It is a crime that it’s taken this long for Gundam Versus to be localised. The Versus series has been running for years in Japan, and has consistently been one of the most jaw-dropping, palm-drenching pieces of arena-action software to grace arcade cabinets and home consoles. Even without official localisations, the series has grown a global following and spawned local tournaments. And now, Bandai Namco has blessed us international fans of the series with an official localization of the latest entry in the franchise.
If you haven’t played a Gundam Versus game before, it’s a 3D arena fighter like none other. The comparison to classic mecha series Virtual-On is often made, but the Versus series takes that framework and applies smooth lock-on systems and varied attack combinations, as well as the huge cast of playable robots, and serves up an almost intimidating gameplay experience.
The tutorials do nothing to help you ease in, unfortunately. There are 3 sets of tutorial battles, and each one drops you into a practice map, shows you a page from the game manual, and then quickly moves on after you kill the enemy standing in front of you. Even during tutorial battles where they only tell you about some kind of defensive or movement mechanic you have to defeat the enemy. It’s bizarre. The tutorials are essentially a more cumbersome version of going into training mode and pressing all the buttons on your controller. Even worse, these missions tell you the buttons, but give you absolutely no info on how to actually use them, and that is definitely important if you want to stand a chance against other players.
Gundam Versus is comparable to most fighting games though. You can hop in with little skill or combo practice, pick a robot, and just have some mindless fun. There are over 90 Gundam units from the history of the long-running anime series to play as and even more to use as assist characters, from the OG series all the way to the latest titles like Iron Blooded Orphans or, my personal favorite, Gundam Thunderbolt. Pick the coolest looking robot and just mess around if you want, but if you go into a proper online battle unprepared, expect to be thoroughly decimated.
Still, if you’re willing to put the work in, or you don’t care and just want flashy explosive Gundam action, Versus delivers in spades. Each character has a suite of unique melee and ranged attacks, as well as bombastic ultimate attacks. Each of their attacks lifts a lot of inspiration from the things they do in the actual anime, so the Custom Gouf from 08th MS Team does all his wacky chain attacks just as you’d expect. You’ll even hear the pilots of each Gundam talking in battle, but with almost all of the dialogue in the game being without subtitles, most players won’t be able to tell what anybody is saying.
The fan service continues with the audio and visuals of the game. Pilots are all drawn in the art styles of their respective series, every suit looks crisply detailed and well-lit, and there’s a huge amount of music from the Gundam franchise available to hear during battles, including some of the more iconic opening themesongs. Getting to hear the iconic hectic jazz from the Gundam Thunderbolt movie while I play the game was a dream come true.
Unfortunately, while the core experience is well-polished, there isn’t a whole lot to do in the game. Firstly, there’s the shocking lack of a local versus mode, which has been present in every other entry in the series. This was where I got almost all of my enjoyment in previous games from, and it’s still hard to accept a Gundam Versus game that I can’t boot up and goof around in with my friends at home.
If you want to play against other players, your only option is online. Good luck finding a game, though. In almost all my time with the game, I could rarely find more than a couple of open lobbies, and while 2v2 quickplay was always active, it was mostly impossible to find 1v1 and 3v3 games. When you do manage to find a game, it’s a crisp and responsive experience.
The online lobbies operate on an open-system similar to fighting games like Guilty Gear or Blazblue, where you can have over a dozen players in the same lobby, each divided into different brackets so they can all be playing at the same time instead of waiting around watching matches. It’s a neat way to keep everyone in the lobby engaged in action, although you always run the risk of being pitted against a player with a poor connection against your will, forced to sit through a choppy lag-infested match until the timer runs out.
If you’d prefer an offline experience, well, there’s not a lot. There’s Wave mode where you battle through 15, 30, or 45 waves of enemies in one sitting, or a mission mode where you clear sets of arcade style battles with branching paths. Both experiences are essentially the same, beyond the wacky bonus waves in Wave mode, but after doing them a couple of times, it’s hard to find the drive to continue. The previous game had a wonderful mission mode with tons of unique battles to play through, forcing you to play a different mobile suit each time. It gave you an excuse to try out other characters, which this game really lacks.
I’m happy to finally have an official English release of Gundam Versus in my hands, but confused as to why it feels less feature rich than the last game. There’s the amazing framework and attention to detail that makes this such a fun game to play, but there’s just very little for you to sit down and actually put those gameplay systems to use in. Having a group of friends to duke it out with will add a lot more value to the experience, but without that, you’re looking at a delicious burger that’s missing a bun and maybe just has a little piece of lettuce on it.
Version tested: PlayStation 4