The history of Gundam games has had its ups and downs (mostly downs). It seems like making a game that draws from the enormous history of the Gundam franchise would be easy. There are hundreds of pre-existing designs to use and characters to draw on, but it seems like capturing the feel of piloting a mobile suit eludes many game designers. Ironically, one of the best series to carry the Gundam name, Gundam Breaker, is not actually set in any Gundam universe. Instead, it centers on battling Gunpla, which are intricately detailed plastic models of mobile suits. Unfortunately, the first three games in the Gundam Breaker series didn’t make it to the West, and the latest game, New Gundam Breaker, is the first time the series is seeing a worldwide release.
I’ve waded through some real crap to find decent Gundam games. I’ve played hours of Journey to Jaburo and Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire, just because I love the franchise so much. Those games are terrible, but at least they were standalone. New Gundam Breaker doesn’t have that excuse. Gundam Breaker 3 is possibly the best Gundam game ever made. All New Gundam Breaker had to do to be successful was to just follow its predecessors’ formula. Bandai Namco could have thrown some graphics upgrades, new mobile suits, and some new parts in and kept the same core systems and gameplay and New Gundam Breaker would have been excellent. Unfortunately, New Gundam Breaker changes pretty much everything that was fun about the previous games in the series. What remains is a pale imitation of Gundam Breaker 3.
New Gundam Breakers Review: A Harem, Gunpla-Building Anime Plot
The setup for New Gundam Breaker isn’t too important. You’re a new student at a high school centered around battling Gunpla. In this alternate world, you can step into a VR pod and transport your Gunpla into a virtual world where you can duke it out against other mobile suits. The story is told in visual novel style and is just generic anime stuff. It’s serviceable, but it’s mostly fluff to keep giving you reasons to battle Gunpla.
If the gameplay were more engaging, the story would likely be more intriguing. However, the combination of a lukewarm story and lousy gameplay combines to ensure you won’t get invested in either. The harem elements of the story are out of place, and the focus moves away from the Gunpla building and towards a pseudo-dating sim. I unequivocally don’t care about playing a high school dating sim when I should be dueling mobile suits. The story in Gundam Breaker 3 wasn’t award-winning, but at least it was focused entirely on Gunpla building and competition.
New Gundam Breakers Review: About as Far in the Wrong Direction as You Can Go
The gameplay, though, is where New Gundam Breaker falls entirely apart. Previously, you fought your way through multi-part, linear levels with a simple goal. Usually, you needed to take out a boss at the end of the level or destroy all the monoliths. It was simple, but it kept you moving ahead and allowed you to enjoy piloting your mobile suit. Apparently, the new development team behind New Gundam Breaker (the team behind the first three games, Ilinx, didn’t make the latest one) thought you needed more motivation, so now you’re harangued continuously by mission goals.
In New Gundam Breaker a quest system has been added. Instead of having a clear and simple goal at the beginning of a mission you instead have to take on little continually changing tasks. You’ll need to “open 10 crates,” “kill 20 enemies,” or take down (insert name here) enemy,” all within a certain amount of time. If you complete enough of these side quests then eventually the main quest will open up. Finish that up, and you win. What these quests end up doing, though, is place a lessened emphasis on battling other mobile suits. There’s no reason to take on the enemy team unless a quest tells you to.
This new format would be tolerable, but for the fact that the controls and core gameplay are weak compared to Gundam Breaker 3. Controls have always been a sore spot for Gundam games, but Gundam Breaker 3 got it right where so many others had failed. Mobile suits responded the way you thought they would. Gelgoogs were ponderous, while high mobility-types were zippier. Movement, in general, was much more fluid than that presented in New Gundam Breaker, and overall the new game feels laggier.
New Gundam Breakers Review: Bust a Move, or Not
Also changed is the way EX Actions and Burst Moves are handled. Previously, these charged over time and could be used at will as long as they were available. Now, though, there’s a weird leveling system in place. Your EX moves are locked at the start of each mission until you level up by completing tasks and killing enemies. As you level up, you unlock more EX Actions with all of them being available at level 5. This severely limits gameplay and is one of the worst changes to the series. Considering you work hard to unlock powerful parts and build your dream mobile suit, it’s ridiculous that you’re forced to grind every single mission to use your best attacks.
The most ridiculous change to Gundam Breaker‘s gameplay, though, is that you can no longer hit mobile suits when they’re downed. That’s right, if you knock down an enemy mobile suit, which was a major tactic in previous games, you have to sit and wait for them to get back up before you can damage them again. This is because, for the first time in the franchise, online PvP is available.
So, instead of balancing the gameplay, or making it to where you just can’t attack human players when they’re knocked down, the developers took a series that portrayed reasonably realistic-feeling mobile suit combat and turned it into a frustrating slog where you have to wait like a gentleman for your downed foe to finally scramble to their feet so you can kill them. Numerous times I found myself just standing around waiting for enemies to stand up so I could finally take them out. I absolutely hate it.
New Gundam Breakers Review: Hope You Like Putting Stuff in Boxes
The set up for each mission has changed as well. Each match is now 3-vs-3 is a large, squareish room. There are no more multi-part missions, and for the most part, you’re just going to be running around killing “neutral soldiers.” All the while you’re going to have to go out of your way to pick up new Gunpla parts and take them back to your team’s chest. That’s right, you no longer just automatically acquire parts when defeating enemies, you have to physically pick them up and drop them off, otherwise, you don’t get any when the match is over. You can only hold five at a time, so don’t expect to bring home many parts per mission since you’ll also have to be scrambling around opening crates or killing 20 Zaku IIs or whatever.
Having to physically pick up each Gunpla part ties into the new system that lets you quick-swap parts in battle. If you knock a piece off an enemy Gunpla, you can pick it up and equip it on the spot or take it to the crate to free up space. Any parts you have on you when the match ends you get to keep too.
Ostensibly, you’d think that this system gives players more choice. After all, in previous Gundam Breaker games, you were stuck with whatever parts you equipped to your Gunpla before a mission. In practice, this is an incredibly dumb addition to the game. Building your Gunpla in Gundam Breaker is meant to be an involved, thought out process. Choosing parts, painting, and customizing a mobile suit can take 15-30 minutes, so why would you want to change to some random part you found on the ground? Tuning your Gunpla’s parts to work well together and suit your playstyle is a massive attraction of the series. I don’t want to change parts out mid-battle, and I don’t want to carry them to some chest to ensure I get them after a match.
New Gundam Breakers Review: Lo-Fi
Even the act of building your mobile suit has changed for the worse in New Gundam Breaker. Although Unreal Engine 4 games typically look gorgeous, I feel like the switch to that engine was detrimental to the visuals. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but the Gunpla look more like Gunpla in this game. The mobile suits in Gundam Breaker 3 had a much more polished appearance, and even though they were portrayed as models in the game, when you were actually in action they looked like real mecha instead of plastic figures.
The paint and decoration features are much the same, with some trade-offs. You can apply more decals to your mobile suit in New Gundam Breaker, but only in limited, specific locations on your mobile suit. The ability to move them around has diminished somewhat. The option to add warning markings to your Gunpla is gone, which means the models in-game are no longer even faithful to the Gunpla they represent.
The worst change to do with Gunpla design deals with builder parts. Builder parts are little doodads you can add to your Gunpla that aren’t necessarily part of any particular mobile suit’s layout. These sort of generic parts let you further customize your mobile suit’s abilities without the need to equip a specific mobile suit part. You could add missiles, beam cannons, funnels, and tons of other components to your suit and gain new EX attacks. Some builder parts were cosmetic only, but for the most part, each of them added a new weapon or system to your Gunpla.
Well, kiss that goodbye, because builder parts in New Gundam Breaker are cosmetic only. Yep, all they do is give you a boost to your stats. You can’t use them to strap a bunch of missile pods to your suit and rain down hell on hapless Zakus and GMs. Not that it would matter much anyway because it would all be locked away for most of the time you spend in combat.
New Gundam Breakers Review: What Happened?
I know that Bandai Namco basically went back to the drawing board for this entry in the series. It’s the first developed internally, and it’s a new start to the series, thus the title New Gundam Breaker. I’m not sure what occurred to make Bandai Namco pull Ilinx off the franchise, but they should seriously consider patching things up. It’s a shame that New Gundam Breaker is the first worldwide release for the series because past games have so much to offer Gundam fans.
Instead of releasing this game worldwide, Bandai Namco should have just brought Gundam Breaker 3: Break Edition to the West. It already has an English language version that was released in the Asia region so it would have been a matter of printing the extra discs and maybe throwing some polish on the translation. I sincerely hope that Bandai Namco doesn’t take the reaction to this to mean that people don’t want Gundam games outside of Japan. That’s not the case. I imported Gundam Breaker 3 a few months ago, and it’s been one of my most played games this year.
New Gundam Breaker is a game that suffers from a multitude of issues. It could have used some extra time in development, as it apparently lacks the polish of previous games in the series. It also should have followed the direction of its predecessor more closely. Many of the things that made Gundam Breaker 3 so endearing the Gundam fans are either gone or present in a diminished form. Rather than spend time with this frustrating game, do yourself a favor and just import Gundam Breaker 3.
New Gundam Breaker was reviewed on a PS4 Pro via a digital copy provided by the publisher.