3/2 Wealth and GLORY to the Winner

Gundam: Battle Assault (1&2)

     The Mobile Suit Gundam anime revolutionized the industry by introducing giant humanoid robots, and using them as mass-produced tools against a backdrop of human drama and war instead of goofy giant robots with weaponry bordering on the magical.

     Good for them.

     Anyway, as one might expect from a franchise that's endured in one form or another since the 1970's, there's tons upon scads upon craploads of merchandise available. And naturally, that includes video games. And even more naturally for something Bandai has a hand in, the quality of the games varies like the mood of a manic-depressive off medication watching a video tape of Fantasy Mission Force with clips from Lifetime Original Movies and furry ravers spliced in at random intervals. Fortunately, they seem to have settled into a formula of producing 'simulator'-style action games running off identical engines with different suits, so that at least makes it easier to ballpark it.

     The Battle Assault games are a throwback, or cash-in. They're the American Playstation ports of a mid-to-late nineties arcade game called Gundam: The Battle Master. Why they didn't keep the BM moniker is a mystery overlooked by the fact that Battle Assault is a pretty lame name on its own. You'd think they would at least use a title more specific to the liscense, like Gundam: Newtypes Bloomers Party, or Gundam: Prettyboy Flower Power Hour. Battle Assault accomplishes the unthinkable task of being as sensical as Violence Fight while being less funny. That out of the way, I'll get to poking the games themselves with a stick.

     I lumped the two games into one because there really isn't a great deal of difference in play between the two. The first one has slightly grainier graphics, but it's strangely more fun because of the increased amount of battle scarring. The second one has a selection of Suits and pilots more familiar to Toonami audiences (G-Gundam, Endless Waltz characters being the principles) but just come soff kind of half-assed and cheesy in spite of having more voice bites and sharper graphics. BA2 also features a pretty lame 'Street Mode' where you have to trudge through the game over and over to unlock the other Street-available fighters, who don't even add up to half those available in VS. mode.

     Basically, this is typical Street Fighter-derivative style fighting. It plays a lot like the SNES Endless Duel, which seems to summarize most of Bandai's better fighters. In addition to punching and kicking as usual, each Suit has a long-range weapon of some kind of another (head vulcans, machine rifle) and a guard crush melee attack (when this is used, there's a significant delay and the announcer calls out "YOU CAN'T DEFEND!") It gets a bit aggravating as the controls are very literal about the motions going into a move. The 'diagonals' aren't part of the move input, so it's very easy for the game to read "backwards quarter circle after a dash" as "half circle." All the supers are a typical double quarter circle forward in BA1, and replaced by a single quarter and two attack triggers in the sequel.

     The differing sizes of opponents and 'loose' combo system really make these games feel like Marvel vs. Capcom. I can't stand it when these games put such an emphasis on juggling and literally kicking your opponent when they're down, but the BA games be all up in that. Heavyarms in the second is a particular bitch, with "YOU CAN'T DEFEND!" missiles and gatling attacks that make you annoying immobile for as long as the guy has ammo. He even slides on his back, kicks up airborne, and juggles you with his cannons. The G-Gundam Street boss (Dark/Devil) Gundam particularly enjoys summoning its weird worm minions in droves while you're recovering from a knockdown. The game also reminds me of MvC in the respect there are certain Suits the game seems plain biased against. Weirdly enough though, I find myself tearing it up nicely with the Zaku (the Imperial Storm Trooper of the Gundam world) and Acguy (sort of a midget wearing a trash can with retractable claws) suits. It just annoys me that there's not really much balance among the general cast, especially in regards to that 'ammo' meter. Once you run out of it, you're supposed to lose your 'gun' attack, but half the suits have ranged blasters or something of the sort that doesn't consume energy and generally is more damaging. Again- Heavyarms. Does it strike anyone else as a little odd he can apparently store more missiles in his chest than he has bullets in his chainguns?

     The mid-bosses in both games are oversized Mobile Armors. In fact, they recycled these between both games. The Big Zam is a goofy long-legged Legion of Doom HQ that is incapable of turning around. It makes up for this with the fact that if you get backed into a corner by it, you will simply be trampled to death as it inflicts about half a health bar of damage by just walking. The second Giant Bastard is Neue Ziel, a constantly-flying mech with retractable arms and a Death Star cannon in its stomach. It's more maneuverable than the Big Zam, but occasionally decides NOT to turn around when you slide or boost behind him. Of course that assumes it doesn't take advantage of its mass to hold you in a corner and "YOU CAN'T DEFEND"-ing you to death. BA1 has a particularly nasty sub-boss, the Psycho Gundam Mk. III, which is twice the height of the normal ones and like massaging your throat with his kneecap while recycling motivational sound bites such as "YOU'RE GONNA DIE." The final boss of Battle Assault is Hydra Gundam, a new one from what I gather. It's piloted by Treize, the arrogant yet pretty dictator from Gundam Wing, as opposed to whoever it was in the original. The second game features two bosses, depending on what story mode you pick. Devil Gundam from G-Gundam is massive, cheap, and massively cheap. The other story mode gives you a one-two punch of Tallgeese III (still a goofy name after two upgrades) and the outright sadistic Epyon. Epyon seems to have retained most of his moves from Endless Duel, which means he still spends most of the battle doing nearly invincible air-dash attacks. So, as doing anything besides constantly blocking and slipping in a cheap shot tends to lead to, you'll be stuck in a corner being juggled like a space metal bean bag.

     The game is marginally more fun with a friend because they at least make funny faces while trying to work off their moves, often times yelling directions as if the game was super spacey enough to hear them. There's a decent enough challenge on the beginner level, but for some reason normal and hard didn't seem all that different. I guess lower levels just delay the point where the game starts playing cheap.



Mobile Fighter G-Gundam

The first SNES Gundam brawler is also the worst. Stiff controls and not much in the way of special features takes away from all the fun a series based around outrageous martial arts, robots, and ethnocentric racism carries.

For some reason, this is one of those mech fighters where you can shuffle pilots among the different robots, in spite of the fact that never seems to do anything. Ever.

They tried to make this like the show. Unfortunately every time they did so, it added another problem. The sound bites are garbled to the point "Shining Finger" sounds like "Pull My Finger" and "Machine Gun Punch" sounds and looks like "Indistinct Green Thing." Frenchy suffers about the most, since his lunge attack starts off with a saucy sword wave that sticks nearly a full second of delay onto the move.

Gundam Wing: Endless Duel

Heads, chests, and crotches above G-Gundam in every way except for being based off a decidedly slower-paced show about effeminate teens and their nigh-magical giant robots.

The controls are pretty simple, Street Fightery motions, only with that same problem mention at left that Bandai has problems acknowledging the diagonal. There's a decent set of Suits to choose from, but I'm sure there's some purist out there who pines for Arab Warrior #24 to be made playable. Though, it's worth pointing out you never have any matches between the same pilot. That only matters in the case of say, Wing Zero v. Wing, both of which are normally piloted by that antisocial Heero kid. The player gets Heero, but they swap Trowa in as the pilot of the enemy, or in the reverse case, Zechs takes over Zero.

It's easy, it's fast paced, and has a pretty decent soundtrack. Heavyarm's stage has a cool bass line. Endless Duel, in its 16-bit imperfection, can stand toe-to-toe with its PSX cousin just fine.