This Week in Games - Gundam Versus

by Dustin Bailey and Zac Bertschy,
As if 2017's nonstop parade of excellent video games wasn't already enough, the past few weeks have seen the Switch's indie line-up upgrade from “good” to “positively bonkers.” Most of these games are out on other platforms, but the option of portability is making all the difference in ensuring they feel at home on Nintendo's latest. Stardew Valley and Axiom Verge are out this week, following the delightful SteamWorld Dig 2 and the absolutely captivating sports RPG, Golf Story. Seriously, if you've got fond feelings toward Camelot's portable Mario Golf games, Golf Story is exactly the follow-up you've been looking for.

I also managed to procure a SNES Mini this week, with very little effort. I went to a store the day they were released, walked inside, and bought one. There were plenty there. Naturally that's an anecdotal thing, but it seems Nintendo has to at least some degree addressed their supply issues, and maybe this thing will actually be available for people who want to purchase it in the future. What a novel thought. I'll have a lot more to say about both the box itself and its library next week, but for now it's time to get slapped in the face with some good ol' Gundam talk.

Gundam Versus

If you've been knocking around anime fandom long enough and also play video games (an unusual combination, I know) then odds are at some point you've laid hands on at least one of the many (literal) hundreds of Mobile Suit Gundam videogames that have released since the early 1980s, across virtually every conceivable console, in arcades, on PC and mobile and everywhere else. I've played close to a dozen myself over the last 20 years or so (there are nearly 30 on the Playstation 2, for example – Journey to Jaburo, anyone?) The point is, they've been trying to adapt the unique thrill of Mobile Suit Gundam to interactive media since its inception, and now here comes Gundam Versus, a big, bombastic, hyper-customizable online arena fighter that shoves the entire franchise in a combat blender and invites you to jump into the cockpit.

At its gleaming metal core, Gundam Versus isn't all that complicated, in spite of the teeming options available to you when you first boot the game up. You pick your favorite mobile suit from an enormous array of robots that span pretty much every iteration of the franchise, choose your secondary weapon loadout and then you're dropped into an arena with a handful of other robots to wail on eachother until enough of you blow up to end the match. The combat is intense, complex, layered and difficult to master, but arena combat is all there is.

The controls aren't particularly intuitive at first if you haven't played a game like this before (and they don't make very many of them, so don't feel bad if you haven't). It doesn't play like a character action game, it plays like a twin-stick mecha fighter, more Virtual On than, say, a Musou game or Powerstone. You can run at your enemies, but it won't get you very far – instead, movement is based chiefly on a variety of dash and jump moves that work in concert with your lock-on system, using both the right analog stick and the D-pad to dash around and execute your ranged and melee attacks. Your loadout gives you a ranged Striker unit and most of the mobile suits have a stagger attack that will stun your enemy and allow you to move in for the kill. You've got a small variety of special attacks, and then a choice between either Blazing Mode or Lightning Mode, meters that fill and when activated give you an extra boost to either melee or ranged attacks. It's a complex, highly customizable system that took me a little while to get accustomed to – I lost a whole lot in the early going, but once I got used to dashing around, watching my overheat meter (and jamming the melee button while spinning around Zakus) I feel like I picked it up well enough. Once you get a feel for the admittedly strange controls, it starts feeling good, even a little addictive.

The intense customization available means it'll take a while for arena combat to get stale. For my money, the game's biggest and brightest feature is the frankly enormous selection of mobile suits to choose from – if you have a favorite Gundam, odds are it's in here and looks spectacular. Pilots are rendered in faithful 2D, and every time you start Ultimate or Trial mode you get a little (notably untranslated) intro showcasing the major mobile suits from that series. There's a horde mode, which you can adjust the difficulty on and either play solo or with your pals online. “Trial Battle” is a series of scenarios designed for single-player that slowly ramps up the difficulty and, for me anyway, functioned way more as the game's tutorial than the actual tutorial, which does little more than explain the controls. Online play is robust; you have a variety of matchmaking options, and can go 1v1, 2v2 or 3v3 in both casual and player match mode. I never had a problem getting into a match of any kind – it never took more than a minute or two, and lag was rarely an issue though I did get dumped out of a handful of matches due to connectivity problems. There's a currency system for upgrading your mobile suit – GP is awarded at the end of nearly every combat mode in the game, and after a few dozen matches I'd leveled up enough to buy some decent upgrades. You can also unlock battle tags, alternate pilots, all sorts of fun cosmetic junk from years of Gundam history. It's a robust package.

Graphically, the game looks like a glossy arcade port, which it isn't, but it's fitting the game looks this way given Gundam Versus' long arcade lineage. It runs great on a base PS4 – they're not really pushing any graphical boundaries here, and the framerate manages to keep up with the frenetic action for the most part. Background music is culled from a wide selection of Gundam themes. I'm not sure how well this is implemented, given the tracks will just repeat and sometimes don't match up with the action very well, but hearing the classic Gundam theme while you're ripping Zakus apart sure is satisfying. Gundam Versus isn't going to give your console a workout, but it just isn't a very graphically complex game. These are mecha designed for animation, beating eachother to smithereens in single-room arenas.

I'm not sure how much more time I'm gonna wind up dumping in to Gundam Versus. The longevity of the game – once you're done fumbling around in single-player mode - is all in the multiplayer, leveling up, mastering the combat and taking on skilled pilots around the world. Like most online fighters, if you spend any amount of time with the multiplayer, you'll very quickly learn the skill level you're expected to play at if you want to be taken seriously in Ranked matches. The combat system is pretty deep, and you'll have to spend time digging in to your mobile suit's optimal upgrade path, learning the metagame. There's a threshold you'll hit after about 10 hours of screwing around where you've run through most of the single-player material, scrolled through all their art assets, customized your mobile suit within an inch of its life, and then all that's left is the ocean of hyper-skilled aggro Gundam pilots waiting to kick your ass in Ranked mode. At that point you're left with a choice: spend the time getting good enough to fight those guys, or just hang out in kiddie pool for a while until you eventually lose interest and move on.

If you're a casual player and love yourself some Gundam, I think there's enough in Gundam Versus to recommend it – you'll get more than a few hours of entertainment scrolling through mecha, taking on single-player challenges and messing around in casual online play before bumping up against the multiplayer skill hike. For fans of obscure and unloved Gundams, odds are they're included in this game and there's a real thrill in taking them out of the garage and wailing on Char for a while. In the vast, expansive galaxy of Gundam games, Gundam Versus feels polished, plays great, rewards skill and time investment and has plenty of fanservice for longtime devotees of the franchise. It's worth your time if you count yourself among the mobile suit faithful.

- Zac Bertschy

NEWS

THE WII SHOP IS SHUTTING DOWN, AND THIS IS A VERY BAD THING

The darkest nightmare of digital distribution is finally upon us, as Nintendo has announced that the Wii Shop Channel will be shutting down. You'll no longer be able to add points to your account as of March 27 next year, and the shop itself will shut down on January 31, 2019. There will apparently be a system in place to redownload purchased titles, but this too will eventually be killed off. This will leave around 400 Virtual Console games and 300 WiiWare titles—depending on your region—in the same state as P.T., a far off memory of something that business has decided will no longer exist.

To be clear, this makes sense for Nintendo. Running servers for a decade-old console that's two generations out of date doesn't make fiscal sense. But Nintendo's announcement, such as it is, was a simple statement of “yeah, we're killing the service” without any apparent regard for the long-term implications of shutting down the library of an entire digital distribution channel. Microsoft made similar plans for the Xbox Live Indie Games channel—which despite a delay is still set to shut down this month—but at the very least they've made statements alluding to efforts to preserve those games for the future. Nintendo? The only thing they've implied is “please understand.”

The precedent this sets is concerning, to say the least. Digital distribution has been a wonderful thing for the industry, allowing tons of games to get made—including many of the very best games of the last decade—that otherwise never would've existed. On WiiWare specifically, that means the Bit.Trip series, LostWinds, and even My Life as a King. Most of those games have become available in other forms, but certainly not all of them. Then there are the only official North American releases of stuff like Rondo of Blood and Sin & Punishment. All gone, because nobody was willing to consider the long-term consequences of this stuff. This is bad enough on a consumer angle, but it's downright nightmarish when you start considering game preservation.

When we start talking about the true long-term, however, the problems of preservation aren't limited to digital distribution. Time wears on physical media and we're still working through how long cartridges and discs will actually last through the years to come. Yet the problem of digital games preservation is one we're having today. The lucky bit, such as it is, is that the Wii has been so thoroughly broken open by hackers and modded to death that every digital game on the store is easily accessible to anyone with a BitTorrent client. But it's tremendously disappointing that our only apparent means of preserving these games comes from the work of pirates. And what happens when a better protected system shuts down its store? We still don't have a clue.

NIOH IS COMING TO PC, AND LIKE ALL GOOD PC GAMES IT WILL HAVE HATS

I'm scared of Nioh. I played the beta back when that was happening, its take on Souls-style gameplay was quite good—but very, very hard. The basic combat just required a whole bunch more dexterity than the more patient style of Souls, and it's the first time I felt like I had to actually “get good” rather than just “get patient” at one of these games.

And now, Nioh can scare me on PC, too. The game will be coming to Steam on November 7 in a package that includes all the story DLC from the jump. No word yet on whether the Complete Edition will also hit PS4, but it will in Japan, so maybe there's hope for console players. PS4 fans, however, will definitely not get that absolutely ridiculous and wonderful Valve-themed bit of headgear.

Don't get too happy, because there's a bizarre bit of wording in the press release, saying that PC players will have the option of an Action Mode running at 60fps or a Movie Mode running at 4k, which is definitely not a choice you wanna try and force people playing games on computers to make. They will voice their annoyance, and they will do it quite aggressively.

HERE'S THE DARK SORCERY THAT MADE BREATH OF THE WILD SO GOOD

I don't know if you've heard about it or not, but it turns out that most recent Zelda game is quite good. Like, unbelievably good. “How could such a work be made by human hands?” good. Nintendo actually went out and explained their design process at the Computer Entertainment Developers Conference last month, and translations have just appeared courtesy of Matt Walker (who incidentally happens to be a production manager at Capcom).

The dark secret is that Nintendo is really, really good at making video games. Breath of the Wild's open world is carefully constructed to just barely obscure points of interest from every angle, with slow chains of reveals ensuring that actually finding something would have an impact. From one angle, passing by a rock face, then a hill, then a gate finally a reveals a tower that was in the field of view all along. The field design uses what they call the “triangle rule,” which offers two things—it obscures points of interest and offers players the choice of whether to go over or around.

Nintendo's talks were about more than field design, with bits on UI and sound design also translated and summarized. The Japanese title treatment and font design were designed for maximum nostalgic impact, and—well, there's a whole bunch more. It's all on Twitter, so here are the threads on world design, UI, and sound. Well worth browsing through if you've any interest in how great games get made.

UPCOMING RELEASES

LAYTON'S MYSTERY JOURNEY: KATRIELLE AND THE MILLIONAIRES' CONSPIRACY
Developer: Level-5
Publisher: Level-5
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: October 6
MSRP: $39.99

If that title looks familiar, it's because this game came out earlier in the year on mobile. Now it's on a dedicated gaming platform so I guess it's “real” now, or something. Either way, it's a fresh Layton adventure starring the good professor's daughter, clearing up mysteries and solving puzzles in search of her missing father. Also, this game is $16 on mobile for, as much as I can tell, exactly the same content.

MARIO & LUIGI: SUPERSTAR SAGA + BOWSER'S MINIONS
Developer: AlphaDream
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: October 6
MSRP: $39.99

When was the last time I mentioned in this column how absolutely insufferable Mario & Luigi: Dream Team was? Because it absolutely was, and my experience was so unpleasant that now I can't even think of the good Mario & Luigi games without remembering that utter tedium. But hey, Superstar Saga was absolutely terrific, and it served as a showcase of the wit and charm Nintendo's localization team could display. This remake features updated graphics, but the big new feature is the Bowser's Minions campaign, which features a you taking strategic command of a troupe of Mushroom Kingdom baddies in a parallel side-story.

SUMMON NIGHT 6: LOST BORDERS
Developer: Media Vision
Publisher: Gaijinworks
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PlayStation Vita
Release Date: October 10
MSRP: $59.99 / $44.99

Wait, how many weeks have I written that this game is coming out soon? Four? Five? A dozen? Does this series actually exist? Am I being haunted by the spirits of disgruntled localizers, constantly pushing back the release date of a niche VN strategy game for no other reason than to torment me?

TOUHOU KOBUTO V: BURST BATTLE
Developer: Cubetype
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PlayStation Vita / Nintendo Switch
Release Date: October 10
MSRP: $29.99

Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle is a third-person versus bullet hell game with adorable girls who shoot magic at each other. I can't really add anything more than that, but I do believe this serves as final proof that the Switch will, indeed, house all those games the Vita will soon no longer be able to.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
I really, really wish they would go ahead and admit that their justifications for sexy Shelob are entirely marketing-related and have nothing to do with Tolkien lore. Shadow of Mordor was a wonderfully distilled version of AAA design tropes, and it seems that Middle-Earth: Shadow of War will follow it up well, but I'd be so much happier if these weren't Lord of the Rings games.


discuss this in the forum (14 posts) |
bookmark/share with:

The X Button homepage / archives