Saturday, October 11, 2008

Macross Ace Frontier Review

I've really enjoyed the Gundam Battle series (Gundam Battle Tactics, Gundam Battle Royale, Gundam Battle Chronicle, Gundam Battle Universe) for the PSP. Each game has been progressively better (ditching the map-based mission selects, adding EX missions, adding campaigns for Zeta, ZZ, and Char's Counterattack), while maintaining an excellent balance between fast-paced arcade action that you can pick up and put down quickly and a Pokemon-esque "gotta collect them all" roster of Mobile Suits that keep you coming back long after you finish the game.

I was pleasantly surprised, then when the developers of the Gundam Battle series announced that they were doing a Macross game, since I'm actually a bigger fan of the various Macross animes than Gundam. The game has hit just as Macross Frontier wrapped up on Japanese television... does it live up to expectations?

In a lot of ways, it does. Once you create a pilot and a partner, you select a campaign era. The game has four campaigns, covering the original Macross, Macross Plus, Macross 7, and Macross Frontier. The mission select and unit tuning are right out of the most recent Gundam Battle games, and you can definitely tell that it was made by the same team. On that token, though, Macross Ace Frontier is still very different. The Gundam Battle games relied very heavily on quick dashes and careful shots from the primary weapon, occasional use of sub weapons, and the occasional melee combat with beam sabers. Ace Frontier is faster-paced, with the ability to instantly switch between your variable fighters' three modes. Unless you're pretty close to a target, you're going to miss more than hit with your primary weapon, and you'll rely very heavily on your sub weapons, which are usually missiles. The maps for the missions are also much larger to accommodate flight in fighter mode. This helps to give Ace Frontier its own unique feel despite using the same engine.

Unfortunately, the fact that it does play differently but uses the same engine gives Ace Frontier problems that aren't really issues with the Gundam Battle games. The controls feel unresponsive at times. For example, you cannot perform an action until the animation for the previous action is complete. In Gundam, this isn't really a problem since your shots are usually careful and more methodical, but in Macross you might find yourself trying to fire your gunpod while launching a salvo of missiles and trying to transform from battroid to fighter... and you're going to have to lay off the gunpod before targeting your missile salvo, and you'll have to wait until your all done before you transform. If you even still want to.

There are tons of units in the game (57, to be exact), including enemy units and destroids (the non-transforming mecha of Macross). There's a few problems here, too. 26 of the 57 are from the original Macross, and 10 of those are variations of the VF-1 (11, if you count the Armored VF-1). The majority of the units are variable fighters of some kind, so you can pretty much expect that on any given mission you're going to be flying some jet that turns into a robot armed with a gun, often an automatic rifle, and missiles. Fans of Macross will enjoy the aesthetic differences between a VF-1A and a VF-11C, but casual players looking for a fun PSP game might not. It's certainly not the wild variety of Mobile Suits and weapons found in the Gundam games.

Macross fans may also notice some of the more glaring omissions in the game. 10 different VF-1s, but the Armored VF-11 flown by Kinryu and the VF-19s flown by Emerald Force are missing entirely. Likewise, none of the fighters from Macross Frontier have FAST or armor packs, even though they had those in the first freaking episode of the show. You get two different color Queadluun-Raus, but only two of the four Varauta mecha (even though all four are used by enemies in the game). There are four fighters from Macross Zero, but there's no Macross Zero campaign. The VF-171EX that only appears in the last two episodes of Macross Frontier is in the game, but the Macross Frontier campaign ends around the 14th episode (of 25).

The game is relatively easy to complete. There's only a few challenging bosses, and most of the time if you're stuck you can replay missions you've finished to tune your mech of choice up and make it stronger. Collecting all the mecha is quite difficult, though, since some require S-Ranks on certain missions, and getting an S-Rank is much harder than the Gundam Battle games.

As a Macross fan, it's easy for me to see what's missing from the game, but the game should be judged for the content that is there. For the most part, Macross Ace Frontier maintains the quality of the Gundam Battle series. In fact, it's much better than Gundam Battle Tactics and Gundam Battle Royale, so as the first game in what will hopefully be a series, it's definitely a step in the right direction. I'd just like to see a little more polish, a full campaign for Zero and Frontier, mecha missing from the series that are in the game, and maybe some extra mecha like the VF-4, VF-9, Vf-14, VF-3000, and VF-5000 in a sequel.

Final Score: B+

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