Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Gundam Battle Universe Review

Not long after the PSP was released, Bandai was quick to start bringing Gundam games to Sony's new handheld. The thing to remember here is that Gundam in Japan is as big, or bigger, than Star Wars is here in America, so just like Star Wars games sell here regardless of quality, Gundam games usually spend some time on Japanese best-sellers lists, even if they stink.

One of the earliest Gundam games on the PSP was Gundam Battle Tactics, and it actually wasn't too bad, and the game enjoyed three sequels: Gundam Battle Royale, Gundam Battle Chronicle, and Gundam Battle Universe, each a little better than the previous.

Unfortunately, Namco Bandai USA has so far ignored the Gundam Battle series, instead bringing us the extra terrible PS3 launch title Gundam Crossfire. No wonder Gundam doesn't catch on in America! Luckily, the gameplay is pretty simple, and overall the game is fairly import-friendly.

When you start a new campaign in Gundam Battle Universe, you first choose a side, either the Earth Federation Space Force, or the Principality of Zeon. After you create your pilot, choose an operator, and create a wingman, you're taken to the campaign selection screen. To build up your pilot properly, and for the sake of doing everything chronologically, it's best to start with the original Gundam series. At this point, you'll be able to select from Training, or 77, which refers to the year 0077 in which the One Year War takes place. Missions here will be from first Gundam, the 08th MS Team, and War in the Pocket. As you complete missions, you'll unlock more pilots, missions, and mobile suits. After you finish the a year's campaign, you'll be able to select new ones. Each time you select another campaign, you'll have to select a new force and operator, but you'll use the same pilot and wingman. Eventually, you'll unlock 83 (Stardust Memory), 87 (Z Gundam), 88 (ZZ Gundam), 93 (Char's Counterattack), and Extra. Extra contains a variety of extra missions that don't require a faction.

The game has a ton of stuff to unlock, too. To get it all, you'll have to finish 77-93 three times so that you've used all the factions, as well as get S-ranks on all the missions, then finish all the Extra missions at least once. This will do things like unlock simulation mode (which allows you to use Earth-only suits in space or space only suits on Earth), unlock pilot restrictions (let's you use non-newtypes in newtype-only suits and vice versa), and unlock era restrictions (let's you go back and use your 93-era suits back in 77, etc), hunting mode (gives you a chance to capture and use an enemy mobile suit), etc. Counting mobile suits you can get in Extra mode, there's a ton of suits from the original Gundam show all the way to Gundam F91, including variations, manga, novel, and other side-story suits like the ones from Gundam Sentinel or Hathaway's Flash.

Missions themselves are pretty simple. You pick a suit, pick a suit for your partner (or opt to have your partner sit it out), then you're placed onto a map with an objective. Sometimes the objective is to destroy all the enemy mobile suits, to get to a certain point, to defend a certain target, or to collect boxes and deposit them in a marked location. The action is pretty straightforward. You have a variety of main weapons you can cycle between, one sub weapon, and a melee attack. You move my pressing a direction the d-pad. "Jumping" is done with the X button, and double-tapping a direction will do a short dash in that direction. You can block with the R trigger, and the L trigger locks onto a target. The analog stick can cycle between targets of an equal level by pushing left or right, or change levels by pressing up and down (mobile suits are average level targets, buildings, tanks, and boxes are low level targets, and capitol ships are high level targets). By pressing an attack while blocking, you'll execute a charge attack, which uses some of your special meter, or by pressing your main attack with your melee attack, each mobile suit can unleash a devastating special attack that uses an entire special meter. Every time you complete a mission with a mobile suit, that mobile suit will earn points that can be spent to upgrade it between missions. Most missions only take a few minutes to complete, which perfectly suits a portable device like the PSP, but the large total number of missions for each faction, plus replaying the missions for S-ranks, means you'll actually be playing Gundam Battle Universe for a long time before you've completed everything.

Gundam Battle Universe isn't perfect, though. The first Gundam Battle game was solely set in 77. The second one added added 83, and a few bonus 87 missions. The third added a full 87 campaign, and teased at 88 and 93 with the Extra missions. GBU gave us the full 88 and 83 campaigns, then teased us with Hathaway's Flash and F91. They need to just get it over with, and add campaigns for the rest of the Universal Century (Gundam Unicorn, Hathaway's Flash, F90/F91, Crossbone Gundam, and Victory Gundam), with Extra missions being reserved for the alternate universe Gundam series (G Gundam, Gundam W, Gundam X, Turn A Gundam, Gundam SEED/SEED Destiny, Gundam 00).

The second, and more major complaint, is that the 77, 83, and 87 campaigns in Gundam Battle Universe are cut and pasted from Gundam Battle Chronicle. This makes Gundam Battle Universe feel more like an expansion, since those of us that played Chronicle have played more than half the game already. The 88 and 93 campaigns, and the extra pilots and mobile suits they add, still make Gundam Battle Universe the definitive Gundam game, on any system... at least until the next Gundam Battle game.

Final Score: A-

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