Branching Path: Gundam Versus (Trial Version)
Am I living in a dream? A proper Gundam fighting game is actually being localized worldwide this fall. It’s been a long time coming and the dream is real. Sure, Gundam Extreme Vs Force came out on PlayStation Vita last year but it was a stripped down, subpar version of this beloved series. The prior PlayStation 3 console ports were only released in Japan and I spent dozens upon dozens of hours with them.
Gundam Versus is a tricky thing to explain, though that’s part of its charm to me. At its most basic form, it’s a 2-vs-2 arena fighter similar to Virtual-On on a surface level. The key difference is that Gundam Versus operates on a Cost system assigned to its Mobile Suit characters. These numerical values of 500, 400, 300, and 200 correspond with their combat capabilities - the higher it is, the more powerful it will be.
So why don’t both players pick 500 Suits? Gundam Versus’s lifebars are different from other traditional fighting games. In Versus, lifebars come in the form of a Team Gauge; each Team Gauge has a total value of 1000. If a team had two characters that cost 500 each, all it would take is defeating both once to win the match. This setup is possible, but not ideal in most cases.
I got a chance to play it briefly during a demo period that lasted only for two hours. It's pitched as the “next generation” of these Gundam fighting games, so Gundam Versus has a lot of new stuff going for it. This game is tailor-made for consoles while the latest iteration of Gundam Extreme Vs will continue to live exclusively in Japanese arcades. I think this is fine; Versus has a lot of smart enhancements and my hope is that it provides a great tutorial for newcomers to learn the game.
It frustrated me to see that the Extreme Vs games on PS3 had no sort of guidance to new players; this is understandable though since that it was only meant for Japanese audiences that had access to it in arcades already. Fresh players coming into the PS3 Extreme Vs games essentially had to learn through a trial by fire. With Gundam Versus, I feel that it is absolutely vital that it contains in-game lessons that teach movement techniques and sample situations to help out partners.
Many mechanics and concepts in Versus will be familiar to veterans. Boost dashing, stepping, lock-on color range indicators, boost management, and swerving function identically to past entries. Spending boost responsibly is critical to success in these games - the more boost you land on the ground with, the less time you spend recovering to move again. Completely draining the boost gauge leads into Overheat and players are super vulnerable when they land in that state.
Unlike Virtual-On, the Gundam 2-vs-2 games always has you locked onto a target. You can freely switch between any of your foes at any time. The color of your lock-on reticle determines whether your shot will track. When a beam rifle is fired from a green lock-on, it will travel directly forward no matter what. If that same weapon was used at a red lock-on, the beam shot would alter its course travelling more towards that opponent. A yellow lock-on, on the other hand, usually means that an enemy is knocked down and won’t sustain damage if a shot is fired at them.
One of the biggest changes in Versus lies in its Awakening system, now referred to as Gears. Past Awakening systems would refill the boost gauge and refill your ammo; it has seen a few tweaks here and there, though it stayed fundamentally the same. In Gundam Versus, Gears now offer a substantial benefit to your partner upon activation too. This comes in two flavors: Blaze Gear and Lightning Gear - you choose one after selecting your unit.
Both Blaze and Lightning Gears work a lot like the Assault and Blast Burst systems in Extreme Vs Full Boost. Blaze is more tailored towards Mobile Suits that like to put pressure on enemies up close with higher movement speed and increased attack power. Meanwhile, Lightning boasts an increased lock-on range and higher defense among other benefits. Both Gears still replenish ammo and boost on the user; there’s one big fundamental difference that separates Versus from its predecessors.
Blaze Gear restocks all of your partner’s ammo while Lightning Gear restores your partner’s boost.
It may seem like a small change from the offset, but it makes a world of difference in practice. Communication and teamwork have always been an important element in this series. This time around, properly timing Gear activations can aid you and your partner press the offensive together and even save each other’s lives in some cases.
Another significant addition to Gundam Versus is a brand-new system - meet the Strikers. The conceptual framework of Strikers is sound on paper though it was difficult for me to determine its overall effectiveness in just 2 hours with the trial version. Strikers are, at their core, universally selectable Assist units. Think of it as choosing another move after you select a unit. There’s a set amount of times you can use them in a single life; activating a Gear or respawning will replenish them.
They’re an odd replacement to the old system in which a handful of Mobile Suits had unique Assist units integrated into their moveset. For instance, the RX-78-2 Gundam in Extreme Vs Full Boost could call on the Guntank to help it out and no one else could. In Versus, you can unlock the Guntank as a Striker for everyone to equip. A wild twist on a core mechanic no doubt. I don’t dislike it.
Strikers come in all shapes and sizes. Some fire multiple beam rifle shots. Others blast bazooka or mortar shots and a few even swoop in for a melee strike to stun enemies momentarily. The projectile properties differ from one another as well. A favorite of mine charged up a sniper rifle shot making it handy to punish landings. There were only roughly 30 Strikers to try out in the trial; the full version promises to have a lot more than that.
Boost Dive is another new element introduced in Gundam Versus. Much like Strikers, it’s technically a mechanic expanded into a universal core system. Boost diving is a separate button that allows players to land on the ground immediately. Once you commit to a Boost Dive, you can’t do anything until you land.
In the Extreme Vs series, there was a primitive form of fast-falling in this fashion known as an “amekyan” in the community. This most often popped up when a suit summoned Assists and fired a shot right after it. Instead of allowing the Assist summon animation to play out, players could cancel it seamlessly to retain momentum and fall to the ground. Only a handful of suits could do this though; there was no consistency on which Mobile Suits could and could not amekyan.
Thus, Gundam Versus is aiming to rectify that with Boost Dive. It also adds another layer of varying up movement patterns that keeps you guessing on when an enemy will land. Of course, boost diving too often will make you predictable. There is still a recovery period of when you can move again after boost diving and it does consume a chunk of the boost gauge. Boost diving into Overheat took a long time to get moving again.
Several quality of life improvements make Versus feel new again to me. Being able to see your partner’s exact HP value was taken from Gundam Extreme Vs Maxi Boost On. Looking back, it’s baffling that it took this long to implement it; better late than never I suppose. An embedded radar near the top center of the screen helped improve my situational awareness without keeping my eyes entirely off the opposing team. Seeing the precise amount of damage I take from an attack is also a new thing - as strange as that sounds.
I also like how clean Gundam Versus looks. Unit models have a sexy sheen over them that really make them stand out. Environmental textures are crisp and the lighting is quite impressive. I especially enjoy the new wavy effects of stepping and the soft cue of boosters firing up when starting a boost dash The brand-new NU Library graphics engine for Versus is a big step-up from the Extreme Vs series. This engine is designed by Julien Merceron who also worked on Metal Gear Solid V’s Fox Engine and Final Fantasy XV’s Luminous Engine.
My one beef with the UI is the indicators for when an opponent is locked onto you. These were much bigger in Extreme Vs and while it did occupy more space, it always made them very visible in the heat of combat. Versus now has them as big triangles that make the moment-to-moment visuals less busy. As a result, I personally have to place a bit more attention to them more than I’d like to.
Players coming from Gundam Extreme Vs Full Boost on the PS3 will appreciate a lot of the overhauled menus. It’s a lot quicker getting into games with less obnoxious loading times to connect to them. Players must lock in as a team before getting into a match with another team; waiting for a match to start places you in a simple room with a training dummy that takes no loading screen to get into. This change alone will make the online experience that much better than its console predecessors. Previous Gundam game players will most likely pick up Gundam Versus; there’s almost no reason not to.
That leads to the bigger question to people who have a passing interest and would-be first timers - is Gundam Versus a game they would enjoy? My honest answer is yes, but it depends.
Depends on what? Whether the full version of the game will have a decent tutorial for you folks. First impressions are critical and I won’t deny that a lot of people I know eventually soured on the Extreme Vs PS3 ports because learning it takes time. I can’t speak to whether the single player aspect of Versus will hold up. There will be a decent amount of online co-op modes though I can’t imagine those will be as replayable as the real 2-vs-2 meat of it.
Gundam Versus is undeniably one hell of a game and I enjoyed just a taste of it so far. It offers something new to both newcomers and veterans. There’s an incredible amount of polish on it and aims to rectify the weaknesses of the previous Extreme Vs series. Whether it ends up being successful at that is anyone’s guess; in the mean time, consider me excited.
You can view the full character roster of Gundam Versus here. It launches on July 6 in Japan and heading west this fall for the PlayStation 4.