Let’s Settle This, Giant Robot Style
HIGH Hitting an enemy across the map with a perfectly-timed stun spear.
LOW The boss ship’s impossible-to-dodge laser attacks.
WTF Prestige suits cost seven real dollars each.
I’m still a little wary of 3D fighting games. As someone who played a lot of Street Fighter 2 in arcades, the very idea of fighting on anything but a two dimensional plane seems alien and inadvisable. It’s fine if polygonal fighters want to get in on the action and I’ll even accept a little sidestep-dodging, so long as the fighters immediately get back to the left and right sides of the screen. So this, a 2-on-2 fighting game set in open 3D arenas seems like an ill-advised concept. Yet Gundam Versus manages to pull it off, via an incredibly intuitive control scheme and a brilliant use of automatic lock-on to keep the frantic mech fights manageable.
As the title suggests, Gundam Versus is a fighting game – no plot points, no character arcs, just a huge roster of mechs and pilots pitted against one another in fast-paced combat that employs a truly shocking amount of circle strafing. Players pick a mode – either single player where they can practice against bots or a series of linked fights, or they can choose from a variety of multiplayer modes.
The multiplayer experience is clearly the focus, offering arena battles for 2-6 players. The developers have gone to the trouble of balancing out the mobile suits by assigning each of them a point value based on their overall power level, and every match is fought as a war of attrition.
The teams each start out with a set amount of points, and as mechs are destroyed, they respawn, their cost coming out of the total. As a result, a team made up of 500 point mechs would allow just one respawn each, but a team made up of far less powerful 200-300 suits would have more chances to defeat their foes. It’s a great way of allowing suits in different tiers to fight each other without equalizing their power levels.
Combat is fast, with surprisingly easy-to-learn controls. At any given moment the player’s camera will be locked on one of their enemies, and swapping between them is as easy as tapping a button, ensuring that players never get overwhelmed in the heat of battle. During any fights other than one-on-one duels, the screen is going to be packed with projectiles and explosions, but the camera never wavers from the target, and a color-code lets them know whether the enemy suit is within weapon range.
I’m not used to fighters focusing this much on ranged combat, and the skill with which Gundam Versus makes it work was quite impressive. Every mech is armed with a basic gun, at least one special ranged weapon, and a partner that they can call in to perform a single attack. Gun duels are quick and deadly, with both fighters constantly boost-dodging to avoid cannon fire while blasting away with their own heavy lasers. The mechs have a boost bar that drains as they charge and slide around the field. When the bar empties there’s a moment when the suit thumps back to the ground, immobile for just a second. The whole game is about waiting for those moments and then striking with every bit of firepower available.
Players can also focus on the melee combat, which is just as effective. The mechs have a surprising variety of moves available with just a single button – they can mix things up by tapping in different directions while striking, or attacking while leaping or charging. Physical combat is quick and brutal, with the easy-to-use double-tap boost system allowing players to zip in and out of range as they swipe at their foes. There’s even a special move that allows players to immediately cancel out of any combo and start a new attack – it costs quite a bit of boost energy, but so long as players fight strategically, they’ll never have to worry about committing to attacks.
The roster of available mechs is jaw-dropping. While just a modest selection is up for purchase when the game is first loaded, models are quickly unlocked through gameplay. Each mobile suit has its own experience bar – as they’re used in combat they level up, and new suits, pilots, and bonus items are unlocked for purchase with the points players collect by completing battles. In my time with Gundam Versus, I was able to earn half a dozen suits with no trouble, but I’d imagine anyone looking to unlock everything would be in for a few dozen hours of combat. There are also a few extra-special mechs that have to be purchased through the Playstation store at a rate of seven dollars each. That seems absurdly expensive to me, but then again, I have no real emotional connection to the franchise.
As someone with no deep knowledge of the franchise and severe misgivings about fighting game innovations, I was pleasantly surprised at how extremely playable Gundam Versus is. Great balancing and simple controls allow anyone to jump right into the combat, and the matches are always brief enough that I never felt like I was being forced to wallow in failure while learning the ropes. It turns out that a player doesn’t need to already know and love Gundam to appreciate high-speed robot carnage.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Bandai Namco. It is currently available on PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 2 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. 3 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Fantasy Violence. It’s robots fighting robots, and never for a moment is the player asked to dwell on the fact that there are probably people inside the exploding mobile suits. There’s no swearing or lascivious content, just pure robot punching. It’s probably safe for even younger teens.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game is completely playable without sound. I played it on mute much of the time and had no trouble whatsoever. It’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.