Review: Gundam Versus


Doesn't quite stick the launch

Gundam is in an odd place. The franchise is currently going through a resurgence on the international stage with the success of Unicorn, Iron Blooded Orphans, and Thunderbolt. It brings in millions of dollars every year with its wildly successful model kits. However, its games struggle to gain traction outside of Japan, always having the misfortune of the select few chosen being mediocre to good at best.

So when Gundam Versus was announced for an international release, it seemed like things were looking up. A new entry in a long-running series that is highly praised for its roster, gameplay, and content? Surely this would be the one that changes the trend!

Turns out, we somehow ended up with another mess of a game.

Gundam Versus (PS4)
Developer: Bandai Namco
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Released: September 29, 2017
MSRP: $59.99

Gundam Versus at its core is a 2v2 game with a unique mechanic. Every character is given a point value of 500, 400, 300, or 200, which in turn determines their overall strength with 500 being the strongest. However, each team has a total health bar of 1,000 points, and each time a player dies, the value of their mobile suit gets taken from the team health. If you are shot down, and it brings your team's life below the point value of your character, another mechanic called overcost occurs, and you’ll respawn with less health. When a team's health bar reaches 0, that's the match. This in turn leads to an interesting dynamic of picking a suit that clicks with your partners’ coverage, while also having to balance the point values for longevity. On an advanced level, this develops into roles of back and front, as well as who dies first in regard to potential overcost.

One of the most impressive features of Gundam Versus is the roster. Over 90 mobile suits spanning 19 different shows, movies, manga, and games are included. In addition, every single suit manages to stand on its own, with only the two Sumos from Turn A being the closest things to full clones. But that does not mean it’s a perfect roster. A total of 13 different entries included in the previous home console game, like G, Endless Waltz, and SEED Destiny, did not make it into the base roster. What's more, 00 is missing its entire second season, SEED is missing deuteragonist Athrun, and recent hit Iron Blooded Orphans only has two suits. While it has problems, the significance of the inclusions and cuts will vary from person to person.

The game itself controls extremely well, with the controls being entirely remappable, and special moves can be used via via a single button or via a combination of specific ones. At its core though Versus is about mobility and meter management. Many specials and ranged attacks are tied to an ammunition amount, which is what helps each unit feel unique from one another. Some passively regenerate when not in use, some reload after the clip is emptied, and some are only once per life. The mobility tech, which are boost dash, boost step, and boost dive, will be your main means of movement and evasion, but also the greatest part of combat for Gundam Versus. You can cancel your moves with these, meaning you essentially have a build-your-own-combo system, while also being able to evade attacks mid-combo by a potential rescuer. The matter of applying pressure to limit their options and striking at the right time is even greater as a result. Combined with the roster variety it is singlehandedly one of the most unique fighters on the market, and it feels so satisfying to play.

Unfortunately, the single-player content is rather barebones. The three primary modes for solo players are Ultimate battle, Trial battle, and Free battle. Ultimate battle is a survival game type, coming in 15, 30, and 50 wave variants, and a 15 wave boss variant. Every 10 waves players will get to play a random bonus wave, such as who can kill the most enemies or a special round as the infamous Big Zam. Meanwhile Trial battle is the game's version of arcade mode, with 10 different routes of varying length and difficulty. Both of these modes have a major issue: A lack of replayability. Every battle in Trial is static, and will never change with an exception we’ll discuss later on, and it's the same case for Ultimate. The harder trials do have alternate paths, and scoring an S rank or higher will unlock another alternate path for some of them, but those paths will never change as well. The only reason to replay them outside of experience and GP for unlockable content is to achieve a faster clear time and score. There is also no split-screen so it's online only for you and your friends if you want to play.

Free battle is the versus/practice mode, where players can set the AI difficulty, the units, the strikers, the stage, and even the music. It’s even possible to set teams that are normally impossible, such as 1v3, but the mode cannot be used to gain currency of any kind for the games unlocks. Players will spend a lot of time here for practice as the game's tools for teaching are pathetic. The ‘tutorial’ is just an info dump, and you don’t even have to do the information displayed in order to progress to the next ‘lesson.’ Additionally, the move lists are actively missing info, which is unforgivable for a fighting game. Moves that have follow-up inputs or have tilts for variations, such as the X1's screw whip, are missing those details. And the transformation mechanic, which only applies for certain suits, is not even listed, meaning suits like G-Self or Zeta Gundam have a third to half of their movesets hidden and are unknown barring experimentation by the player. It’s unacceptable for a series that is over a decade old.

The online suite isn’t exactly the strongest, either. While Ultimate battle can be played online, if at any point either player disconnects, the entire thing ends. You don’t even get to continue with an AI partner, meaning a disconnect at wave 49 of 50 will cause that god-tier run to end in anger. The online itself is divided into five queues: casual 1v1, 2v2, and 3v3, and ranked 2v2 and 3v3, with private lobbies being an option with a large amount of control in them, including locking people with poor connections out. However, the netcode is potentially a major problem. If for whatever reason, whether it’s you or someone else joins with a poor connection, the room slows to a crawl, and potentially crashes entirely. This risk increases with more people in a match, meaning 3v3 can often be an unstable mess. If you can’t secure a good connection for yourself, the online portion may as well be useless, which also means an effective method of earning experience for individual characters along with GP.

Now it should be mentioned there is a fair amount of fanservice for Gundam fans here. The game has 40 tracks from the series included, among those songs being music used for openings like Raise Your Flag. Every mobile suit, pilot, and series has a profile that gives some information on each, as well as a cool little intro that happens when you start a trial battle. This is on top of a huge amount of unlockables such as strikers, navigators, titles and emblems, in addition to iconic locations to battle at such as the colony laser from Zeta Gundam. However, the biggest thing that holds all of this back is the minimal job at adapting the game for international audiences. The majority of the songs have their titles in Japanese and for whatever reason the notorious Gundam 00 character Ali al-Saachez had his name changed to Gary Biaggi. To top it off, there is a complete lack of subtitles, from the intro movies to the win/loss screen. This lack of subtitles means casual players not into Gundam are less likely to latch onto any specific character as a result, while actual fans miss out on a ton of fanservice. The only thing translated are the navigators and that’s it, so it’s really disappointing so little was done for the actual playable cast.

Now it’s interesting to note that Namco has promised support for Gundam Versus. All characters will be paid, but all future stages and modes will be free. Beyond that, Trial and Ultimate battle get updated in different ways whenever DLC characters are released. For instance, the bonus round in Ultimate battle to play as Big Zam was patched in before launch as part of patch 1.05. That same patch also changed the third stage of trial route 4 to be completely Gundam AGE themed, using the AGE-1 DLC character and strikers along with the free Minsry stage. Finally, every time DLC is released, there is a chance in the extra wave of Ultimate battle to play a bonus round as one of the latest DLC characters, which as of this writing was Phantom Gundam, Nightingale, or AGE-1. It feels odd to say it, but the main reason to replay either Trial or Ultimate right now is to potentially experience playing with or against the latest DLC characters in a more controlled setting, even if for a brief time.

Overall, Gundam Versus is great gameplay hampered by the content, or lack thereof, meant to support it. A solid roster is brought down by questionable absences, while the offline content lacks the kind of replayability that an arcade mode would have. Meanwhile the unstable online means those with poor connections can't get the most out of the game, and the lack of teaching tools will not properly prepare people for it regardless. The end result is a package that's only alright in the end, and hard to recommend to even Gundam fans.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]

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Gundam Versus reviewed by Mike Sounders



Slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy it a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.
How we score:  The Destructoid reviews guide


Mike Sounders
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Shout outs to Dango for the lovely sidebar For disclosure purposes, I have backed the following kickstarter campaigns: Mega Man The Board Game Exploding Kittens Scythe Bears VS Babies Blood... more + disclosures



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