More like Mobile Suit Boredom, am I right?
I had every episode of Gundam Wing’s original run on Toonami taped on VHS. I bought every Gundam plastic model kit I could find (and afford). My teenage love for animé was born from the 3PM PST time slot it occupied. Ask me anything about the Gundam franchise, however, and you’ll be met with a shrug. Names, alliances, betrayals—I remember none of these things. I remember one guy had a ponytail. One of the robots had two curved blades, I think. Didn’t one Gundam have a giant scythe?
Releasing on the not-quite-dead Vita during the not-quite-dead summer, Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs-Force attempts to refresh my memory of the franchise with mixed results. Random difficulty spikes, boring missions, and cumbersome controls dampen what is otherwise a solid Gundam fan’s flashback during a heat stroke.
At its core, Extreme Vs-Force is a highlight reel of the franchise’s notable moments in playable form. While that should be a sufficient excuse to blow up some big, bad Gundams, the game goes out of its way to try and explain why. An A.I. must visit key moments in the Gundam universe history and relive them in order to… honestly I have no idea. Even the two animé girl A.I.s bantering back and forth could not make the exposition pill easier to swallow.
This is a game for the fans, which makes me wonder why the game tries to justify its existence. It should be noted that the entirety of the game’s dialogue is in Japanese with English subtitles. I have no qualms with that, but these subtitles are missing and/or hidden during missions. If someone is trying to tell me that my base is being captured, I don’t know about it until a bright red LOSE flashes on the screen.
Vs-Force attempts to be an arcade shooter, a strategy game, and a love letter to Gundam all at once, hoping that quantity trumps quality like a Hometown Buffet. The shooting is fun until you’re swarmed with enemies and the lock-on disorients your already crowded view. Giving commands to your teams is simple enough until you realize how limited it actually is. Something as simple as flanking an enemy is made almost impossible as teams will only follow preset paths to their marked destinations. This results in having to pick up the slack of your dumbfounded A.I. as the enemy team throws wave after wave of aggressive robot killers your way.
The game’s easiest levels boil down to keeping your distance and sniping enemies using its generous lock-on button. Did I say generous? I meant clingy. Locking onto an enemy means you will not disengage until their death animation finishes. Removing a lock (thereby freeing camera movement) requires holding down the shoulder button in addition to pressing the circle button. What should be intuitive feels clunky and inefficient, especially when trying to flee a chaotic battle. During the more challenging segments, I found the most effective strategy was to turn the game off and have a good cry over my chosen profession.
The novelty of being able to play as countless Gundams from throughout the franchise quickly wears off as the game buckles under the weight of its mediocrity. That being said, at least the game gives you plenty of itself. With side missions to unlock, medals to earn and new Gundams to acquire, at least you won’t feel cheated out of content.
Keeping with the all-you-can-eat metaphor, Vs-Force looks about as good as a Reno buffet. Environments are bland, flat-leveled affairs that look like they came from another, better PS1 game. Same goes for the explosions, which manage to suck all of the fun out of giant fighting robots. The Gundams themselves are nicely detailed, but weapons lack any meaningful variety. Melee attacks are the same one-two sword slash, while ranged weapons differ only in how many shots before you reload (how does one reload a laser, by the way?).
The game attempts to hide its blemishes by assaulting your screen with meters, gauges, and indicators, the most offensive of which is the enemy threat detector. Giant yellow and red arrows flash on the screen to indicate incoming enemy attacks. When surrounded by multiple threats, this turns the screen into a Dance Dance Revolution song. I know the game means well, filling my screen with all of this information, but it just serves as another example of Vs-Force’s counter-productive design.
If Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs-Force intends to be the resurgence of the franchise here in the West, it could not start on a more wrong foot. This game is not a primer; it is only for the Gundam devout. Only they may be able to forgive the clunky controls, the tedious battles, and the story that’s just as convoluted as its name. Only they will welcome its muddy graphics and absurd difficulty spikes. Everyone else should know better.