Hands up if you like giant robots fighting? Yeah that's what we thought, all of us do. Whether it's the Power Ranger Zords, Titanfall's Mechs, or Gundam Mobile Suits, there's something ultimately satisfying in piloting a massive suit of power armour and wielding enough weaponry to level a city block.
Gundam originally started as a Japanese anime back in 1979 and has since spawned a huge amount of spin-offs, model kits, films, and video games, albeit mainly in the East. In fact, it wasn't until the mid-nineties with the release of Gundam Wing that the US and Europe really took any notice.
It's needless to say that not many Gundam video games made the transition to the West either, and the most notable recent games would be Dynasty Warriors: Gundam back on the PS3. But this latest offering to the series, Gundam Versus, probably owes more to the Mobile Suit Gundam games from the PS2/Dreamcast era with its 3D arena maps.
Gundam Versus lets you team up in a third-person 3D fighter, either taking part in 2v2 and 3v3 battles, or attempting to go at it alone in Ultimate Battle mode against waves of enemies both online and in local co-op.
To get a feel for the controls we started up the tutorial, and at first combat and movement seemed simple, with ranged, melee, and special attacks, as well as auto lock targeting and boost jumps. Easy, right?
Each part of the tutorial gives you a target suit or drone to destroy and a way to do so, but we found that you could ignore the instructions and as long as the target was destroyed you moved on regardless of completing the specific move you were learning. It, therefore, didn't take long to complete all three stages of the tutorial. This was welcome though as throughout the tutorial you are bombarded with the original Gundam anime theme song in Japanese on repeat, meaning we soon reduced the BGM sound setting in the menu.
With a basic understanding of the combat we moved onto Ultimate Battle, a survival mode in which you must defeat the waves of enemies culminating in a boss fight. There are four different levels of play, Easy being just 15 waves, Medium with 30, and Hard at 50. There's also Boss mode which pits you against 15 Bosses one after another, certainly a mode for the more advanced fighters out there.
Now it's time to pick a Mobile Suit. Assembled across 17 different works of anime, Gundam Versus offers us over 90 Mobile Suits to pick from. Regardless of which instalment enticed you into the world of Gundam there will be a Mobile Suit you'll recognise. For us it was Gundam Wing, so we cycled through the units, found our desired armour - Wing Gundam Zero - and suited up.
It's at this point we realised the tutorial really taught us nothing, as each Mobile Suit has its own weapon systems and abilities. With no way of checking in the menu beforehand, the only way to discover what you are dealing with is to jump straight in, and with over 90 suits to play with, that's a lot of trial and error.
All Ranged attacks are fired using one button, but using a combination of other moves like melee or jump boost will result in a different style of weapon being fired. This is really confusing at first but after a bit of analysis of the command list in the pause menu you'll soon build up a picture of how complex the combat is. All the ranged attacks use a charge bar and firing one weapon too much will result in it stopping. These will recharge over time, but it's worth switching between ranged, melee, and boosted attacks frequently to avoid this.
Next up is auto lock, but this can be just as much a hindrance as it is a help. You'll always be locked onto a target, regardless of how far away and whether it's in sight, until you destroy it or you manually switch targets. Switching targets, however, will only cycle through your opponents and won't necessarily move to a more convenient one. This can be a little frustrating, especially if your opponent is fleeing and another runs across you view, and manually clicking through can often take time, causing you to miss an optimal moment for your attack.
Movement uses just the left stick or D-pad, depending on your own preference, and we found little difference between the two. Controlling the camera view, though, is left to the auto lock rather than the right stick, which instead is mapped to control your jump, rendering it fairly useless compared to the standard jump button.
Trial battle is the closest the game gets to having any form of story mode, as there are ten routes to take part in, each with a series of arenas to battle through to reach the end. These are timed, scored, and ranked, and increase in difficulty as you make your way through them. Completing the routes give you GP (gundam points) which you can use to unlock new abilities in your MS (Mobile Suit) development tree. Battling will earn EXP for each suit which in turn levels up your mobile suit to unlock the abilities to spend your GP on.
Throughout the game there seems to be a problem with localisation. Although the menus are all in English, all of the spoken dialogue in the game is in Japanese with no English dubbing available. While this may not be an issue for die-hard fans, it becomes increasingly distracting (especially since voiced lines get repeated over and over). One way of combating this is changing your battle navigator. Haro is set as your default navigator and while he may be cute, this green spherical robot has an incredibly annoying voice, which is repeatedly shouting things at you while you fight. As soon as we realised we could change, we opted for Soma Peries who is far more subdued in her commentary. The navigator's words are subtitled though and these appear just under their picture in the corner of the screen, but that's not very handy when you're fighting a huge wave of enemies.
In addition to changing your navigator, you can also unlock new emblems and titles to display in your player card while playing online, and each is unlocked by reaching certain milestones with each Mobile Suit.
Online battles offer some of the best combat experiences in the game and whether you're playing in a party with friends or just as a lone wolf you can play 1v1, 2v2 or 3v3 in casual matches. You also don't need to worry much if the servers are quiet, as if the lobby doesn't fill in the time limit, CPU fighters will fill any empty slots and your score will add to your online profile. Take your skill level up from rookie to regular and you can take part in ranked matches, where the skill levels are far higher than the CPU fighters in the Ultimate Battle and Trial Battle modes. Here seasoned fighters who will test your Mobile Suit piloting skills to the limit. There's also the ability to set up private rooms where you can set limits for entry from simple practice sessions to full on hardcore battles.
There are quite a few arenas to battle in and while the backgrounds are really stunning, the level design itself is quite simple and sparse, resulting in the areas being really nothing more than different elevations of land with a few buildings dotted around. We would have preferred some more variation in the arenas if only in the form of more cover, which even then can be completely destroyed during the battles.
For the Gundam fans out there, this is a must-have game, as Bandai Namco has faithfully recreated the look and feel of the anime and has paid attention to the details. The Mobile Suits are breathtaking and you have such a huge range to play with, and if you're a beginner and can fight through the initial difficulty curve, then there is a complex arena brawler in which hours of fun can be had.