Game Review

by David Cabrera,

Mobile Suit Gundam Side Stories

Playstation 3

Mobile Suit Gundam Side Stories
A collection revisiting previous Gundam games ranging from the Super NES to the Playstation 2, with an original chapter (“Missing Link”) added. Live the stories of hardened grunts working every day in their humble mass-production MS while some lucky idiot kid flies a high-end prototype Gundam they'll never see in their lives.

To start with, this has been marketed as a collection of HD remakes of old games, which is a brazenly false statement As I write this, the game's page is ravaged by justifiably angry one-star reviews, in part due to this.

Rather than remaking six fairly different videogames in their entirety, BB Studio has extracted the story, characters and Mobile Suits from these games and dumped them all into the same bland third-person shooter. These games did come from a range of genres and styles-- Cross Dimension is a strategy game!-- and it's unfortunate to see them all hammered into a single, indistingushiable mass.

Furthermore, I hope you didn't have a favorite-- maybe Zeonic Front or Rise from the Ashes?-- because you're not going to get to play these games right away. In a baffling move for a compilation game, the “remakes” must be unlocked one-by-one by playing through every “game”-- really just sets of scenarios-- in a pre-determined order, starting with the new “Missing Link”. The Missing Link scenario consists of 18 short, dull stages, so it'll take quite some time to unlock any one title in particular.

Story is completely taken care of by talking heads, text, and real-time cutscenes with the robots. (Note this isn't a US-release game; all text and dialogue are in Japanese.) These cutscenes really expose how ugly the environments are; the MS models are barely acceptable, but the rest of the game looks like something from ten years ago. The presentation is as cheap as possible, without even superficial changes from one “game” to the next.

The game engine itself is in the vein of many other Gundam titles, offering little you haven't seen in countless other games. Similar to the action of the Gundam Vs. arcade games but moving away from its extremely high speed, players dash, jump, and shoot (and roll their big robots like this was Dark Souls) around enclosed stages.

The unique element is that you're a team of 3. This is a single-player only game (given this concept you'd expect at least a stab at co-operative mutliplayer, and you'd be disappointed), and you can choose to pilot any member of the team at any time while the computer takes care of the other two. “Special moves” exist with a fighting-game style power gauge, but this is a down-to-earth kind of Gundam and they're mostly things like “fire bazooka three times instead of one”.

The MS are mostly mass-production models, and this has always been the side stories' appeal: that they tell the stories of unsung heroes among the grunts of the perpetually corrupt Federation and Zeon. (Of course, if you just want to play as Unicorn, it's paid DLC.) For mecha-heads, a big draw is the wide variety of customized MS that these lesser heroes used, and all those GMs and Zakus are here in every variation you could ask for.

There was an attempt at “realism” and a simulation angle in these games. The MS were approached as hulking, clunky vehicles of war in a way that mainline Gundam titles, with their Newtype kids and bleeding-edge prototypes, often lose sight of. Some of these were even first-person cockpit-view games. The clunk and the small scale are gone here: every stage is just a straightforward fight in a closed area between you and 20 or 30 enemy MS.

Despite those numbers, your enemies are sitting ducks, waddling around the arena in random directions. Provided you never get yourself surrounded, they never pose any trouble. What you're really fighting in this game is a stubborn, barely functional lock-on feature which locks on only to whatever is standing at a straight line in front of you, no matter what. This means that, for example, the player will lock on to an enemy standing across the map while a Zaku waves its heat axe from in front of you and a little to your left.

Once locked on, you don't very firmly lock to the enemy in the way one commonly sees in 3D action games: it's easy for a locked-on enemy to get out of your sight and the game won't turn you to face them. The average battle is a confusing mess because the game engine simply cannot handle you being near more than one enemy at once... and in this game you're typically dealing with ten at a time.

Luckily for you, most enemy MS-- and, indeed, your computer-controlled allies!-- stand around oblivious to you, their allies, and indeed the very fact that they are at war, in what is frequently diagnosed as Dynasty Warriors Syndrome. Whether they notice you at all seems completely random. The battles are not difficult; they just feel strange, annoying and dull.

The game's idea of providing a strong enemy is shooting directly from training dummies to guys who move twice as fast as you and have three times the HP. Worse are the levels where an unbeatable, practically God-mode enemy appears, and you just have to run from it. Don't die, because you'll have to go all the way back to the mission briefing and wait for the minute or two this game inexplicably takes to load up every mission.

Due to the remake angle, there are a huge amount of maps, but they're all basically the same. The level “designs” consist of square map after square map of you blowing up formation after formation of functionally identical enemy MS in various One Year War locations, with not even an attempt at a variation on the theme. The environments themselves are shamefully ugly-- they'd be bad on the PS2. Basic effects like explosions and shadows are actually laughable, turning some of the cutscenes (like the battle of Jaburo, where you see Zeon MS spawning from the sky and crashing to the ground) into unintentional gags.

Space battles feel basically the same as land battles, except rather than jumping you can move up and down freely. Obviously large-scale robot battles are the bread and butter of Gundam, but this game commits the unpardonable sin of making them dull, deadening what should be exciting.

The VR Mission mode fares slightly better, if only because you can choose any MS you want (from the story mode missions you've already cleared!) and upgrade their stats. The closest I had to fun playing this game was fully upgrading the humble RB-79 Ball-- literally just a cockpit with a cannon attached to it-- and mowing down enemies effortlessly.

There are so many Gundam games out there; enough that some of them are actually good. Why, then, even as a Gundam fan, should you waste your time on such half-baked mediocrity? For the duration of the time I played this game, I was thinking about other, better Gundam things I'd have rather been enjoying. This game does the original side story games no justice: go back and play them instead. If you want to play a good game in this style-- with Gundam, even!-- try the smaller-scale, but infinitely more fun, Gundam Extreme Vs.

Review copy provided by
Overall : D
Graphics : C
Sound/Music : D
Gameplay : D
Presentation : D

+ Lots of cool MS variations that should be in a better videogame, box art by Hidetaka Tenjin is nice
Misleadingly marketed, ”remakes” must be unlocked by beating other games, shoddy and unpolished in every department

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