*Includes Everything But Paint Fumes
HIGH I’m not sure what a ‘funnel’ is, but wow, does it WRECK enemies.
LOW Trying to to find all the parts to complete the killer teddy bear.
WTF So, who’s this Char Aznable that people keep talking about?
How popular does an IP have to become before a videogame is produced not about the story or the setting, but themed around how much people love it? This wasn’t a level of popularity I was familiar with but Gundam has managed it, and this adoration has led to the creation of New Gundam Breaker — a game primarily about what a great hobby assembling and painting Gundam models is.
Set in a near-future Japanese high school, NGB tells the story of a vicious student council who bullies their classmates, and the small team of rebels that stand up to them… via VR Gundam battles… using the stats of the models they build and paint.
These are considerably lower stakes than I’m used to in Gundam games, as there are no threats to global stability or invading armies of genetically-engineered humans. No. they’re just jerks who are ruining everyone’s fun, and need to be taught a lesson in good sportsmanship. Along the way there’s romance, light comedy, and much discussion of how great Gundam models are. The whole thing is basically hours and hours of pure product placement, yet I never seemed to mind.
There are two main types of third-person Gundam battles – pair matches, in which the player and a single partner must complete objectives (destroy certain mechs, find certain parts) in the playfield, and 3vs3 matches which follow the same structure, but have the added complication of competing against another team to see who can finish each objective the fastest. Combat is all lock-on based, with the player easily able to flick from one foe to the next like a crowded, more hectic version of Gundam Versus. Each mech has its own close-up and ranged weapons, and it’s a simple matter to dash around the arenas, swiping at and blasting foes.
Breaker’s most interesting conceit is that the players are controlling virtual representations of the models they build – which are, as a consequence, roughly four inches tall. This doesn’t make much difference when the virtual playfield is built to their scale, but about half the time the fights take place in recreations of actual rooms in the high school — the characters will battle amongst towering chairs, desks, and monitors. It’s jarring at first, but as the game went on I found I appreciated the real-world locations more and more, as it helped to ground the robot battles.
Matches are invariably frantic. In addition to base attack and defense stats, each part that makes up a mech has a special ability — anything from special melee combos to huge particle beams. In order to keep things balanced, players start the match with level 1 mechs, which can be made more powerful by opening supply chests or defeating enemies. Each time they level up a power is unlocked at random. This creates huge incentive to build balanced mechs, since there’s no guarantee they’ll get to use a specific power.
The mech-building is delightfully free-form, and players can build the bizarre chimera of their dreams – mechs that were vastly different sizes in their own stories are all equalized, meaning any imaginable combination is possible. With 128 different mobile suits to draw parts from, the mixing and matching is effectively limitless.
There’s a downside to this huge assortment of parts, though – they’re incredibly frustrating to collect due to the wonky economy. The same mechs consistently appear in the same missions, so players are free to grind for parts – but since there’s no way to choose which part is knocked off of a mech they attack, there’s never a guarantee they’ll get the part they want. This should have been mitigated by the in-game store, but every part is prohibitively expensive – selling a duplicate arm at the end of a match might net the player betweem 100-1000 credits. Buying that same arm at the store will run 50-100K! This problem is made somewhat better by the rewards from online and special match modes, but things would feel more welcoming if players didn’t have to earn 10 matches worth of credits to afford a single part.
While most of Breaker functions well, there are a couple of issues. The largest is model loading – during matches a constant stream of new target mechs are teleported in, and the game has a bad habit of freezing up for 3-5 seconds whenever this happens. The camera can also be quite frustratingwhen locked on – usually it’s not troublesome until the enemy jumps, at which point the camera, instead of pulling back to maintain a sense of scene geography, quickly jerks up so the player is looking straight up and losing all ability to see where they’re going. This is an even bigger problem when battling the occasional giant enemy – if the player gets anywhere near them, the camera goes haywire and becomes useless.
New Gundam Breaker is a love letter to Gundam fandom to the point where the devs can’t imagine that anyone playing wouldn’t know the mechs inside and out. In the middle of a match a new quest might pop up and say ‘Destroy 4 Zaku before the other team’, but there’s no explanation of what a Zaku is or what it looks like, and every time I was introduced to a new mobile suit in one of the missions, I’d have a moment of wondering exactly which one I was supposed to be killing. In light of this, the real testament to New Gundam Breaker’s success is the fact that its obvious passion for its subject made me want to learn.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Bandai Namco. It is currently available on PS4 and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4 Pro. Approximately 25 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 3 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Fantasy Violence and Mild Language. Honestly, it’s weird to even call this a T. The ‘damns’ are so few and far between that they’re not worth mentioning, and within the context of the game, the bloodless violence is happening between virtual simulations of tiny models. It’s safe for just about anyone to play.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes in the available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played most of the game without sound and had no trouble at all. There’s a detailed HUD that provides plenty of visual information alongside each audio cue. The subtitles cannot be resized.
Remappable Controls: Yes, the game’s controls are completely remappable.