Lives up to the extreme hype
Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs. Maxiboost On had a reputation to live up to outside of Japan’s arcades and the import community who played its predecessors.
The first major waves it made outside of that community was around the release of Gundam Versus, where a vocal crowd criticized Namco for releasing that instead of the arcade title. With the announcement of the home console port earlier this year, the question on many minds outside of that crowd, including my own, was simple: is it worth the hype? Could an old title really be that good?
Turns out, it absolutely does live up to that hype.
Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs. Maxiboost On (PS4)
Developer: Bandai Namco
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Released: July 30, 2020
Before we get started, let us take a little trip through history. The initial version of Gundam Extreme Vs. released in Japanese arcades in 2010, where it quickly became a big hit. Over the course of eight years, the game would receive two ports to the PlayStation 3 in Japan and three further iterations, the last of which was Maxiboost On. While the final iteration was still in arcades, Gundam Versus would release on consoles, including controversial mechanics such as boost dive, a mechanic that let players cancel out of any move to drop to the ground near-instantly, and universal assists, which were strikers available to all characters. In 2018, Maxiboost On was phased out of arcades and replaced with a proper sequel, Extreme Vs. 2. Keep these details in mind during the review, as they will be brought up.
Just like Gundam Versus, Extreme Vs. is a 2v2 fighting game. Every character is assigned a value of 3,000, 2,500, 2,000, or 1,500, with higher values generally indicating a character with better overall performance. However, when a character is shot down, their value is removed from the team’s health bar of 6,000 points, with the first team to reach zero being the loser of the match. The overcost mechanic is also present, where if your team’s health bar is less than your units’ value upon respawn, you’ll have less health as a result. This results in virtually the same dynamic of figuring out roles, order of death, and longevity.
While the gameplay may be similar, the roster is not. Those eight years in the arcades have allowed the developers to build an impressive roster of over 180 characters, with two of them coming from the game’s sequel. With the exception of Narrative and the Build sequels, almost every animated entry is here along with multiple manga, novels, and games, for a total of 36 entries. There are about 10-20 clones present, but they exist in different cost tiers and as a means for other characters to be represented. The roster has its bases covered more or less, except for Build Fighters, which only has two characters.
This development time also lent itself well for the stage selection, which includes over 30 stages. Nearly every entry has at least one stage, and they have done a fine job in picking out iconic locations including Side 7 from the original show, the colony laser from Zeta Gundam, and the snow-covered city of Brussels from Endless Waltz. The stages make excellent use of size, elevation, and destructible objects for a variety of layouts and strategies. A select few, such as Angel Halo and Gigafloat, even have moving components, although the parts in question move slow enough to not be obnoxious. Needless to say, the location selection and the design for each stage has stood the test of time.
On a mechanical level, Extreme Vs. feels great to play and controls very well. At its core, it is a four-button fighter, with the four buttons dedicated to melee, ranged, boost, and target change. Stick tilts are used to unleash different attacks or moves instead of motions. Blocking is the sole exception, requiring players to press back then forward to initiate and hold a frontal guard. Just like in previous titles, mobility and ammo management are the name of the game in this fighter. Some attacks are once per life, some reload passively, others require a manual reload, while some start with no ammo and charge over time. Combined with boost step and boost dash, which act as evasive and mobility options, these help differentiate characters.
However, it is arguably the absence of the universal strikers and boost dive that are the greatest driver for moveset diversity. With the strikers gone, they have become part of characters’ move lists, while overall the assists have more utility to them due to being freed from the melee and shooting restrictions. For instance, the Gunner Zaku Warrior has three different assists in its moveset, while Burning Gundam has Fuunsaiki as an assist, with the ability to ride the horse mech as a movement utility option. Some mobile suits like Turn X and Full Armor Gundam no longer have an assist of any kind as a result, which will affect their play style as well. Furthermore, with boost dive gone, how you get back to the ground is no longer a simple answer. The higher a character goes, the more dangerous it becomes if they don’t have the tools for the way down.
In terms of single-player options, there are two main modes. The first is Branch Battle, which is the equivalent of arcade mode. Players choose one of five entry points and proceed along a grid, fighting playable characters, non-playable characters, as well as bosses. They’ll pick one of three paths after completing a match, eventually reaching stage eight where the final boss is.
There is some replayability here, as performing well unlocks alternate EX nodes to choose from, and there are random battles scattered throughout as well. Further, there are nine hidden bosses, which can only be encountered upon completing stage eight with over 600,000 points and no continues, with the endpoint determining which boss is fought. The mode can also be played with split-screen or online co-op, allowing for fun with friends or random strangers.
The other option is Maxi Boost Mission. While it is only single-player, it is very well put together. Players start on the left side of an area and need to progress through a grid of events with varying conditions to the right side where the boss awaits, before progressing to the next area to repeat the cycle. Along the way they’ll level up, gain customization parts to upgrade and equip, and GP to spend elsewhere in the game. Missions give a rank upon completion, which dictates if any bonus rewards – mainly parts or GP – are received. Outside of a few questionable missions, one acting as a roadblock involving the Divinidad boss while the player is alone and locked into the Crossbone X-3, the missions were fun and felt different enough from one another. It is the highlight of Maxiboost On’s non-competitive options.
Free battle also returns, acting as a mix of versus/training mode. Players can choose to set AI difficulty, stage, music, and can also do two-player split-screen here as well, either together against the AI or against each other. 1-on-1 can also be arranged as well, although the game isn’t quite balanced for that. There is also a LAN mode which will be a godsend for tournament organizers. While it was not used for the review, it would appear that it requires four consoles and four copies of Extreme Vs. in order to utilize the mode. You cannot use split-screen in this mode, which is unfortunate as it would lighten the hardware requirements needed, and I hope the developers reconsider this at some point.
As for the online side, it has been vastly improved, but also received a major trimming. The 1v1 and 3v3 modes from Versus have been cut, leaving 2v2 as the only mode. There is a casual queue as well as two variations of ranked, one of which lets you team up with a friend or keep your teammate between matches and has a separate ranking. There are also player lobbies which can hold up to 16 players, and can have entry restrictions based on connection strength and ranking, which is fairly standard. Having played numerous matches, it would appear Bandai Namco has improved the netcode from Versus. Where a room with orange or yellow bar players would be unplayable in the previous game, now it only suffers from a couple instances of stutter. Regardless of this major improvement however, you should be playing this with a wired connection for the smoothest experience for all parties.
A fair number of cosmetic items are also available for players to unlock. There are over 200 custom UIs for matches, alternative costumes for characters and navigators, along with titles, plates, and effects for them to buy. All of these items can be acquired in one of two ways. The first is to meet whatever requirements are specified, such as raising the proficiency of the Turn A to level 3, which will unlock Loran’s pilot suit and Laura outfit. The other method is to just pay the amount of GP required, with the most expensive items, the alternate costumes, priced at 30,000 a piece. It should be noted that all modes except Free Battle grant GP per fight, and Maxi Boost Mission alone gives at least 300,000 without S Ranking everything.
A couple notable bells and whistles should be mentioned as well. The game has a replay system where you can save your replays as well as view the replays of others. In addition to being able to sort by character, you can see who won the match before choosing. Replays can also be viewed with a focus on a single character, or split-screen with up to four players at once, but it may result in a frame rate drop. In addition to over 60 songs from various entries, Maxiboost On supports importing custom music. This allows you to switch not just music used for matches, but also the main menu, victory, and lose screen themes as well. Now I’m not saying I did it but I may have put the Final Fantasy VII victory theme in at one point.
There are two major issues with Maxiboost On however, and the first is with its tutorial. They’ve made the exact same mistake they did with Versus where they just slap some textboxes on the screen for you to read and then you don’t have to do them to pass the tutorial missions. Even then, the transform mechanic, which is a major part of numerous characters’ game plans, is not mentioned in any regard during the so-called tutorial. Move lists fail to indicate tilt variations and follow-up options, or even basic move explanations. In the same year where Arc System Works released Granblue Fantasy Versus, with one of the most in-depth tutorials and glossaries the genre has ever seen, what Bandai Namco has presented here is unacceptable.
How the game handles bans and region matchmaking is another issue. If you drop from an online match, you get hit with at least a ten-minute ban – which is completely reasonable and a smart way to deal with rage quitters. However, the problem is that this ban applies to every online mode. So not just the casual and ranked queues, but also player lobbies and Branch Battle’s online are impacted. It is a little overkill. If anything should be immune from this sort of moderation, it is the co-op function of Branch Battle. The other issue is that matchmaking can be set to worldwide or region-based, and regional restricts it to country, not continent. So, Canadian players cannot play with American ones, and European countries are so divided they struggle to find a match without setting themselves to worldwide and taking a potential connection dive depending on who they connect to. If regions get changed to continent instead of country, this would help the issue overall.
Now for the big question with any fighting game: What is the DLC plan going forward? Honestly, I do not know. At the time of writing, the only DLC the game currently has is the pre-order unit Barbatos Lupus Rex, which is from the sequel Extreme Vs 2. Maxi Boost On is not the current game in arcades, meaning it may not see a DLC onslaught like Versus did to avoid hurting traffic already impacted by COVID-19. On the other hand, Versus didn’t actually reveal its first DLC wave until nearly a month after launch. So, we may not have an answer until the end of August at the earliest. Either way, there’s already 185 characters in the game, so you won’t be hurting for a roster expansion anytime soon.
Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs. Maxiboost On is what Gundam Versus should have been in the first place. A more properly thought-out offline suite, split-screen support, LAN mode, a deep roster, and an improved netcode all lead to a superior package that can appeal to even non-Gundam fans. However, the lack of a proper tutorial and some questionable decisions with the online hold it back as a whole. Regardless of these issues, it has absolutely lived up to the hype of players who experienced it during its arcade reign.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]