The Gundam franchise is probably one of the main pioneers in popularizing the Mecha genre. Beginning in 1979 with Mobile Suit Gundam, the franchise took off in nearly every marketable medium. The model kits are still one of Gundam's most lucrative businesses to date, with thousands upon thousands of exceptionally detailed kits for fans to build and paint. Naturally, the video games industry seemed like a easy fit for the series with the premise of combat via large, giant robots. Gundam video games have come in a variety of flavours, while still retaining their fighting games essence. Dynasty Warriors Gundam utilized the ever-popular Musou gameplay with a Gundam setting, which seemed to have worked successfully for three installments.
The Versus series has existed for about five generations of gaming, dating back to 2001 with Gundam: Federation vs Zeon. It is heralded for its arena-style, 2-on-2 battles between mobile suits. Past iterations of the series seemed to have focused on particular Gundam source materlial; Federation vs Zeon offered players a glimpse at both sides of the One Year War, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED: Rengou vs. Z.A.F.T. offered a recap of the Gundam SEED plot. 16 years and 10 games later, Gundam Versus is the latest installment in the arcade styled Versus series, and has released in North America exclusively for the Playstation 4.
One of the most noticeable differences with Gundam Versus is its departure from recapping or covering specific plotlines or stories from any one Gundam series, and instead chose to create an arena fighting game which houses samples of Mobile Suits from a large selection of Gundam series. There are over 90 Mobile Suits spanning the entire Gundam Franchise; from the original RX-78, to the more recent Barbatos and Full-Armor Gundam from Iron-Blooded Orphans and Thunderbolt, respectively. With all of the possible source material at their disposal, it is rather unfortunate that the game does not feature any sort of story mode that even briefly covers each series, which was an appreciated effort in the recent Dynasty Warriors: Gundam series. Instead, it strictly caters to multiplayer gameplay.
That's not to say the game is without its share of offline modes. Ultimate Battle and Trial Battle offer players a way to hone their skills and test out their favourite Mobile Suits before combating in Ranked Online play. Ultimate Battle Mode is essentially Gundam's version of the popular Horde mode archetype, where players survive waves of oncoming Mobile Suits. You may encounter infrequent portions where you are given an 'Extra Battle.' These are a maximum of six players, where the game breaks things up to 3-on-3 or will have all 6 face a single boss. Successfully completing these will give you extra Battle Points (BP) used to strengthen your Mobile Suit. These upgrades do not affect your Mobile Suits in regular player online matches.
Trial Battle has players go through a fixed progression of stages, with the option of choosing between different paths at certain parts. The most interesting thing about Trial mode is that, depending on your choice of Mobile Suit, each Trial Mode begins with a cutscene relating to the Gundam Series your Mobile Suit is a part of. This is perhaps the closest thing the game has to a story mode as these are loose recreations of famous battles and moments in the anime, though the immersion is broken the moment you realize your Turn-A Gundam is trying to take down Providence Gundam. There are over 10 individual trials, and you are graded with a maximum of SSS depending on your speed and overall effectiveness.
There is also a Free Battle allows players to completely customize and your CPU settings and opponents, stages and BGMs. This is perhaps one of the more formidable ways to practice combat with your Mobile Suit since you can tailor the experience as you see fit. One thing that the game is missing is a split-screen mode for offline multiplayer. Even if it were limited to just playing Ultimate Battle, it would have been a nice addition.
The combat mechanics in Gundam Versus have quite a steep learning curve. At its core, you traverse about the arena with the camera fixed behind your Mobile Suit; this does alter when you engage in certain combos as the game tries to stylize your camera angles. Moving is tank-like in nature, however there is an elevated finesse to each Gundam's movement thanks to the boost button. This will be your lifeline, as it lets you dash to either side, and allows you to ascend the map. Advanced mechanics will let you cancel dash movements into an attack, or vice-versa.
Each Mobile Suit has a ranged and melee attack, and Bandai Namco have put an incredible amount of effort into ensuring each and every single Gundam is piloted differently, as they should be. No two play identically, and they will have some of their more famous movesets from their respective source material. Wing Zero, from the ever-famous Gundam Wing series, has its Vulcan cannons and can transform into its 'Neo-Bird Mode,' while Turn-A has its Gundam Hammer. This really adds a sense of longevity to the playtime as you'll find yourself sampling all the different Mobile Suits to figure out which one resonates most with you. Thankfully, the game has a "Favourites" section, where you can pick a small handful of Mobile Suits so you do not need to sift through the roster each time you're selecting for any mode.
Each opposing side starts with 1000 points, and the premise of Gundam battles is that the victors will have depleted the enemy's shared resource first. An interesting strategy to the distribution of these point is the way it is distributed among Mobile Suits. Some of the Mobile Suits with more powerful attacks like Wing Zero or Epyon will consume 500 points, whereas others may only consume 400, 300 and 200. It is definitely recommended that should you decide to use the more expensive Gundams that you first become more accustomed to core mechanics, and fully understand your Gundam's evasive maneuvers. The intention is to have this shared resource for online-play, but the drawback becomes clearer while offline. Your CPU partner may die more frequently, which can sometimes render you incapable of your second chance, especially if you are among the 500-point Gundam.
Going into Gundam Versus, I was extremely disappointed to find out that Mobile Fighter G Gundam was omitted entirely from the roster. For those unaware, the entire premise is like a hybrid of Gundam combat and martial arts, so one would think an arena fighting game would be a natural fit for these Mobile Suits. I hope that at the very least, Bandai Namco may reconsider including these Gundam as DLC later on.
The visuals are a bit of a mixed bag, with Gundam models looking exceptionally detailed, whereas environments are lacking. There is a minor degree of destructibility with some of the architecture in each stage, but this definitely isn't going to be a visual showstopper. PS4 Pro owners will see a slight visual upgrade, with added HDR and slightly better textures, however there is no optimization for 4K support. The framerate for the most part is consistent and occasionally dips when the action gets too hectic.
Despite its clear focus towards to a multiplayer crowd with no true single player experience, Gundam Versus is still an incredibly enjoyable game. There's something of a cathartic experience in clashing with Mobile Suits, and the game does a tremendous job in making sure each Gundam plays totally separate from one another. Still, it is a shame that fans weren't given simple storylines that retold certain Gundam series, especially when Trial Battle essentially tries to do that, albeit very loosely. However, the controls are thoughtfully done, and the modes that are present are a blast to partake in, be it online or offline.
|Plenty of Mobile Suits to choose, and all play completely different from one another.|
|Ultimate Battle and Trial Battle are incredibly addicting and great in honing your skills with your preferred Mobile Suit.|
|The gameplay has a wonderfully steep learning curve, that rewards those willing to invest the time.|
|Recognizing that Gundam Versus hosts over 90 Mobile Suits from a myriad of different anime/manga, it hurts that much more that there are no dedicated story modes to give players a taste of each series.|
|While the Gundam models have a wonderful level of care in their detail, the environments are definitely lacking.|