Each mobile suit has a lot of different ways to attack—either with one of its main weapons, a secondary weapon or ability, a charged attack, or an impressive special attack. Most of the different attacks can be a lot of fun to play with, but, unfortunately, the melee attacks are rather underwhelming.
The idea of using a super-heated battle-axe to cleave through your foes, or a giant spinning beam-naginata to dice them up sounds really bloody cool, doesn’t it? The problem is that Gundam Battle Universe seldom provides an opportunity for the player to use these kinds of attacks. Because you’re almost always engaged in combat with numerous enemy units, you’re always in a position to be shot at. To use a melee attack you have to get in close to your target—very close—all the while hoping that the guy you’re swinging at doesn’t start shooting at you, and that all of his (or her; there are plenty of female enemies that want you dead, too) friends don’t shoot at you, either. Melee attacks rarely succeed without the player taking substantial damage, so it’s usually best to focus on evasion and take out as many foes as possible with ranged attacks. I was never put into a position where I needed—or felt compelled—to use a melee attack. More than anything, the inclusion of the melee system feels like an after-thought that the developers never really put any work behind. Other gundam-games have implemented a feature where the player’s mobile suit will dash forward when executing a melee attack, greatly increasing the range at which such attacks can be used. It is rather unfortunate that such a feature was omitted from Gundam Battle Universe.
There are tons of different types of missions spread through the various campaigns, some more fun that others, ranging from infiltrating an enemy fortress, defending a warship to breaking through enemy lines to destroy a building or warship. One of the more interesting—and also more irritating—types of missions involves moving large supply crates from one area of a map to the other—often while fending off waves of enemy attackers. While these missions do provide a welcome change of pace to the battle, they can also be very frustrating. Because the game’s auto-targeting feature will instantly flip to another target once you destroy a hostile, you’ll often find yourself staring down the barrel of your rifle at one of the crates just after shooting down a hostile. It’s all too easy to press that attack button one more time, and watch your crate explode. There are a few of these missions where the crates are invulnerable to attack, but for the most part they have limited health and can be destroyed by most weapons with a single hit. It can be very irritating having to protect these crates not just from the enemy attacks, but your own attacks as well.
Most of the missions are pretty fast-paced: you can complete the objectives inside of a minute or two, if your fast. To spice things up, mission environments can have different gravities—there’s the zero gravity and full gravity battles native to most Gundam games, and low-gravity areas as well. To add to that variety, though, there are several missions that are spread out over multiple stages—many of which include branching paths depending on which objectives are completed. These are a whole lot of fun to play, if only for the added length and sense of desperation they inspire. New to Gundam Battle Universe, you can now restart a multi-stage mission from the most recent stage, rather than starting the mission all over from the beginning—a feature that was inexplicably absent from the trio of previous Gundam Battle games. For branching missions, the areas you have to get to in order to proceed to the next stage are marked as either, “A,” or, “B,” on the mini-map, and it seems like it’d be a simple thing to simply run to the area in question and move to the designated stage. Unfortunately, the faster you mobile suit is, the smaller the stages seem. I would often find myself accidentally moving on to a stage I didn’t want to go to simply because I was too pre-occupied with fighting the enemies in the current stage. Mistakes like that can be infuriating when you’re trying to finish off that one, last S-rank.
I’ve tried to cover the gameplay as best I can: in the end, Gundam Battle Universe is an insanely fun, atrociously addictive game. It can be a bit daunting at first, I’ll admit, because the controls aren’t your typical third-person action game controls. Instead of moving around with the analog stick, you use the D-Pad for movement and the analog stick is used to switch between different targets. Add the unfamiliar controls to the fast-paced and well-populated battlefields, and new players will quite often feel overwhelmed. When you first start out, it can be a hard game to get used to. Fortunately, the more you play Gundam Battle Universe the more comfortable the controls become—soon, they’ll be second nature. It’d be a shame to write off this excellent game because of its non-standard controls—trust me, once you get the hang of it, you’ll never be putting this game down.
Gundam Battle Universe is a gigantic game. There’s tons of content right from the start, and an unthinkable quantity of things to unlock—and all of that unlocking will expend an immense quantity of time, even outside from the simple act of defeating all eleven campaigns. It’s a lot of work, but a lot of fun, too. You can unlock all kinds of nifty things other than new mobile suits—new pilots (drawn from the various manga, OVAs, anime and movies) new special weapons, new operators, infinite tuning points and more. The coolest thing to unlock would have to be the era-restrictions. When you unlock era-restrictions, you can use any mobile suit from any time period in any other time period. The performance difference between mobile suits of different eras is breathtaking. There’s nothing suite like seeing a Zssa, a mobile suit that could barely hold its own in UC 0088, suddenly become the single most destructive unit at the battle of Solomon in UC 0079. Era restrictions are especially cool if you unlock some of the extra mobile suits from the “Extra” missions—these mobile suits are drawn from the various manga and novels taking place in the latter portion of the timeline—which can normally only be used in the Extra missions. Of special note, you can unlock the Xi and Penelope Gundams from the side-story Hathaway’s Flash, the Hi-Nu Gundam from the novel Beltochika’s Children, and the Gundam F91 from the movie of the same name. Most of these units are simply not available in any of the other Gundam games, so most Gundam fans will be itching to blast through the game as fast as possible to unlock them.
So the campaigns are huge and numerous, there are hundreds of different mobile suits to unlock, there are extra missions, there is an immense customization system for both mobile suits and weapons, different pilots to unlock—pilots that level up as you play depending onhow you play. Oh, and lest I forget, there’s also a multiplayer mode and single-player instant action. If that’s not enough replay content for you, you must have been seriously disappointed by every single game you have ever played.
I’ve never been too comfortable reviewing the difficulty of the game—more often than not, it’s too subjective of a thing to go into—so I’ll be as concise as I can while offering my two cents: Gundam Battle Universe is a challenging game, that never really suffers from being too easy or too hard. There is a strong difficulty curve, but it’s nearly equal to the learning curve, so as the missions become more difficult, the player is also becoming more adept at playing the game. As such, you will constantly feel a pressure (cue newtype flash and swan imagery) when playing, and will almost always be challenged in one way or another, yet you’ll rarely find yourself in a situation where the game is too easy—you’ll never be in a situation where you get bored. A lot of that stems from the fast-paced nature of the game, which requires the player to always be on his or her toes, always moving around, during a mission. A lot of it also comes from the fact that the artificial intelligence is actually intelligent, something of a novelty in games these days. Enemies will eject dummies, toss up smoke bombs, spread Minovsky particles and use the terrain for cover. Nothing in this game will disappoint you, least of all the difficulty.
The sound effects in Gundam Battle Universe are, frankly, top-notch. Virtually everything you hear in the game is authentic to the anime, movie or OVA. Missions that occur during Char’s Counterattack, have the music and audio effects from the movie playing. The same for Gundam 0080, Zeta Gundam, and all the rest. I found myself tingly with goosebumps dancing up and down my neck when first I played a mission in UC 0093 and heard Char’s Neo Zeon theme playing in the background as Char and Amuro fought each other to prevent the Earth’s imminent demise on the set of a crumbling Luna II asteroid. Beam rifles sound like beam rifles, mobile suits exploding sound like mobile suits exploding—and yes, even the trademark newtype chime is there. In a very appropriate twist, if you choose to play with a newtype pilot, you will hear the telltale chime each time an enemy targets you—giving you just enough warning to avoid the shot. It’s little touches like that which make Gundam Battle Universe such an insanely cool game.
I should also mention that all of the voices in the game (other than the new voices of custom pilots and operators, who are not present in any of the anime or movies) are voiced by the original Japanese actors. There’s nothing quite like listening to Shuichi Ikeda and Tohru Furuya shouting at each other during a frantic battle to get the adrenaline pumping. Authentic voices, authentic sound effects and authentic music really help to create an atmosphere for the game that’s very true to the source material—and nearly flawless.
Unfortunately, the music taken from the anime and movies is limited solely to the instrumental variety—this means that some of the rather emotional vocal tracks from Mobile Suit Gundam and Zeta Gundam—even the infamous “This Is Not Gundam!” from Double Zeta—are absent from the game. I think it was a huge missed opportunity, as many scenes—particularly those in missions during the One Year War—seem rather flat without the music we’ve all come to recognize. The climactic three-way battle between Amuro Ray, Char Aznable and Lalah Sune, for example, has very little tension. It’s a real shame, particularly considering how other gundam games (such as Project Pegasus and Encounters in Space) have used the original vocal tracks to incredible effect.
For a PSP game, the graphics in Gundam Battle Universe are pretty good, but they’re not the best. The other big Gundam title on the PSP, Rengou vs. ZAFT Portable, certainly looks better, but I’m inclined to forgive Gundam Battle Universe it’s lack of prettiness in light of it’s sheer size. To be fair, the mobile suits, mobile armors, warships, planes, and other models in the game look spectacular. There’s some nice lighting effects going on that make everything look really cool. The weapons effects, too, are top notch, and really help make the battlefields feel alive.
The fog effects (seen as a mist aspect to certain terrains, or as a limited area-of-effect special ability) is particularly cool. A white mist blanketing a level and decreasing visibility really increases the tension in battle, so it’s a shame there are no other environmental effects. All of the suits have lots of animations and unique attacks, and everything looks great. The problem with the graphics rears it’s ugly heat when you stop looking at the mobile suits and start looking around them. Though there are many different mission areas, all of them are small and relatively uninspired. The textures used are particularly bland—particularly in the Axis and Jaburo levels—and can sometimes make it impossible to see the shape of the terrain. I could be charitable and chalk up the unappealing mission areas to simple hardware limitations, but I’m inclined to think that, as is common with Gundam games, the terrain of the battlefield was simply left as an afterthought.