average in my eyes.
I can certainly say that I’m ready to jump back in Deathscythe’s cockpit and become the God of Death once more.
The review copy of this game was purchased from a retailer by BKIN Productions, Inc.